A Year After Charlottesville, Trump Shows That He Doesn’t Get It Or Doesn’t Care

One year after Charlottesville, it's clear that President Trump still doesn't understand what happened there, or that he just doesn't care.

It was a year ago today that a march in Charlottesville, Virginia primarily attended by an assortment of alt-right white supremacists, Nazis, and self-identified members of the Ku Klux Klan resulted in the murder of a young woman who was in town to protest against the rally. The purported intent of that rally was to protest against plans by the city to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a prominent location in the city. Rather than being just a simple rally about a statue, though, the event clearly had overtones of a Nazi rally at Nuremberg in the 1930s with Nazi-era slogans like “Blood and Soil!” and “The Jews will not replace us!” were chanted by torch-bearing men, followed by a rally the following day that resulted in violence between participants and counter-protestors that led to the death of one woman and more than a dozen injuries. These events, of course, took on a national tone thanks to the President’s response to the tragic events of that Saturday. In his initial response, Trump blamed ‘both sides’ for the violence, referred to the participants in the rally as “very fine people,” and  refused to directly condemn groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, which was present at the rally, or the broader so-called alt-right movement whose supporters made up the vast majority of the participants. The outrage over these comments was sufficiently broad, even from fellow Republicans in Washington, that the White House was compelled to have Trump deliver a follow-up comment the following Monday that was more measured and emphatic than what he had said before. Whatever damage had been repaired by that statement, though, was short-lived, though, because less than twenty-four hours later Trump repeated his ‘both sides’ argument in a press conference at Trump Tower in New York and then repeated it again a month later in the wake of a meeting purportedly intended to discuss race with Republican Senator Tim Scott, the only African-American Republican in the Senate.

Today, a group of protesters consisting of largely the same people who participated in last year’s rally and march will hold a protest in Washington, D.C. that will end with a rally in Lafayette Square in front of the White House. While President Trump will not be present, instead he’s at his golf club in New Jersey, he did manage to send out a tweet yesterday that shows he still doesn’t understand what was wrong with his original comment, or what lies at the core of the ideology bringing people to Washington today:

 As white nationalists planned to gather in front of the White House on Sunday to mark the anniversary of last year’s violent rally in Charlottesville, Va., President Trump denounced “all types of racism,” but did not specifically condemn the supremacists.

“Riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division,” he wrote on Twitter on Saturday morning. “We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!”

Mr. Trump’s general call for unity, as Washington braced for the possibility of violence between the white nationalists and counter-demonstrators, echoed his reluctance a year ago after the deadly Charlottesville rally to single out the supremacists for condemnation.

In what is seen as a defining mark of his presidency, he blamed “both sides” for the violence, eliciting widespread criticism for what was seen as drawing a moral equivalence between hate groups — some of whom supported his candidacy — and those who protested them.

Accusations of racism have shadowed Mr. Trump over his decades as a real estate mogul, reality television star and president. Those claims have been renewed in recent weeks as he has questioned the intelligence of prominent black people such as LeBron James and Representative Maxine Waters and criticized professional football players for kneeling during the national anthem.

In a new memoir, Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former White House adviser tasked with outreach to African-Americans, claims that the president regularly used a racial slur while he was the host of the show “Celebrity Apprentice,” though she never heard him say it herself. Asked by a reporter about the book on Saturday at his club in Bedminster, N.J., the president held a hand to his mouth, as if to whisper, and said: “Lowlife. She’s a lowlife.”

The rally on Sunday, called Unite the Right II, is scheduled to take over Lafayette Square for two hours in the evening. Officers from the United States Park Police and the Washington police department will erect a barrier separating the white nationalists and the thousands of counterprotesters who intend to oppose them.

The Unite the Right group plans to have up to 400 people at the rally, according to the permit it received from the National Park Service, though the number in attendance could be considerably smaller. An antiracism group, the Answer Coalition, was granted a permit in Lafayette Square for a group more than three times the size of Unite the Right’s. Other groups of counterprotesters have permits to gather elsewhere in the city.

Jason Kessler, who helped organize last year’s Charlottesville rally, is scheduled to speak to the crowd, as is David Duke, the former politician and Ku Klux Klan leader.

