Trump Reopens Charlottesville Wounds By Resurrecting His ‘Both Sides’ Argument

Donald Trump went there again, and in the process reopened a wound that was starting to heal just a little bit.

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President Trump reopened the can of worms over his response to the violence in Charlottesville last month during a talk with the press on Air Force One on his way back from a trip to survey damage from Hurricane Irma:

WASHINGTON — President Trump thrust himself back into the racial storms of Charlottesville on Thursday, repeating his charge that those who resisted the neo-Nazis and white supremacists were as much to blame as the alt-right crowds who marched on the Virginia college town.

Mr. Trump was characterizing his side of a conversation on Wednesday with Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, during which Mr. Scott, the Senate’s only black Republican, confronted the president on his claim that “both sides” were responsible for the violence that followed a torchlight protest against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

“Especially in light of the advent of Antifa, if you look at what’s going on there, you know, you have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also,” Mr. Trump said, referring to the anti-fascist activists who clashed with the neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

“Now because of what’s happened since then, with Antifa, you look at really what’s happened since Charlottesville — a lot of people are saying — in fact, a lot of people have actually written, ‘Gee, Trump might have a point,” Mr. Trump said to reporters on Air Force One. “I said, ‘You’ve got some very bad people on the other side,’ which is true.”

It was the latest shift in Mr. Trump’s constantly evolving statements about Charlottesville. He has alternately condemned the hate groups and drawn a moral equivalence between them and the counterprotesters. On Thursday night, he signed a nonbinding congressional resolution urging him to condemn groups like white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan. But earlier in the day, Mr. Trump reverted to the unapologetic stance he took in a news conference last month at Trump Tower.

Despite that, Mr. Trump said that he and Mr. Scott had a “great conversation.” He described Mr. Scott as a longstanding friend whom he supported early in his career.

In his remarks to reporters after the meeting, Mr. Scott made it clear he had gone to the White House to rebut Mr. Trump’s claim that “both sides” were responsible. But he also said that he did not expect to change Mr. Trump’s mind — and that he had not.

“He is who he has been, and I didn’t go in there to change who he was,” Mr. Scott said on Thursday. “I wanted to inform and educate a different perspective. I think we accomplished that. To assume that immediately thereafter he’s going to have an epiphany is just unrealistic.”

Mr. Trump’s latest comments were a reminder that, for all the talk of a newly disciplined White House under the management of the chief of staff, John F. Kelly, the president remains an unpredictable character, with no intention of stifling his opinions.

This is largely the same thing that Trump said in the wake of a rally that had overtones of a Nazi rally at Nuremberg in the 1930s where Nazi-era slogans like “Blood and Soil!” and “The Jews will not replace us!” were chanted by torch-bearing men and 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. In his initial response, Trump blamed ‘both sides’ for the violence 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 since less than twenty-four hours later when Trump repeated his ‘both sides’ argument in a press conference at Trump Tower in New York. After that press conference, the criticism of Trump became even more widespread and even members of his own Administration and the Joint Chiefs of Staff felt it necessary to publicly disassociate themselves from his remarks. In many respects, all of this was seen by many political pundits as a sign that the addition of retired General John Kelly to the White House had done little to restrain Trump from his old ways.

To some degree, the Administration had managed to put the rancor over Trump’s Charlottesville remarks behind it, largely thanks to the fact that other matters pushed the story out of daily coverage by the media during what had become a rather slow news month as is typical for the month of August in Washington. Over the past three weeks or so, though, national attention has been grabbed by several major stories including North Korea’s sixth nuclear test and the twin impact of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in the Carribean and Florida. Especially with respect to the last two events, the Administration has responded rather well to the crisis created in Texas and Florida respectively by the storms, and events in North Korea have given political pundits something else to talk about it during what is otherwise a slow news month. Additionally, Trump’s apparent decision to make deals with Democrats on a short-term spending bill and the DACA program have actually led some pundits to speculate that things may actually start turning positive for the Administration if they reflected a future where the President was more willing to work with Democrats to achieve his policy goals.

That respite and the talk of a “new Trump” has apparently proven to be short-lived.

These latest remarks by Trump were apparently prompted by his meeting earlier this week with South Carolina junior Senator Tim Scott, an African-American Republican who also happens to be the first African-American elected to the Senate from South Carolina in the state’s history. After Trump’s remarks on Charlottesville, Scott said that Trump’s moral authority as President was compromised due to his failure to acknowledge the racist nature of the rally participants and the fact that the violence that day came primarily if not solely from those who were there to “protect” the monument to Robert E. Lee in the city’s central square. It also came after Congress had overwhelmingly passed a resolution that clearly blames white supremacists for the violence in Charlottesville, a resolution that Trump signed just yesterday, apparently hours before he spoke to reporters on the way back from his visit to Florida. In the wake of that meeting on Wednesday, Scott talked to reporters and his comments made clear that he didn’t think he’d really gotten through to the President:

After Wednesday’s meeting, asked whether the President regretted his remarks blaming “both sides” for the deadly violence, Scott paused, telling reporters that Trump “certainly tried to convey what he was attempting to say.”

