President Donald Trump has been heavily criticized for his statement in response to the recent violent protests in Charlottesville, VA. And rightly so. In a statement from Bedminster, New Jersey, the President said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time.” In this statement, President Trump failed to acknowledge the groups that displayed this “hatred, bigotry, and violence” and instead chose to blame the attack and riot “on many sides.” By looking at the bare facts, this is pretty far from the truth.
On Saturday, August 12, a group of white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, VA to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The protest was organized by a local resident Jason Kessler who called their event “Unite for Right.” Counter-protesters soon arrived and were accosted by an increasingly violent crowd of white supremacists. Police were called in to disperse the crowd, and at 1:42 PM, a car sped straight into the group of protesters, killing a counter-demonstrator and wounding at least 19.
There aren’t “many sides” to this issue. A group which included Neo Nazi’s, members of the alt-right, and other white supremacist groups turned violent and 3 people were killed (Heather Heyer in the car crash, state troopers Jay Cullen and Berke M. M. Bates when their helicopter crashed near the protest.) A 20-year-old man pictured holding a shield of Vanguard America (a white nationalist group), intentionally drove his car into a large crowd of counter-protesters. This was an act of terror. And the President framed it as a messy skirmish with no real culprit to blame.
Suddenly, the man who praised himself for calling it like it is and for ignoring political correctness was silenced by the face of white supremacy. Donald Trump campaigned on his promise to always say the words “radical Islamic terrorism” to describe the threat of terror. He criticized former President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for refusing to do so. But he has been uncharacteristically speechless when asked about the attack in Charlottesville, even inappropriately so. In the days following a domestic terror attack, the President must be the leader who can remind Americans that he and the government do not stand for hate and condemn the groups that perpetrate it. They do not need a blanket statement that shows a complete disregard for facts, disrespect toward victims, and fails to recognize a growing problem in American culture.
Some Trump supporters have come out to say that it is unfair to criticize Trump for his statement on Saturday while praising President Obama’s refusal to say “radical Islamic terrorism.” While some may find this a valid point, it’s simply not an apt comparison. President Obama was often asked to speak about terrorism at large and to talk about all the threats Americans face, both internally and externally. To say the only terrorist threat in the world is Islamic is not representative of the truth, as proven by what has occurred in Charlottesville. ISIS and al-Qaeda are indeed terrible organizations, and proudly Islamic at that. But because they exist should we ignore the KKK, an overtly white Christian group? Should we ignore the Neo-Nazi parties across the world who are openly and loudly anti-Semitic? It’s simply false to name all terror threats Islamic, because they simply aren’t.
On the other hand, President Trump was asked to speak about a specific instance which occurred in the US, perpetrated by a group that lives and thrives in America. As President of the United States, it is supremely important for him to denounce hate groups that want to spread their ideas as the “real America.” Terrorists are so named because they commit acts of unspeakable evil with the intent to harm, to pull apart society, perhaps even with the idea to remake that society in what they consider a “better” image. When a group of Americans unites with the goal of scaring others into believing their twisted version of the US is superior, it is up to the President to disavow it. Perhaps it’s not so much saying the words “white supremacy” as it is staying away from blaming “many sides” in a conflict that only involved one.
Terrorism is terrorism is terrorism is terrorism. There is no difference between the white supremacist who drove a car into a crowd in Charlottesville and the Islamic jihadist who attacked civilians with a machete at the Louvre. But there is a difference between carelessly labeling every group something they are not because it fits a political agenda and taking a stand against an incident of hate in the US caused by a group that has plagued America throughout its history.
This brings yet another significant difference between terrorism in general and what happened in Charlottesville that the President of the United States should recognize. The Ku Klux Klan has existed in some form since 1865. Along with other white supremacists groups, the KKK once exuded widespread fear, and still commands a significant influence in certain communities. This is a part of US history of which we should not be proud. The fact that these radically un-American ideas are again gaining traction enough for this tragedy to happen in Charlottesville is concerning. A good leader must acknowledge when America’s own antithesis rears its ugly head in such a way. It is the responsibility of the President to understand that these terrors live among us and therefore it is also his responsibility to stand vehemently against them.
Maybe President Trump lacks the understanding or subtlety to grasp that concept or even to see the difference between properly condemning this attack and saying “radical Islamic terrorism” whenever it suits him. But if nothing else he should at least try to be consistent in his statements. If he was willing to insult the mayor of London for not being loud enough in his denunciation of the London attack this June then he should have been the most aggressive critic against the Charlottesville attack. But time has shown that neither consistency nor honesty are traits that Donald Trump owns. In a moment of darkness and sadness, the President has shown yet again how utterly unqualified and undeserving he is for the office he holds. He has chosen to put his own comfort above the needs of the American people.
It is unfortunate that we must now put up with the most unpresidential behavior imaginable but what more could have been expected of the man who constantly lies, insults, and bullies anyone who dares to oppose him? We must now look to our more local leaders, like Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer. Both have condemned this attack and provided leadership and kindness to the victims, while leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that they oppose white supremacy in any form. Mayor Signer said Sunday morning on CBS’ “Face the Nation”, “Our democracy has been through much worse than this, but that requires us to rise to the occasion. We’re going to do that work here – we’re going to work on civility and- listening, deliberation, first amendment, religious toleration, pluralism…What I did not hear in the president’s statement yesterday, as well-intentioned as it may have been, is I didn’t hear the words ‘white supremacy’. And I think that it’s important to call this for what it is.” Sunday was the 4th day in President Trump’s presidency in which he did not tweet out a message.
On Monday, one of Trump’s first tweets slammed CEO Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma for leaving his Manufacturing Council. Upon arriving at the White House later in the day, he made another statement, calling racism evil and denouncing white nationalist hate groups. That statement comes two days after a white supremacist drove a car into a crowd of protesters; after many Democrats and Republicans called him out for failing to acknowledge the truth about what happened in Charlottesville.
For the man who campaigned on calling everything the way it is, this is just too little, too late.