The Park Service granted a routine First Amendment demonstration permit to Mr. Kessler. “In anyone’s recollection, there has never been a First Amendment permit that’s been denied,” said Mike Litterst, a Park Service spokesman.

Here’s Trump’s tweet:

As Jennifer Rubin notes in The Washington Post, Trump’s comment demonstrates that he still doesn’t understand what was behind the rally in Charlottesville, or that he simply doesn’t want to offend a group that has been loyal to him since the start of his campaign:

The “riots” — a blob without definition — did not “result” in “death and division” — two more blobs with no definition. Heyer’s death. A white nationalist allegedly murdered an anti-Nazi protester. Period. Trump cannot say those words because to do so would reaffirm his failure a year ago and, worse, annoy the segment of his white base that thinks they are the victims of racism. As The Postreported, “Trump’s tweet Saturday, his first public mention of the anniversary, did not label the event as a white supremacist rally or specify that it was a white rallygoer who rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one.” (One is reminded of his 2017 International Holocaust Remembrance Day message which omitted the word “Jew.”)

We must come together as a nation” is rich coming from the president who has done more to fan anti-immigrant, racist hatred than any modern president. Indeed, racial divisiveness (e.g., picking fights with African American athletes, calling African Americans “low IQ,” referring to mostly nonwhite countries as “shitholes,” equating innocent “dreamers” with MS-13 gang members, trying to take away funding from cities that do not spend public-safety dollars rounding up and detaining illegal immigrants who haven’t committed serious crimes, the Muslim ban) is central to Trump’s presidency. He returns to the theme again and again, especially to rid himself of negative headlines on other subjects. Trump of course also divides the country by gender (e.g. implying Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand would trade sex for campaign donations, attacking women’s intelligence but rarely if ever men’s, mocking the #MeToo movementpraising alleged wife-beater Rob Porter). Since he began running for president, he has divided Americans by place of birth (native born or not), by religion (demonizing Muslims), by medical condition (mocking a New York Times reporter with disabilities), by region (ignoring or minimizing Puerto Rico’s misery), by profession (the press is the enemy of the people) and by expressions of patriotism (if you kneel for the national anthem, you don’t love America).

And Trump felt compelled to throw in “all types of racism” to make sure the “fine people” among the neo-Nazis don’t feel left out. He couldn’t simply say, “I condemn racism and acts of violence.” And finally, his wish for “peace” is hard to stomach given his habit of inciting crowds to engage in violence.

Kevin Drum makes essentially the same point:

The reaction of nearly every Republican to Trump’s repeat performance was nothing. A few made comments of their own, but almost none had even the mildest criticism of Trump.

This comes after yet another a year of Trump’s casual—but always deniable—racism, aimed variously at black athletes, football players protesting police brutality, the usual attacks on undocumented immigrants, and so forth. Everybody knows what Trump is doing, and everyone seems to be OK with it.

This is what truly sets the party of Trump apart from the GOP of the past. Sure, they’ve been chasing the white vote for a long time. But until now, they were basically a sister party of the Christian Democrats in Germany or the Tories in Great Britain. Today, they’re a lot closer to being a sister party to UKIP or the National Front in France. It’s revolting.

Though they come from opposing sides of the political spectrum, Rubin and Drum are, of course, largely correct here and, as Rubin says in her closing paragraph, Donald Trump’s history regarding racially divisive rhetoric has demonstrated that he lacks the moral authority to lead the nation on this issue. In addition to the comments he made in the wake of the tragic events in Charlottesville last year, Trump has engaged in a number of other actions that demonstrate the extent to which he is willing to engage in racially divisive language in order to advance his personal and political interests. From the day he started his campaign three years ago, this President has attacked  Mexicans, Muslimsdisabled people, a Federal District Court Judge who happened to be Mexican-American and a Gold Star Family who happened to be Muslim.  In response to N.F.L. players who were peacefully kneeling to protest racially biased police violence, he responded by calling the largely African-American players “sons of bitches.” Both during the campaign and since becoming President, he has used campaign-style speeches to turn his crowds of supporters into raving lunatics by throwing them red meat on the most divisive issues facing the nation. More importantly, he has done so not only knowingly but with a rather obvious sense of glee at the chaos that he is causing.