“He was trying to convey that there was an antagonist on the other side,” Scott said of Trump. “My response was, while that’s true, if you look at it from a sterile perspective there was an antagonist on the other side. However, the real picture has nothing to do with who is on the other side. It has to do with the affirmation of hate groups who over three centuries of this country have made it their mission to create upheaval for minority communities.”

Still, Scott said he wanted the conversation to focus on “the future” rather than the comments the President made that fueled critics on the left and right.
“The Charlottesville comments were the foundation for the conversation,” Scott added, “but the discussion was about making progress in this nation.”

For its part, the White House said in a statement that the conversation included discussion of the “administration’s relationship with the African-American community, the bipartisan issue of improving race relations, and creating a more unified country.”

In response to Trump’s comments, Senator Scott’s office released a statement:

As noted, Trump’s resurrection of his ‘both sides’ argument came in response to a reporter’s question regarding the meeting with Senator Scott. Given the fact that the meeting had just occurred the day before yesterday, Trump should have known that he would be asked about it and about what he might have learned after hearing Scott’s perspective on his Charlottesville comments. The fact that he chose to resurrect the comments for which he had been nearly universally condemned shows that the meeting with Scott had absolutely no impact on what Trump believes about what happened in Charlottesville, or where his heart lies when it comes to condemning the blatantly racist sentiments of his supporters on the alt-right. It also another demonstration of the fact that, notwithstanding the fact that Trump has had what I suppose qualifies as a good couple of weeks in the wake of the initial shock of the Charlottesville incident, Donald Trump remains the corps of what’s wrong with what’s wrong with the Trump Administration, that Trump will always return to form no matter how good anyone thinks he might be doing during a particular period of time, and that Chief of Staff John Kelly still hasn’t figured out how to control his boss. Unless and until that changes, the real Donald Trump will continue to emerge even after it seems like he’s changed. As I’ve said before, Trump is more than seventy years old and he’s behaving as President the same way he always has since he became a public figure. The idea that he’s ever going to change is a fantasy.

UpdateThis post was updated to include the statement released by Senator Scott.

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. MarkedMan says:

    I think Trump’s calculus here was pretty simple. Two motivations. He felt forced to sign something he didn’t want to and so wanted to make that clear. And he had met with a black guy and felt he needed to make it clear to his fellow racists that he was still one of them.

    Remember, Trump personally ran an apartment complex that was racist in the crudest and most direct way possible: he had staff mark dark skinned applicants paperwork with a “C” (colored) so they could be trashed. In the intervening years he has never given any indication whatsoever that he has had a change of heart and has given many, many that he hasn’t. Trump is a racist and thinks the racist organizations are fighting the good fight. Repudiate the Klan? His father was arrested at a Klan rally in NYC. The Klan are his people.

  2. alanstorm says:

    We get it Dougie-boy, you don’t like Trump. Unfortunately, the last election wasn’t between him and some benign philosopher-king, it was between him and the serial criminal Hillary.

    Now,let’s review: one one side, you have the Democrat’s spawn, the KKK, and on the other the oxymoronically-named “anti-fascist”, who oppose fascism by…being fascists.

    Both sides ARE scum. What, exactly, is difficult about this?

  3. alanstorm says:

    @MarkedMan: I’m sure you have evidence (believable evidence, not articles from The Nation or other comedy magazines) for your accusations?

  4. KM says:

    @alanstorm:

    For Daddy Trump being arrested at a KKK rally? Will an archived 1927 NYT article with his name and address, suffice? Or do you want the original police record?

    As for Trumpy himself and the infamous C-mark, the court documents for the 1973 lawsuit detail all that. Please see the relevant legal database for full pdfs if interested.

    Honestly, Alan. Stop being lazy and do your homework. NYC has known about Trump for decades, it’s the rest of y’all who are getting a late life education.

