It’s not the fact that there are throwbacks like the people who marched in support of a Robert E. Lee statue in a park in Charlottesville, Virginia, yesterday that surprises me. Saddens me, yes, but doesn’t surprise. The only part about all that happened yesterday that did surprise was the response to it all from the president of the United States: I don’t know if he was excrutiatingly selective about his words, or just tone deaf, but he couldn’t find the words, or even the Tweets, to condemn white supremacists.
He didn’t/wouldn’t take sides in a fight over basic human rights, or even pretend to take sides and be seen as part of the mainstream.
What he did do yesterday was dog-whistle a message to some of his supporters, the people who knew he was an ignorant, truth-impaired, narcissistic megalomaniac with the attention span of a two year old but voted for him anyway, because when he promised to “make America great again” they heard “take our country back.” If we didn’t realize a long time ago what that means to those people, we know now:
The turmoil in Charlottesville began with a march Friday night by white nationalists on the campus of the University of Virginia and escalated Saturday morning as demonstrators from both sides gathered in and around the park. Waving Confederate flags, chanting Nazi-era slogans, wearing helmets and carrying shields, the white nationalists converged on the Lee statue inside the park and began chanting phrases like “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.”
“We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” to “take our country back,” said Mr. [David] Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Many of the white nationalist protesters carried campaign signs for Mr. Trump.
The White House is trying to cover his ass about it today, but what the president said yesterday—when it happened; when it mattered—was “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. On many sides; on many sides.”
Meaning what, exactly?
Yesterday in Slate, Josh Levin had a great answer to that question:
He then said those three words again—“On many sides”—as if to emphasize that this throwaway phrase was in fact the only bit of his short speech that he truly believed in. He did not talk about white supremacy, and he did not note the prevalence of racist chants. The troubles in Charlottesville, the president said, were everyone’s fault. Or, to put it another way, nobody in particular was more responsible than anyone else for what happened in Virginia this weekend. Not the president. Not the party that enabled him. Not even those who idolize Adolf Hitler.
Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacist violence, coming on the heels of his silence in the aftermath of last week’s mosque bombing in Minnesota, is just the latest affirmation of his fundamental immorality. The president’s racist, anti-Semitic, Muslim-hating acolytes heard the words Trump didn’t say on Saturday. They know they have an ally in the White House, a man who will abet anyone who abets his own hold on power.
Don’t think that it’s only the liberal mainstream media that thinks Trump is favoring the white supremacists—the white supremacists noticed, and cheered, the fact that he did not attack them and their ideology!
Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us.
He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate… on both sides!
So he implied the antifa are haters.
There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all.
He said he loves us all.
Also refused to answer a question about White Nationalists supporting him.
No condemnation at all.
When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room.
Really, really good.
God bless him.
He’s had another 24 hours to think about it, to articulate his beliefs, to try to make clear to people how he feels on the subject. As of post time, he has not. [UPDATE 8/14: Here‘s what he had to say today; it does not seem to me that his heart was in it.] [ANOTHER UPDATE 8/15: Never mind, he took it back.]
On a day that called for the president to take a stand, he instead made a perverse call for unity. “I love the people of our country,” Trump said at the end of his Bedminster Address. “I love all of the people of our country. We’re going to make America great again. But we’re going to make it great for all of the people of the United States of America.”
The neo-Nazis in Charlottesville heard that call, and so did the posters on the Daily Stormer. “On many sides,” Trump said. These are not anodyne words. They are dangerous ones. On Saturday, the president had the chance to tell the nation what it is he does and doesn’t believe in. That’s exactly what he did.
You could also check out this fine Twitter thread from yesterday, if you want to have a think about the gist of the protest from the white supremacists: