WASHINGTON — While President Donald Trump condemned the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday, he did not — and should have — held accountable the white nationalists spewing racism and anti-Semitism who gathered for the “Unite the Right” rally, one of one the largest gatherings of white supremacists in the U.S. in years.
Trump deplored the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence” and then – and this is the criticism – put the blame “On many sides. On many sides.”
This is a false equivalency.
By Trump putting the fault on “many sides” — and not calling out the white supremacists — he sent a powerful message, intended or not.
White supremacists, neo-Nazis and the like are entitled to exercise their First Amendment right to hold a rally and their Second Amendment right to bring their firearms, with open carry without a permit legal in Virginia.
Don’t get distracted by a side argument of whether the rally should have occurred. It did. That’s OK. People have a right to assemble and say what they want.
When they want to push their bigoted views, however, that should be deplored. Called out, by name, even before a rally takes place. This rally should have been condemned even if there were only peaceful protests, which sadly was not the case.
I know it takes two to tangle in a fight. But let’s not forget that at the root of the clashes was the white nationalist rally in this Virginia city – home to the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson – pegged to the removal of the Robert Edward Lee Sculpture statue in a park.
The Anti-Defamation League, which keeps track of hate groups, said the “Unite the Right event will likely be notable for the range of white supremacists it brings together,” one of the largest such gatherings in a decade, according to their records.
Of course, and I am not the first to note this, Trump certainly knows how to call out people – even fellow Republicans. The roll call gets longer every day: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former FBI Director James Comey, Sen. John McCain.
Trump had ample opportunity throughout Saturday — especially after a car deliberately rammed counter protestors and one person ended up killed — to expand on his remarks via his Twitter posts that “the hate and the division must stop.”
Through the day, I heard some Trump critics complain that in his statement, delivered at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N. J., he pivoted after three paragraphs to bragging about his economic accomplishments.
Since taking office on Jan. 20, Trump has gone to lengths not to antagonize his base.
I get it. If Trump wants to spotlight his accomplishments and play to his base – we can look at those sets of political choices another day.
But when it comes to responding to the Charlottesville clashes as the fault of “many sides” in the way he did, that’s giving the white supremacists a pass.