In addition to this, Trump has succeeded as a politician largely by appealing to the worst aspects of the unhinged populism, xenophobia, and nativism that has made up the worst aspects of American politics. In doing so, he managed to not only win the Republican nomination for President but to win the Presidency itself. Since taking office, he has not only engaged in the same racially divisive rhetoric he did as a candidate, but he has implemented it into policy in the form of the travel ban that applies almost exclusively to majority Muslim nations, the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has primarily benefited the children of Latino immigrants, and he has implemented a so-called ‘zero tolerance’ program that for a time resulted in the separation of parents and children arriving at the border. Finally, he reportedly referred to immigrants from Africa as coming to the United States from “shithole” countries. Through this rhetoric and action, the President has demonstrated where his sympathies lie, and his effort to paper over the truth about Charlottesville a year after the tragic death of Heather Heyer is revealed to be the same non-condemnation that he issued in the immediate aftermath of last year’s events.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Politicians, Race and Politics, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Kylopod says:

    In 2016, Politico ran a lengthy and fascinating article about how Trump won over the white nationalists (who were initially skeptical of him due to his Jewish son-in-law and deep ties in the New York business world). To them, he had learned all the code words, so that even when he was supposedly condemning them it was always worded in a way that actually supported their interests.

    Trump soon disavowed Duke. But by that point, his white nationalist supporters didn’t much care. In fact, the CNN interview put to rest virtually all meaningful objections to Trump within the white nationalist community, except for the most-hardened and extreme adherents. Some white nationalists were initially confused by Trump’s professions of ignorance about the KKK, but many more believed his refusal to disavow Duke on air was the natural culmination of what Anglin had called the “wink wink wink” strategy, or what mainstream commenters call dog-whistling…. Duke himself articulated this idea almost immediately after the Tapper interview. “If he disavows me, fine. Let him do whatever he thinks he needs to do to become president of the United States,” Duke told The Daily Beast. “It’s good for him to be judicious.”

    The entire article is well worth a read.

    When Trump condemns “all types of racism,” that falls right into this tradition. You have to read his statement the way WNs understand it. The last time I visited Stormfront (which was several years ago), its FAQ claimed that one of its goals was fighting racism against white people. David Duke once described Michael Steele as a “radical black racist.” To WNs, race relations are a zero-sum game in which any support for minorities equates to “racism against white people.” But they know that when Trump condemns “all types of racism,” it’s just ambiguous enough to pass muster in the mainstream. Is it any mystery why they love him so?

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    Pundits debate, but Trump knows who his voters are. He knows how fundamental racism is to his appeal.

    Ivanka, she whose sexual attributes Trump discussed in her presence, with Gene Simmons, has issued a tweet that tries to put some distance between herself and her father’s racist supporters. Even Ivanka can see how toxic Trump is to her future, a future which she hoped would involve her being a respected member of society.

  3. Gustopher says:

    In the photograph, the guy with the mustache has an odd look on his face while everyone else is shouting of smirking. It’s possible that he was the “very fine person” on the Nazi side, and that he thought the tiki torches were for a luau. I suspect that he brought macaroni salad, and is wondering how he got caught up in this.

    The rightmost person in the photo with a tiki torch, however, has one of the most punchable, smug faces I have ever seen.

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  4. reid says:

    @Gustopher: I don’t get the same positive vibe from mustache guy. To me, they all look like they know what they’re up to in that photo. But I hope you’re right in at least his case.

    As always, Trump maintains his despicable ways. He’ll never change, and no one is going to change him. He’ll hang onto his x% (where I hope x is a smallish number) of people, but I hope he’s doing serious, lasting damage to the Republican brand.

  5. JohnMcC says:

    Don’t have anything new or interesting (even to myself!) to add. But would point out that roaming gangs of warring political youths is pretty much like some of the dysfunction of the Weimar gov’t in particular and of Europe in the 20’s & 30’s.

    How is this happening?

