Trump Aides Nix Idea Of Going To Charlottesville
"Why the hell would we do that?" --- White House official.
President Trump’s aides are shooting down any idea that he would be visiting Charlottesville in the wake of last weekend’s hate rally and violence:
President Donald Trump does not have plans to visit Charlottesville, Virginiain the wake of the the white-supremacist and neo-Nazi gathering that took place in the city over the weekend.
“No stop planned at this time,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders emailed The Daily Beast on Monday afternoon.
The president is still technically on vacation, though he decamped back to Washington D.C. on Monday.
Though presidents are often hypersensitive towards appearing to be on top of national crises, it is not entirely surprising that the president is currently passing on a trip to Charlottesville. On Monday, Trump finally, and specifically, called out white supremacists and white nationalists in prepared remarks from the White House, after days of brutal, bipartisan criticism for his initial, response that chided “many sides.” Two senior Trump aides, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely, had earlier told The Daily Beast that there was no serious sign that West Wing staffers were even exploring a Charlottesville visit at this point.
“Why the hell would we do that?” one White House official bluntly said, stating that whatever the president did in Charlottesville at this stage would be “used against” him by critics and media voices. The official also conceded that it was unlikely that this president would be able to deliver rousing, healing oratory that is demanded in such a dire situation. Trump, the fear went, could potentially worsen matters by being there.
The decision not to visit Charlottesville stands somewhat in stark contrast to past Presidential behavior in the wake of tragedy and points out the extent to which this President is either unable to take on the symbolic role that being President has thrust upon him, or is simply uninterested in doing so. In the past, Presidents ranging back at least to President Reagan and, more recently, Presidents Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama, would visit the site of a natural or man-made tragedy that occurred on their watch as President, or alternatively would attend any memorial service that might be held in connection with such an event. The most well-known of these visits, of course, would be President George W. Bush’s appearance at Ground Zero in New York City just three days after the twin tower of the World Trade Center were brought down by terrorists who flew passenger jets into them on September 11, 2001. By contrast, Bush’s bungled response to Hurricane Katrina was seen by many as a low point in his Presidency and, in some sense, the beginning of the point where he began losing the support and esteem of the public that he had gained in the wake of the September 11th attacks. President Clinton made similar appearances during his Presidency, and President Obama did so on many occasions, perhaps most memorably in the wake of the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the murder of nine people at a historically African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. Traditionally, a Presidential visit on such occasions is seen as both a sign of respect for the victims and their families and part of the role that has been thrust upon American Presidents in which they have become the source of trying to unite the country in the face of a tragedy that has national implications or reverberations.
As Politico points out, this is just one example of how the Trump White House seems to have a messaging problem when it comes to events such as this:
President Donald Trump has mastered the art of the swaggering politician, but when tragedy strikes, he has struggled to find his footing.
By projecting the persona of a chin-out American leader eager to punch first and deal with the consequences later, Trump is missing the softer touch that past presidents have effectively used to bring the country together in times of crisis.
Trump’s initial wavering was seen by critics as a political nod to a base of supporters who helped lift the Republican last November to the White House. It also reflected something seen throughout Trump’s presidency: His natural instinct has been to respond with force to terrible events, saving the compassion for his surrogates or private interactions.
“He’s missing an empathy gene. It’s just not natural to him,” said former George W. Bush White House speechwriter Peter Wehner. “When people who don’t have empathy try to fake it, it doesn’t come across very well.”
Trump’s difficulty in dealing with national tragedies — particularly those that are racially charged — is not new. He was uncharacteristically silent in the immediate aftermath of the February killing of an Indian immigrant in Kansas that was investigated as a hate crime, as well as the fatal stabbing in May of two men defending a Muslim woman riding a commuter train in Portland, Oregon.
As a presidential candidate, Trump’s responses to tragedies struck many as tone deaf. He tweeted “appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism” after a gunman killed 49 people in June 2016 at a gay Orlando nightclub in an ISIS-inspired attack. Trump was also quick to label an explosion last September in New York City, in which no one was harmed, as terrorism before authorities had confirmed the nature of the attack.
