It’s happened before. In 1915, the first motion picture, ever, was screened at the White House – D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation – starring Lillian Gish as the sweet young (white) thing menaced by stupid and sexually aggressive thuggish black men (played by white actors in blackface) and saved by the heroic Ku Klux Klan. They were the good guys. Woodrow Wilson loved it. The film inspired the formation of the “second era” Ku Klux Klan at Stone Mountain, down in Georgia, the same year. The NAACP mounted a failed campaign to ban the film, but that only pissed off Griffith. He released Intolerance the next year – so there was a time when a sitting US president openly sided with white supremacists, a time when calling them out was considered an act of intolerance. Their views were valid too, if not heroic. Narrow-minded people couldn’t see that.
It happened again. Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman do the reporting:
President Trump buoyed the white nationalist movement on Tuesday as no president has done in generations – equating activists protesting racism with the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who rampaged in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend.
Never has he gone as far in defending their actions as he did during a wild, street-corner shouting match of a news conference in the gilded lobby of Trump Tower, angrily asserting that so-called alt-left activists were just as responsible for the bloody confrontation as marchers brandishing swastikas, Confederate battle flags, anti-Semitic banners and “Trump/Pence” signs.
There were cheers:
“Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth,” David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, wrote in a Twitter post shortly after Mr. Trump spoke.
Richard B. Spencer, a white nationalist leader who participated in the weekend’s demonstrations and vowed to flood Charlottesville with similar protests in the coming weeks, was equally encouraged. “Trump’s statement was fair and down to earth,” Mr. Spencer tweeted.
There were boos:
Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, a Democrat, wasted little time in accusing the president of adding to the divisions that put an unwanted spotlight on the normally peaceful college town.
“Neo-Nazis, Klansmen and white supremacists came to Charlottesville heavily armed, spewing hatred and looking for a fight,” Mr. McAuliffe said. “One of them murdered a young woman in an act of domestic terrorism, and two of our finest officers were killed in a tragic accident while serving to protect this community. This was not ‘both sides.'”
There was despair:
Members of the president’s staff, stunned and disheartened, said they never expected to hear such a voluble articulation of opinions that the president had long expressed in private. The National Economic Council chairman, Gary D. Cohn, and the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, who are Jewish, stood by uncomfortably as the president exacerbated a controversy that has once again engulfed a White House in disarray.
There was Trump:
“I’ve condemned neo-Nazis,” Mr. Trump told reporters, who interrupted him repeatedly when he seemed to equate the actions of protesters on each side.
He spoke of “very fine people on both sides.” And of the demonstrators who rallied on Friday night, some chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans, he said, “You had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest.”
There was context:
Since the 1960s, Republican politicians have made muscular appeals to white voters, especially those in the South, on broad cultural grounds. But as a rule, they have taken a hard line on the party’s racist, nativist and anti-Semitic fringe. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush and George W. Bush roundly condemned white supremacists.
In 1991, President George Bush took on Mr. Duke, who was then seeking the governor’s seat in Louisiana, saying, “When someone has so recently endorsed Nazism, it is inconceivable that someone can reasonably aspire to a leadership role in a free society.”
There was a very angry man:
Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly said he is not prejudiced, has been equivocal in his public or private statements against white nationalists and other racist organizations.
On Saturday, in his first comments on Charlottesville, Mr. Trump blamed the violence on protesters from “many sides.”
After a storm of criticism over his remarks, Mr. Trump’s aides persuaded him to moderate his message by assigning explicit blame for the violence on far-right agitators, which led to a stronger denunciation of hate groups – emailed to reporters and attributed to an unnamed “spokesperson.”
When that failed to quell the controversy, aides, including Mr. Trump’s new chief of staff, John F. Kelly, pressed him to make another public statement. Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, urged him to take a more moderate stance, according to two people familiar with the situation. But as with so many other critical moments in Mr. Trump’s presidency, the two were on vacation, this time in Vermont.
Grudgingly, Mr. Trump agreed.
That was a disaster – Trump looked like a hostage woodenly reciting words that were not his own – because they weren’t his own – but he would not be a hostage any longer:
No sooner had he delivered the Monday statement than he began railing privately to his staff about the news media. He fumed to aides about how unfairly he was being treated, and expressed sympathy with nonviolent protesters who he said were defending their “heritage,” according to a West Wing official.
He felt he had already given too much ground to his opponents, the official said.
That’s who he is:
Mr. Trump prides himself on an unapologetic style he learned from his father, Fred Trump, a New York City housing developer, and Roy Cohn, a combative lawyer who served as an aide to Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Trump attracted a significant following of white supremacists, expressed sympathy with white southerners fighting to preserve monuments for Confederate icons and was slow to distance himself from racists like Mr. Duke.
The president’s fury grew Monday as members of a White House business council began to resign to protest his reaction to Charlottesville. As usual, Mr. Trump found his voice by tweeting angrily about the news media.
By Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Trump’s staff sensed the culmination of a familiar cycle: The president was about to revert to his initial, more defiant stance. As Mr. Trump approached the microphone in the lobby of Trump Tower on Tuesday, aides winced at the prospect of an unmediated president. With good reason.
A typical reaction was this:
Eric Cantor, a former Republican congressman from Virginia who was a member of Republican leadership, was horrified by what took place in Charlottesville, and said the president needed to have spoken out earlier.
“It really did demand a statement at the very beginning,” said Mr. Cantor, who is Jewish. He added that efforts by the president to equate the actions of the counter protesters, however violent they may have been, with the neo-Nazis and the driver of the car that murdered a protester were “unacceptable.”
“There’s no moral equivalence,” Mr. Cantor said.
There’s some irony there. Eric Cantor had been the House Majority Leader and in June, 2014, in his bid for re-election. Cantor lost the Republican primary to economics professor Dave Brat – a Tea Party absolutist – and then announced his early resignation as House Majority Leader, and then announced his resignation from Congress. He’s nobody now, and he’s Jewish anyway. Those neo-Nazis would laugh at him if they had heard what he said here – but no one pays attention to Eric Cantor anymore.
Cantor may not matter, but Rod Dreher at The American Conservative makes some obvious points:
The President of the United States cannot control himself. I know, this isn’t really news, but good grief! It is hard to imagine a president who does more damage to himself by not being able to handle his own temper. Even if he 100 percent believed the things he said today, he ought to have enough sense than to say them publicly. If I worked for this administration, I would send my resume out tonight – if not out of a sense of self-respect, then out of a sense of self-preservation. Trump’s temperament is going to bring his presidency crashing down. It has already started.
There really are very fine people who are opposed to taking down Confederate statues. I know some of them. Their kind would not have gone anywhere near that far-right event in Charlottesville… The rally was called “Unite the Right,” so named by organizers because they wanted to bring together all the far-right groups. If you went down to that protest this weekend and marched alongside neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen, you deserve to be condemned in the strongest possible terms.
This should not be difficult for the President of the United States to do. But it is, because that’s the kind of man he is.
Trump has definitively made his brand pure poison. Anybody who stands by him going forward is going to suffer for it… There are going to be some prominent people who will not recover from their embrace of Donald Trump.
The nation is at an extraordinarily weak moment. Nearly two out of three Americans disapprove of the president. That’s bad news for any president, but in Trump’s case, it’s worse, because he’s so polarizing. If this country were to face a serious crisis – a war, in the worst case – do you really see the nation uniting around Donald Trump? If I were an enemy of America, I would see this as an opportunity.
That’s a worry, but Josh Marshall is not surprised by any of this:
This is Trump, a man whose deepest political impulses are tied to racial grievance and a desire for revenge, a desire to place the deserving and white back at the top of the racial hierarchy. People get caught up on whether or not people are willing to call Trump a ‘racist’. Of course, he’s a racist. But that doesn’t tell us enough. Lots of people dislike blacks or Jews and don’t want to live near them, etc. But many, likely most with racist attitudes, do not embrace a politics driven by racial grievance. Trump’s politics are about racial grievance. It’s not latent or peripheral but rather central. That’s different and it’s worse. It is one of the few consistent themes in his politics going back many, many years…
We can infer what stands behind a person’s public statements if we’ve seen them enough, under different pressures and in different contexts. Trump’s repeated expressions of sympathy for racist activists, refusals to denounce racist activists, coddling and appointments of racist activists can only really mean one thing: that he instinctively sympathizes with them and indeed is one. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me 80 million times and I need to seriously consider what the fuck is wrong with me.