  5. Kylopod says:

    Contrary to what the Trumpists have been saying, the antifa were only a small portion of the counterprotesters. Per Wikipedia (the original sources at the end):

    Those who marched in opposition to the rally were unified in opposition to white supremacy, but “espoused a wide array of ideological beliefs, preferred tactics and political goals. A large number were ordinary residents of Charlottesville who wanted to show their disdain for white supremacist groups, particularly after the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in the city on July 8.” Ahead of the rally, an array of “faith-based groups, civil rights organizations, local businesses, and faculty and students at the University of Virginia” planned counterprotests. In July 2017, the ecumenical and interfaith clergy group Congregate Charlottesville called for a thousand members of the clergy to counterprotest at the rally. Groups counterprotesting included representatives from the National Council of Churches, Black Lives Matter, Anti-Racist Action, the Democratic Socialists of America, the Workers World Party, the Revolutionary Communist Party, Redneck Revolt, the Industrial Workers of the World, the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council, and Showing Up for Racial Justice. Members of the Antifa movement were also in attendance.

    Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, SPLC, The Hill, Politico, The Intercept, Al Jazeera, Newsweek, The Guardian.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    @alanstorm: We’re talking about Donald Trump, the guy who still insists that the 5 black guys arrested for the NYC rape case were guilty, even though DNA typing exonerated them?

    Yeah, the guy’s a racist.

  7. Scott F. says:

    @KM:

    alanstorm is one of those guys who ignores the tectonic shift in party affiliation that resulted from the Civil Rights Movement, so he can smear today’s Democratic Party with the KKK. He also justifies remaining Trump’s bootlicker despite months and months of epic fail, because he hates someone who has nothing to do with the performance of said POTUS.

    You really think he has any interest in being educated?

  8. Paul L. says:

    Trump should condemn the Alt-Right Racist event lead by White supremacist Ben Shapiro that occurred at Berkeley.
    https://twitchy.com/samj-3930/2017/09/15/the-triggering-lefty-journo-super-duper-outraged-by-nyt-column-defending-ben-shapiro/

  9. Matt says:

    @alanstorm: Could you tell me how Antifa are fascists? What fascist ideologies have been espoused by their leadership? What are the names of their leaders? What is the name of their political party through which they are controlling industry and commerce?

  10. Paul L. says:

    What fascist ideologies have been espoused by their leadership?

    Banning of all speech that they declare Hate Speech.

  11. wr says:

    @grumpy realist: “We’re talking about Donald Trump, the guy who still insists that the 5 black guys arrested for the NYC rape case were guilty, even though DNA typing exonerated them?”

    Actually we’re talking about the guy who was still insisting that those five black guys be EXECUTED even though DNA exonerated them.

  12. the Q says:

    This argument was the equivalent of the few window’s being smashed during MLK’s non violent marches which involved thousands of peaceable marchers being unfairly tarred by the few troublemakers. “See, that MLK and his marchers are just as violent as the Klan”. We’ve heard it before.

    Or to make an argument analstorm, er, alanstorm can understand, “why do you liberals take a few bad cops and make the whole department out to be fascist or racist? Its like an admitted couple of racist cops inflame the libtards to brand every cop as racist.”

    Alanstorm makes the same argument about antifa as the people he despises when it comes to police brutality. The liberal counter protesters were by far the majority, anti fa a group of troublemakers who were outnumbered by KKKers and Nazis.

  13. Matt says:

    @Paul L.: Where is this policy stated (so I can find what they consider hate speech)? Where can I find the rest of their policies?

    What are the names of the people you refer to as they?

  14. KM says:

    @Scott F:

    You really think he has any interest in being educated?

    I like to live in hope. You never know, today might be the day a Trumpkin’s having a “good brain” day and might finally make the connection that all that “fake news” about Donny isn’t so fake after all. It’s like waiting for an addict to hit bottom – today may bring that moment of clarity.

    On the other hand, the commute’s boring as hell. Gotta do something to pass the time…

  15. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    Banning of all speech that they declare Hate Speech.

    There is nothing specifically Fascist about banning hate speech. Banning speech of any kind was irrelevant to the ascent of the Nazis and did not feature in their ideology.

    They liked to use speech restrictions once in power but that has nothing to do with “Fascism”. And quite a number of democratic and pluralistic societies use some form of restrictions of speech. This notion of not totally free speech = fascism is just a form of American provincialism.

  16. Terrye Cravens says:

    @alanstorm: Hillary Clinton is Mother Teresa compared to Trump who really is a serial criminal. And no, there are not two sides to this. That is like saying since Hitler killed commies and commies are bad there were two sides to the Nazis.

  17. al-Ameda says:

    @grumpy realist:

    @alanstorm: We’re talking about Donald Trump, the guy who still insists that the 5 black guys arrested for the NYC rape case were guilty, even though DNA typing exonerated them?

    Well clearly, Trump confused DNA with NDA. He likely thought there was no way an NDA could exonerate those 5 black guys. I mean everyone knows that a Non-Disclosure Agreement is not proof of innocence.

    Trump is even more appalling than I thought he would be, and I can tell you, my expectations were pretty damned low to begin with.