White House aides note Trump has a compassionate side that may not come across in public but is routinely on display for those who know him well. They cite his decision in April to launch 59 cruise missiles in Syria after seeing photos of children dying after President Bashar Assad’s government attacked them with chemical weapons, as well as his invitation to the widow of a Navy SEAL killed in Yemen to attend his first speech to a joint session of Congress. Trump also spent two hours this spring visiting wounded soldiers at a suburban Washington military hospital, signing baseballs, taking pictures and talking with the service members about their favorite restaurants.
“He goes out of his way to help people in the moments you least expect,” said White House adviser Hope Hicks. “He doesn’t often publicize these moments, which makes them all the more genuine.”
Trump also received plaudits from Democrats and Republicans alike for the temperament he displayed in June after a gunman opened fire on GOP members of Congress during a morning baseball practice. Speaking in the Diplomatic Room at the White House hours after that attack, which sent House Majority Whip Steve Scalise to the hospital in critical condition, Trump made a plea for national unity.
Still, by most accounts, Trump has fallen far short of modern presidents who have taken on the role of grief-counselor-in-chief in the wake of national tragedies.
“He’s been dismal at unifying the country,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University. “In the wake of Charlottesville, people were waiting with bated breath that he might have a Reagan or Obama moment and pull us together, but instead he seemed to go back into self-promotion of his economy and a limp — at best — statement about the deaths and refusing to talk about white supremacy and neo-Nazism.”
Brinkley, like several others from both sides of the political aisle, noted the unusual circumstances of Trump initially declining to verbally confront the white supremacists behind Saturday’s violence in Virginia given the president’s apparent glee in targeting everyone from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to cable news host Mika Brzezinski.
“This is kind of more of a John Wayne presidency,” Republican consultant Alex Castellanos said of the Trump White House. “Donald Trump will be able to stand on a pile of rubble like George W. Bush did and make sure our adversaries hear us. He won’t be the president who feels our pain.”
Trump, Castellanos added, is leading a “guy’s presidency.”
“And I think that’s part of why at times you see him reluctant to reveal his more feminine, nourishing, care-giving side, because he doesn’t have one. He was elected to bring order to a world that’s spinning out of control. Voters chose strength. Not compassion.”
Democrats see Trump’s handling of recent tragedies as missed opportunities — a selfish political calculation to speak to his base rather than respond in a way that can bring the country together.
“I think Trump’s severe narcissism has prevented him from developing any sense of empathy, which is a requirement for any good leader, and particularly a president,” said former Obama White House speechwriter Jon Favreau.
“When it takes the president of the United States three days to condemn racism and the KKK, it’s not unreasonable to wonder exactly how sincere he’s being,” added David Litt, another former Obama White House speechwriter.
Of course, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that if Trump didn’t believe he could handle the largely symbolic, albeit not unimportant, aspects of being President then perhaps he should not have run for the office to begin with. For better or for worse, part of the job of being a modern President includes this ‘consoler in chief’ aspect that has become part of the job in the media age. In addition to being adept at the use of modern methods of communications to sell their agenda, as Franklin Roosevelt did with radio and Ronald Reagan did with television, Presidents need to be able to know how to use their office and those modes of communication to unite the nation in the face of national tragedy quite simply because the public has come to expect it from the office. When it’s absent, as it largely has been during these first six months of the Trump Presidency, that absence becomes noteworthy and it becomes inevitable that the President’s failure to succeed in those areas would have an impact on things such as their job approval and their personal favorability.
To be completely frank about it, there’s a better than even chance that any attempt by Trump to appear in Charlottesville would backfire in any case. The local community that turned out in protest against the Nazi and alt-right groups that turned out to rally around the city’s statue honoring Robert E. Lee would likely not appreciate the move, and his presence would likely lead to counter-protesters and negative press coverage. Not even considering the possibility of such a visit, and indeed explicitly rejecting it as the comment from unnamed White House officials indicate an abdication of Presidential responsibility and a callousness that speaks volumes about the man that Donald Trump is, and it isn’t anything remotely positive.