So there is nothing new here:
I confess I had a small degree of surprise that the events of the weekend – as horrifying and tragic as they are – have had quite the effect on people they seem to have had. This is not to diminish them. It is only to say that I do not think they should be so surprising. I don’t think they should amount to a revelation that shifts our basic understanding of things. We have if not a growing white supremacist movement in the US at least an increasingly vocal and emboldened one. They both made Trump possible and have in turn been energized and emboldened by his success. He reacts this way because he is one of them. He is driven by the same view of the world, the same animus and grievances. What we’ve seen over the last five days is sickening and awful. The house is on fire. But it was on fire a week ago. It’s been on fire since November. The truth is indeed unimaginable and terrifying. But we need to accept the full truth of it if we are going to be able to save our country.
Jennifer Rubin offers a bit more detail:
The Washington Post reported: “First, he tried to argue that he initially hesitated to condemn the explicitly racist elements at Charlottesville only because he didn’t have enough information to do so.”
When has Trump ever required facts to make an assertion? Indeed, after three days he decided that the facts as we all had seen them – neo-Nazis and white nationalists chanting anti-Semitic statements, bearing Tiki torches, engaged in street battles, and one of their ilk committing an act of domestic terrorism, killing one and injuring dozens – didn’t really matter. He alone was convinced there was equivalence between the neo-Nazi and the protesters objecting to the white supremacist message. (“You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and it was horrible,” he said. “And it was a horrible thing to watch. But there is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You’ve just called them the left — that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.”) But only one side killed someone, right? Trump did not make that distinction.
But he did somehow intuit that not all the people marching with neo-Nazis and white supremacists were bad guys. “I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones. But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest, because you know – I don’t know if you know – they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit.”
Really, which of the Confederate and Nazi-flag bearers were innocent, peaceful and just good people?
To top it off, he equated Robert E. Lee, who waged war against the United States and fought to continue enslavement of fellow-human beings, with George Washington. Plainly, the New York education system, Fordham University and Wharton School of Business have failed Trump, promoting him without ensuring that he possessed basic reasoning skills and a grasp of American history. But in these institutions’ defense, he is unteachable, we have learned…
How bad was his press conference? Well, when you lose Fox News you might as well throw in the towel. Fox News’s Kat Timpf declared, “It’s honestly crazy for me to have to comment on this right now because I’m still in the phase where I’m wondering if it was actually real life what I just watched. It was one of the biggest messes that I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe it happened. It shouldn’t be some kind of bold statement to say, ‘Yes, a gathering full of white supremacist Nazis doesn’t have good people in it. Those are all bad people, period.'”
As one of those Never Trump conservatives, she’s had it:
Republicans such as Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) re-upped their condemnation, but mere words fall on deaf ears. Unless and until Republicans are willing to censure the president, withhold endorsement for a second term and vigorously pursue avenues for impeachment, they are wasting their breath and our time.
She’s also not changed her mind, not now:
We should be clear on several points. First, it is morally reprehensible to serve in this White House, supporting a president so utterly unfit to lead a great country. Second, John F. Kelly has utterly failed as chief of staff; the past two weeks have been the worst of Trump’s presidency, many would agree. He can at this point only serve his country by resigning and warning the country that Trump is a cancer on the presidency, to borrow a phrase. Third, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have no excuses and get no free passes. They are as responsible as anyone by continuing to enable the president. Finally, Trump apologists have run out of excuses and credibility. He was at the time plainly the more objectionable of the two main party candidates; in refusing to recognize that they did the country great harm. They can make amends by denouncing him and withdrawing all support. In short, Trump’s embrace and verbal defense of neo-Nazis and white nationalists should be disqualifying from public service. All true patriots must do their utmost to get him out of the Oval Office as fast as possible.