  18. Matt says:

    So I get down-voted for asking the resident Antifa “experts” some basic questions. I can’t find any real organizational leader for Antifa. It seems some of those being called Antifa were as little as a year ago called Anarchists. The type that showed up at WTO protests to start trouble. I was genuinely wondering where Alan and Paul were getting their information so that I could look for myself.

    I can find plenty of information on the leaders of the various Nazi groups here in the states. They are highly organized with web forums and sites of their own. Same goes for the KKK and the various other white supremacist groups. Their platforms are clear as day and who they support politically too.

  19. Mikey says:

    @Matt:

    I was genuinely wondering where Alan and Paul were getting their information so that I could look for myself.

    Just go into your bathroom and lift the lid on the toilet.

  20. Bob The Arqubusier says:

    First, it was “punch Nazis,” and who could argue with that?

    Then, it was “punch Nazis and fascists.” Still OK, right?

    Then, it became “punch Nazis, fascists, and white supremacists.” Still kind of hard to argue with.

    Then it turns out that everyone the Left disagrees with became Nazis, fascists, and/or white supremacists. Every single one of them. Even Orthodox Jew Ben Shapiro became a white supremacist.

    During all this time, the Antifa fascists demonstrated the grand liberal political position that the best way to fight fascists was to go to public rallies, dress all in black, put on masks, and beat the crap out of anyone who expressed an opinion they didn’t like. What a stunning display of their commitment to fighting fascism.

    Then they expanded their target list. It wasn’t just those whose opinions they didn’t like. They attacked those who even mildly disagreed with them. Then they started attacking police who dared to try to defend Antifa’s targets. And journalists who dared record Antifa’s attacks.

    All in the name of fighting fascism, of course.

    It probably escaped the notice of a lot of people here, but a lot of mainstream Democrats have started backing away from Antifa. Even Nancy Pelosi said something disapproving.

    But fortunately we can all agree that there’s a far greater threat to Democracy posed by a couple hundred Cosplaying Nazi wannabes desperate for attention holding public rallies than by thousands of black-clad, armed, violent mobsters who feel not only morally justified, but morally compelled to beat the crap out of anyone whose politics they find lacking. Or who try to protect the rights of those who need to have the crap beaten out of them. Or those who record said beatings.

  21. Kylopod says:

    @Bob The Arqubusier:

    Even Orthodox Jew Ben Shapiro became a white supremacist.

    For the record, I don’t consider Ben Shapiro a white supremacist.

    HOWEVER… The idea of an Orthodox Jewish white supremacist is not as absurd as it may first sound. First of all, I can tell you from personal experience that there’s A LOT of racism in the Orthodox community. I grew up encountering it constantly. It is so extreme that even David Klinghoffer, the right wing former National Review editor, was utterly shocked by it when he became observant. I mention that to forestall any assumption that this is merely liberal PC hysteria. I even have my own personal nickname for Jews like this: I call them “Klansmen in a Kippa.” If you think I’m remotely exaggerating, I can tell you point blank that I actually once heard one of them state outright that he agreed with the KKK in all ways except for their views on Jews.

    Second of all, in recent years Jared Taylor’s white nationalist group American Renaissance has opened its doors to Jews, and that includes one Orthodox guy named Mayer Schiller. I’ve met the guy. He’s a tall, beefy man who dresses in full Hasidic garb, works in Yeshiva University, and has willingly shared the stage with Holocaust deniers.

    Crazy? Without a doubt. But people like this really exist, and it’s been made possible because certain sectors of the WN movement in recent decades have attempted to downplay the movement’s traditional anti-Semitism (downplay–not totally abandon) and forge ties with right-wing Jews. Partly it’s a strategy for these groups to attempt to move more into the mainstream, but it’s also a reflection of a shift in focus away from anti-Semitism and toward the “hotter” prejudices of today, particularly against Muslims and Latinos. David Duke still talks about Zionist conspiracies, but a lot of the younger activists have other interests.

    This isn’t just some weird, esoteric phenomenon. It’s essential to understanding how a president who has an Orthodox son-in-law he keeps as a top advisor is the same president who omits Jews from a Holocaust Remembrance Day statement and who endorses a French presidential candidate who proposed to revoke the Israeli passports of French Jews and ban kosher slaughter and the wearing of yarmulkes in public. There is a bizarre relationship that has developed between the alt right and some very fervent and even Zionistic Jews who have chosen to sell their souls on the altar of far-right politics–but it is a relationship in which these Jews invariably become subservient.

    If all you want to do is snark about how stupid liberals have to be to call a Jew a Nazi, then I don’t expect any of this to resonate with you. But believe me, I know what I’m talking about.