On the one-year anniversary of the violence in Charlottesville and the killing of Heather Heyer, an anti-Nazi protester allegedly mowed down by a white nationalist, President Trump reminded us he is incapable of treating white nationalism as a singular evil — or of offending his white-grievance-obsessed base.
Trump unleashed a furious backlash a year ago when he engaged in jaw-dropping moral equivalence, saying there were “very fine people, on both sides” (meaning both Nazi sympathizers and anti-Nazi protesters) and later claiming there was “blame on both sides.” Saturday, he gave the same wink to white grievance mongers, insisting on Twitter, “The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans.”
Let’s count the things wrong with this.
The “riots” — a blob without definition — did not “result” in “death and division” — two more blobs with no definition. Heyer’s death. A white nationalist allegedly murdered an anti-Nazi protester. Period. Trump cannot say those words because to do so would reaffirm his failure a year ago and, worse, annoy the segment of his white base that thinks they are the victims of racism. As The Post reported, “Trump’s tweet Saturday, his first public mention of the anniversary, did not label the event as a white supremacist rally or specify that it was a white rallygoer who rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one.” (One is reminded of his 2017 International Holocaust Remembrance Day message which omitted the word “Jew.”)
“We must come together as a nation” is rich coming from the president who has done more to fan anti-immigrant, racist hatred than any modern president. Indeed, racial divisiveness (e.g., picking fights with African American athletes, calling African Americans “low IQ,” referring to mostly nonwhite countries as “shitholes,” equating innocent “dreamers” with MS-13 gang members, trying to take away funding from cities that do not spend public-safety dollars rounding up and detaining illegal immigrants who haven’t committed serious crimes, the Muslim ban) is central to Trump’s presidency. He returns to the theme again and again, especially to rid himself of negative headlines on other subjects. Trump of course also divides the country by gender (e.g. implying Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand would trade sex for campaign donations, attacking women’s intelligence but rarely if ever men’s, mocking the #MeToo movement, praising alleged wife-beater Rob Porter). Since he began running for president, he has divided Americans by place of birth (native born or not), by religion (demonizing Muslims), by medical condition (mocking a New York Times reporter with disabilities), by region (ignoring or minimizing Puerto Rico’s misery), by profession (the press is the enemy of the people) and by expressions of patriotism (if you kneel for the national anthem, you don’t love America).
And Trump felt compelled to throw in “all types of racism” to make sure the “fine people” among the neo-Nazis don’t feel left out. He couldn’t simply say, “I condemn racism and acts of violence.” And finally, his wish for “peace” is hard to stomach given his habit of inciting crowds to engage in violence.
A large majority of Americans agree — and how could they not? — that Trump has been bad for race relations. A Politico-Morning Consult poll found that “55 percent of voters say race relations have worsened under Trump, compared with 16 percent who say they have gotten better. Another 18 percent say race relations have stayed about the same since Trump became president last year. Just over half of white voters, 51 percent, say race relations have worsened under Trump, while larger majorities of African-American voters (79 percent) and Hispanics (60 percent) say they have gotten worse.”
In sum, Trump has lost the moral authority to govern many times over, not the least of which is because racial division is part and parcel of his appeal to his base. If we want to come together as a country, we had better find leaders committed to that principle, not to driving us apart as a tactic to remain in power.