Editorials

Trump’s weak statement failed the people of Charlottesville and the rest of us

Trump criticizes hatred 'on many sides' after Charlottesville violence

President Donald Trump has condemned "in the strongest possible terms" what he's calling an "egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides" after clashes at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
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President Donald Trump has condemned "in the strongest possible terms" what he's calling an "egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides" after clashes at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

In the same way that some liberals enjoyed the stick-it-to-the-man spectacle of an African American presiding over the country, some conservatives enjoy the spectacle of Donald Trump sticking it to advocates of diversity.

As a cultural exercise, it may have seemed harmless. But that changed in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend. Saber rattling of the far-far right isn’t merely depressed adolescents showing off for each other online, or sad, addled racists whistling Dixie. People died.

Donald Trump did not drive the car into anti-fascist demonstrators in Charlottesville, killing Heather D. Heyer, 32. He did not cause the police helicopter to crash, killing two officers. But it is beyond strange that Trump managed to muster such a weak, mealy-mouthed statement, referring to “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides.”

On many sides?

This is not an on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand situation. Nor is it a liberal vs. conservative question. This is a matter of what it means to be the children of fathers and grandfathers who stormed the beaches at Normandy, who defeated Hitler’s genocidal war machine, and who liberated Auschwitz.

Many conservative leaders understand that.

“The Nazis, the KKK and white supremacists are repulsive and evil, and all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, bigotry, anti-Semitism and hatred that they propagate,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said.

“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,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, tweeted.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was particularly biting, noting on Fox that fascists think they have a friend in the White House. “The president can be clear when he wants to be. He needs to be clear here,” Graham said.

Words matter, but so does policy. Graham and Cruz called for investigations into such groups. They should make sure the U.S. Justice Department follows through.

Trump, for his part, needs to take a stand. He goes out of his way to denounce terrorists who claim to be followers of Islam, no matter where they strike. It should not be difficult to call white terrorists what they are, especially because they are responsible for so many more acts of domestic terrorism.

The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting provided a detailed look at terrorists incidents between 2008 and 2016. It shows 63 cases of Islamist domestic terrorism, most of which were foiled. That compares with 115 acts committed by right-wing extremists.

It ought to trouble Trump that the vile racist David Duke spoke out over the weekend, saying the rally was intended to help “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.” It should weigh on Trump that a Nazi publication felt vindicated because Trump “outright refused to disavow. … When reporters were screaming at him about White Nationalism he just walked out of the room.”

The hooligans went to Charlottesville ostensibly to protest a legitimate decision by city leaders to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee. We understand that thugs have a First Amendment right to chant Nazi slogans. Americans have spilled blood to preserve that right. But these creeps were armed and ready for a battle.

Virginia authorities deserve praise that no shots were fired, even though, as Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe noted, many of the outside agitators carried semi-automatic weapons. Trump comported himself far less honorably. The nation looks to a president to establish a moral tone. This president failed the people of Charlottesville and the rest of us.

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