Two days after giving white supremacists a subtle wink and a nod, President Trump declared the racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic thugs in Charlottesville, Virginia, “repugnant.”
Trump slow-walked his indignation from decrying violence “on many sides” on Saturday; to a White House statement, issued by a spokesperson, that the president condemns violence by “white supremacists, KKK, Neo-Nazi and all extremist groups,” on Sunday. By the time he got around to said groups “repugnant” and racism “evil” on Monday, he had lost what tiny scrap of moral authority he had on this issue.
After all, white supremacists and neo-Nazis adore him. Former KKK leader David Duke said as much: “We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back.”
In truth, this president can’t persuasively condemn the violence in which Heather Heyer died when a car driven by a Hitler-loving “deplorable” smashed into a crowd of resisters.
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“Knock the crap out of him, would you? I promise you I will pay your legal fees.”
“Part of the problem is no one wants to hurt each other any more.”
“I’d like to punch him in the face.”
Some of the most heartening statements condemning the carnage in Charlottesville have come from members of Trump’s own Republican Party. A surprising array broke from their usual lockstep behind him and recognized the threat that the white supremacist and neo-Nazi movements pose to people of conscience everywhere in this country — and to America’s very foundation of strength.
Florida lawmakers represented the leading edge, calling out the president and the vile groups protesting the removal of a Confederate hero’s statue in Charlottesville.
Sen. Marco Rubio spoke with a commendable clarity, unheard since he became Trump’s point man. He tweeted on Saturday: “Very important for the nation to hear @potus describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen tweeted that same day: “White supremacists, Neo-Nazis and anti-Semites are the antithesis of our American values. There are no other “sides” to hatred and bigotry.”
Even Gov. Rick Scott made an effort: “I don’t believe in racism, I don’t believe in bigotry. I believe that the KKK, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, they don’t belong in our society.”
Good to hear. But for decades, the Republican Party, with an able assist from Democrats, has profited from blowing dog whistles to divide the races — state’s rights, welfare queens, Barack Hussein Obama; suppressing the votes of African Americans and other minorities; from a dual system of justice that rationalizes away police officers shooting retreating black men in the back; making Hispanic immigrants the scapegoats for taking away jobs when, in truth, it’s been more profitable for companies to move jobs overseas or let robots do them; insisting that terrorists are bearded men with hard-to-pronounce foreign names, not those whose names roll off the tongue: Timothy McVeigh. Jared Loughner. Dylann Roof.
Few elected officials should be surprised by what happened in Charlottesville. Rather, they should be ashamed that they were, in some ways, enablers.