  6. Modulo Myself says:

    @JohnMcC:

    I don’t think it’s like that at all. Fascism was real. Intelligent people actually believed that fascism was the future. Nobody who marches or who votes for Trump believes that this crap is the future. Trump and his base are a petri dish of dumbness. For every marcher, there’s ten middle-aged people who barely leave their houses and exist in a realm of Q-Anon and the Deep State.

  7. MarkedMan says:

    Doug, you left out another possibility: that Trump is a dyed in the wool racist and considers the Nazis his people. This is actually the correct view. The idea that we have to pretend otherwise is ridiculous. If Trump wasn’t the crudest type of racist, he’s had a whole lifetime to demonstrate otherwise. To give home the benefit of the doubt in his 8th decade borders on the absurd.

  8. Gustopher says:

    @MarkedMan: I think Trump is a dyed-in-the-wool racist who thinks he’s better than the white supremacists.

    The people who march in the streets with their tiki torches are the stupid racists, white trash, barely better than the brown people. They’re his marks, and he can’t believe they are that stupid.

  9. Gustopher says:

    @reid: Mustache guy looks like a cross between a Seattle hipster and a young John Cleese. That probably colors my view of him, but I desperately want him to be the one guy there who was actually interested in preserving the statue of Robert E. Lee for historical purposes, and who thought a “Unite The Right” rally would be a great place to meet new friends — he’s fiscally conservative, and a little stodgy, and based on the name, this is a big tent rally for everyone a little right of center. He figured everyone gathering at a park would mean a picnic, so he brought mac salad to share, and a sandwich for himself. When he saw the tiki torches, he thought “this is going to go on all night, this is great.”

    And then everyone starts chanting “Jews will not replace us”, and his first thought is “of course Jews won’t replace us — they just don’t have the numbers, they’re less than five percent of the population… and they don’t even want to replace us, do they? What does it even mean to replace us?” And then, suddenly, he gets it. He just thought his property taxes were too high, but now he’s standing in the middle of a white supremacist rally and he doesn’t want to cause a big scene or get noticed and there are counter protesters on all sides so he can’t just sneak away.

    Look at the sideways glance he is giving the torch guy to his right. Is that an approving look? Does mustache guy look happy to be in this exuberant crowd? The rest of them are thrilled to be getting their hate on, and he’s standing there, mouth closed, glancing around awkwardly. With his ridiculous mustache.

    It’s possible I read way too much into crowd photos (it’s fun, I recommend it). But, you know that someone only heard a little about the rally and went because they were just a little curious and a little dim — with those numbers, there had to be someone.

    (And, pondering the oddly out of place man is a lot more fun for me than noting that Donald Trump is still a racist…)

  10. reid says:

    @Gustopher: Heh. It is a fun game. But if we’re talking about the guy in the second row near the center of the photo, I just see a guy who’s staring into the camera with a bit of an intense look. Sure, he’s not shouting or smug, but I don’t see him being out of place all the same.

  11. Mister Bluster says:

    Looks to me like alot of them are just waiting for Trump to stick his pud in their mouth.

  12. JohnMcC says:

    @Gustopher: Everything you said is true and the result of the ‘march’ confirms that you more accurately predicted the event than I.

    My point was that IF roving gangs of Fascists and Antifa/Communists had roamed about the streets of DC battling each other then a perception of weakness by the central gov’t would have seemed reasonable. That perception of Europe’s gov’ts is thought to have preceded the reluctant acceptance of Fascist by the electorates of Italy, Germany and etc. Recall that the original Mussolini ‘made the trains run on time’.

    As it turned out, I’m glad to be wrong and with the benefit of hindsight to agree with you.

  13. Paul L. says:

    “Though they come from opposing sides of the political spectrum, Rubin and Drum”

    HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA
    Rubin is a shameless hack who reversed her previous positions on issues because Trump adopted them.
    See Iran Deal and Paris Climate Change Accords.
    Even NeverTrump sees her as a joke. Anyone who quotes her, Frum or Schmitt as representing mainstream Republicans is being dishonest.

  14. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @reid: He reminded me of the line from the first Addams Family movie where Wednesday and Pugsley go out for Halloween dressed in suits and when asked explain “we’re going out as psychotic killers; we look like everyone else.”