Terry H. Schwadron
Aug. 15, 2017
The President looked uncomfortably as if he had to swallow some bad medicine and put a good face on it. If you can’t get it right at first, maybe try several more times — if you have to do so.
Apparently that’s the theory that President Donald Trump has been following. Finally yesterday, after three days of verbal fumbling, the President offered a brief, cogent, appropriate statement naming white supremacist groups by name of being at the root of weekend violence in Charlottesville, Va.
He read a statement — God knows whose words they were — that finally heeded the flood of criticism that the President has endured since Saturday for trying to avoid pinning the tail of responsibility on the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and variously named alt-right, white supremacist groups for promoting violence up to and including the death of at least one counter-protester by driving a car into a crowd of opponents.
The President said what had already been announced, that the FBI and Justice Department Civil Rights divisions would be investigating the car incident in particular. But he refrained from terming the weekend violence domestic violence, which even the ever-conservative Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions had done in television interviews a few hours earlier.
Basically, the President’s words were the result not of the President’s mind or values, but of that of his pollsters, representatives, and the ever-present repetition on cable television that he had somehow come up short as a national calmer-in-chief by spreading the blame for the weekend on activists “on all sides.” Indeed, the specific language that the President used targeted criminal activity by the white supremacist groups involved, and left hanging whether the President thinks that otherwise, it is perfectly okay to have groups like neo-Nazis espousing hate and violence.
Indeed, since Saturday, radio and television interviews have included any number of Trump supporters who thought that a general message of kumbaya from the President was perfectly fine, and that, in any case, Barak Obama had leaned too far in support of groups like Black Lives Matter with no abridgement of public cultural support.
In the end, of course, these words by the President — “Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.” — are totally unsupported by any government action of Mr. Trump’s behest.
For that matter, the President did not even acknowledge that many of the white supremacists last weekend were wearing Trump hats or talking about coming to the forefront because of the Trump administration. He could have used the occasion to push white supremacists formally away from associating with the administration.
Indeed, we see a Justice Department that is intent on abandoning community policing reforms, support for voter ID laws and other voter suppression efforts, and redirecting activities of the civil rights division away from efforts to make laws more inclusive. The administration through the Education and Justice Departments just punched away at affirmative action policies in university admissions, and the President told the military to drop transgender people from serving in their ranks, a suggestion that still has yet to be turned into an order. This President ran a campaign aimed at immigrants, Mexicans, blacks, and others, with some anti-Semitic moments. Instead he talked of considering a pardon for Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a self-identified hater of immigrants.
Those jumping up to criticize the President included many Republicans, and business leaders as well. When Kenneth Frazier, the president of Merck Inc., a Big Pharma company, said the President’s response to the weekend was so weak that he, Frazier,
would withdraw from a presidential commission, the President instantly jumped up to criticize the businessman.
The point is that if things irk the President, he is loath to ignore the urge to decry them. But here we have American values truly at risk, truly at odds with the facts of the weekend situation, and the President has turned into a shambling, bumbling, tongue-tied man who has no particular sense of American justice at his core.
The President’s new words came late and were still being subjected to review and criticism as too little. Beyond the FBI investigation, there is no action plan to lessen the effects of racism or even diminish the influence of the alt-right, even in the White House. Instead, Stephen K. Bannon, Stephen Miller and others associated with that ideology, continue to offer substantive policy advice for the president, though there were reports that Bannon’s in trouble with the boss.
As a Wasington Post blogger notes, “He read from a teleprompter. Speaking from his heart would have been impossible, given his obvious lack of passion and willful blindness over the past couple of days. He did not mention the “alt-right,” nor did he announce he is firing Stephen K. Bannon, who once bragged he gave the alt-right a platform at Breitbart. He did not announce any specific policy measures. He did not apologize for his moral obtuseness. This was the weakest statement he could have gotten away with, 48 hours too late.”
David Duke, former KKK leader, decried the President’s statements last night, telling him to remember that it was White Americans who put him in the White House.
In an attempt to keep his political base, the President gave up serious leadership points. It comes as Donald Trump is trying his best to provoke North Korea, Iran, Venezuela to allow him to unleash the U.S. military, where he has virtually no legislative achievement, and where his presidency is marked with more for the rich, less for those who need it, and a constant state of emergency over all-things-Russia.
It is remarkable that Mr. Trump thinks that Charlottesville was about public relations for the White House, not about a critical self-indictment of what has been usual in America.