That’s unlikely, and Evan Hurst looks back:
We know, we know, we know. Hillary Clinton is a terrible rage-harpy who should abandon public life forever and probably stop showing her lady face anywhere outside her house, because she ran such a BAD CAMPAIGN and offered NO VISION for solving Regular (White People’s) Problems, despite how she talked about those things constantly and her website was full of solutions and plans to make all Americans’ lives better, even the lives of the literal tens of thousands of white people in the Rust Belt who, with the help of Russia, propelled Donald Trump to the most historic negative three million popular vote U.S. American presidential victory in all of world history.
MAYBE if she had talked about those things in her 33,000 missing EMAILS, you know? Ever think about that, Hillghazi? And MAYBE if she hadn’t run around hurting Real America’s feelings all the time by saying lots of Trump supporters belonged in something called the Basket of Deplorables – such a divisive asshole, that Hillary! – then we wouldn’t be sitting here witnessing the aftermath of an actual act of detestable terrorism committed by economic insecurity actual Nazis.
Oh wait, sorry, what we meant to say is that maybe if fuckers had LISTENED TO HER when she committed the crime of saying something very true about how Donald Trump was enabling, encouraging and emboldening a certain group of racist neo-Nazi white supremacist Fuckhead-Americans, and maybe if folks on MANY SIDES had pulled their thumbs out of their assholes and voted for the only fucking qualified AND VIABLE opponent to Trump and everything he represents, we wouldn’t have the actual Basket of Deplorables partying its way through the streets of Charlottesville like it’s Germany, 1936.
Well, she did say this:
Everywhere I go, people tell me how concerned they are by the divisive rhetoric coming from my opponent in this election. It’s like nothing we’ve heard before from a nominee for President of the United States.
From the start, Donald Trump has built his campaign on prejudice and paranoia. He’s taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over one of America’s two major political parties.
His disregard for the values that make our country great is profoundly dangerous. In just the past week, under the guise of “outreach” to African Americans, Trump has stood up in front of largely white audiences and described black communities in insulting and ignorant terms: “Poverty. Rejection. Horrible education. No housing. No homes. No ownership. Crime at levels nobody has seen… Right now, you walk down the street, you get shot.”
Those are his words.
Donald Trump misses so much. He doesn’t see the success of black leaders in every field…The vibrancy of black-owned businesses or the strength of the black church… He doesn’t see the excellence of historically black colleges and universities or the pride of black parents watching their children thrive…And he certainly doesn’t have any solutions to take on the reality of systemic racism and create more equity and opportunity in communities of color.
It takes a lot of nerve to ask people he’s ignored and mistreated for decades, “What do you have to lose?” The answer is everything!
Trump’s lack of knowledge or experience or solutions would be bad enough. But what he’s doing here is more sinister. Trump is reinforcing harmful stereotypes and offering a dog whistle to his most hateful supporters. It’s a disturbing preview of what kind of President he’d be.
This is what I want to make clear today:
A man with a long history of racial discrimination, who traffics in dark conspiracy theories drawn from the pages of supermarket tabloids and the far reaches of the internet, should never run our government or command our military. If he doesn’t respect all Americans, how can he serve all Americans?
Now, I know some people still want to give Trump the benefit of the doubt. They hope that he will eventually reinvent himself – that there’s a kinder, gentler, more responsible Donald Trump waiting in the wings somewhere. After all, it’s hard to believe anyone – let alone a nominee for President of the United States – could really believe all the things he says.
But the hard truth is, there’s no other Donald Trump. This is it.
And America shrugged. They didn’t know they were about to see the birth of a new nation – or a reprise of that D. W. Griffith movie from so long ago, the movie that Woodrow Wilson liked so much, when a sitting US president openly sided with white supremacists and calling them out was considered an act of intolerance. Their views were valid too, if not heroic. Narrow-minded people couldn’t see that.
We’ve seen this movie before. It seems we’ll have to work things out again, if we can this time.