Trump said, “You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now.” That false equivalency is revealed as soon as you answer which side hit people with a car and killed someone from the other. Hint: it wasn’t the “very violent” side.
Trump has called out everyone under the sun by name when he wants to lambast them. He criticized Obama for not using the words “Islamic terrorism.” Trump never minces words unless he’s purposefully equivocating. What is he equivocating here? Racist hatemongers and their protesters when he says that “many sides” are to blame for the violence in Charlottesville and he emphasized the words “many sides” by repeating them. On a very technical level, that’s true. If protesters weren’t there, they wouldn’t have clashed with the racists. If Heather Heyer had not been there, an alt-right neo-Nazi would not have killed her. But she was there and she was killed. Is she responsible or is James Fields, Jr., the man who purposefully ran her over with a car? Trump thinks both Heyer and Fields are to blame! Trump’s blaming both sides is only important if the message he’s trying to convey is a wink to the white supremacists who helped put Trump in office that he is sympathetic to them. And this is exactly how many white supremacists have interpreted it. Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke responded, “Thank you President Trump for your honesty and courage to tell the truth.” White nationalist leader Richard B. Spencer wrote, “Trump’s statement was fair and down to earth.” Chuck Schumer fittingly remarked, “By saying he is not taking sides, Donald Trump clearly is. When David Duke and white supremacists cheer, you’re doing it very, very wrong.”
That Trump even took two days to denounce the white nationalists who lauded his name at the Charlottesville rally speaks volumes. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch tweeted, “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.” But it’s clear now that Trump’s denunciation of white supremacists on Monday was forced upon him by staff, that he resented it, and because he has no discipline, he couldn’t keep that bottled in and went on his tirade yesterday. The message is clear. The context – Obama birtherism, Mexican rapists, the Muslim ban, the transgender ban, the wall – is clear. Trump’s only defense is to engage in the vagueness of plausible deniability. For any other contemporary president, this would have been a no-brainer. Other Republicans like Jeff Flake, Cory Gardner, Lindsay Graham, Will Hurd, John Kasich, John McCain, Jerry Moran, and Marco Rubio all criticized Trump by name for his reaction.
Trump defenders can only talk about how some of what he said was technically true while completely missing the spirit of what he said. Some other Republicans get this. Republican Rep, Ed Royce, wrote, “The President needs to clearly and categorically reject white supremacists. No excuses. No ambiguity.” Jeb Bush wrote, “I urge POTUS to unite the country, not parse the assignment of blame for the events in Charlottesville.” Mitch McConnell stated, “There are no good neo-Nazis, and those who espouse their views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms.” Mitt Romney tweeted, “No, not the same. One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes.”
Even if a few Southerners don’t see statues of Confederate leaders and generals as racist, that’s an extreme degree of compartmentalizing. These Confederates fought to uphold slavery. That’s is their claim to fame and they shouldn’t be honored for that. Aside from the rare neo-Nazi, you don’t see Germans clamoring for Hitler statues even though Hitler is part of their heritage. Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis committed treason, they were traitors to their country, their actions in the Civil War led to the deaths of thousands upon thousands, and they tried to perpetuate slavery, the most abhorrent institution ever established in the United States of America. Why should that be honored? Also note that most of these statues and monuments were erected between 1900 and 1930, the era of Jim Crow laws, and again between 1956-1965, the era of the civil rights movement. These were times when racial conflict was highest and the messaging behind these monuments is white supremacy.
Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides,” which is a purely subjective claim that can’t be proven, but again, it clearly sends a positive message to the white supremacists. Anyone’s willingness to march alongside the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis chanting “Sieg Heil” and “Blood and Soil” and “Jews will not replace us” while carrying swastikas calls into question where their moral compass lies. Here are some examples of the hate on display at that rally:
Trump’s insinuation that George Washington is under attack because Robert E. Lee is under attack is about as disingenuous as James Woods implying that the Marine Corps War Memorial is the equivalent of Robert E. Lee statues in the eyes of the left. George Washington owned slaves in a time in which that was acceptable and he freed his slaves in his will. George Washington signed the Slave Trade Act of 1794 to curb the slave trade, and he did not actively fight to sustain slavery as an institution when times had changed to make slavery an even graver moral issue. A George Washington statue is not implicitly pro-slavery any more than it’s pro-dentures. It’s to celebrate Washington’s part in the American Revolution and creating the United States of America. A Robert E. Lee statue is implicitly pro-slavery. What are you celebrating about him if not that? That’s what he fought for, that’s what he’s known for, and he’d be an afterthought to history had he not done so. If Trump can’t understand that, he’s not smart enough to be President of the United States.
Let’s face it, we have a Racist in Chief now.