The ongoing self-defining of Donald Trump
Mo Udall once quipped, “Everything that needs to be said has been said – but not everyone’s said it.”
The comments about President Trump’s response to the crisis in Charlottesville have inspired reaction from everyone, and virtually none have been in the president’s defense. There’s a reason for that. His handling on multiple occasions during the past week have ranged from inept to heinous to dangerous to even offering countenance to the white-supremacist movement. But by repeatedly suggesting that both sides are to blame, Mr. Trump has signaled once again that he is not only tone deaf but far removed from a presidential level.
It started hours after the car plowed into a group of counter-protesters when the president called the incident the result of, “many sides.” He then paused for emphasis and again repeated the term, “many sides.” Let’s examine that. Protests are freedom of speech and freedom of expression – that is a Constitutionally given right to both sides. Backing a car into protesters is not. The President of the United States did not get on television to condemn the violence because thee were protests and counter-protests – he did so presumably because a car intentionally struck 19 people, killing one. That is not the fault of, “many sides, many sides.”
For Trump, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Well, I guess in this administration there really haven’t been any best of times, have there? And for someone who has had so many self-imposed setbacks, the aftermath of Charlottesville was a gimme. All the president had to do was issue a sharp, unambiguous condemnation and he couldn’t even do that. And as a result, Charlottesville has become Trump’s Katrina. Yes, if last Saturday’s statement was George W. Bush flying over New Orleans to survey the damage or saying, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” Tuesday’s news conference was the botched operation – the people standing on the roofs, the buses that took days to come,etc. Even Sunday’s statement where he did condemn the hate-groups by name was prepared and devoid of any emotion. It was almost as if it was done with the utmost grudging. To borrow a term he often uses, “Sad!”
During the last campaign, I heard endlessly about how Barack Obama invited the leader of Black Lives matter into the Oval Office even after senior members of that group advocated the killing of white police officers. Frankly, unless Obama read that leader the riot act (which I doubt), those criticisms are justified. But now many of those same people are rushing to the president’s defense.
This president, and I use that term loosely, needed to act boldly and decisively to leave no doubt that his tolerance for these hate-groups is non-existent. He should take a cue from one of his unabashed supporters, Newt Gingrich who, shortly after becoming House Speaker, fired Christina Jeffrey, the House Librarian for advocating teaching “the other point of view” of the Holocaust. Instead, we’re seeing reactions that illustrate the incredulity of the world Mr. Trump has moved us into, as counter-protesters have signs that read, “I can’t believe I have to have a sign that says Nazis are bad people.”
As for the contention that Trump needs these groups (and sadly, he probably does), that should be the last thing to factor in to governing. I have news for Mr. Trump. These people – and I use that term loosely, need him far more than he needs them. If he’s already thinking about his next campaign, he should be focusing more on the many people who either voted for him holding their noses or Independent and even some Republican voters who chose his opponents, whether Mrs. Clinton or Gary Johnson, because of doubts about his fitness, which by the way are being borne out. His wet-kisses to white supremacists are not helping him keep Pennsylvania, Michigan or Wisconsin – historically blue states that opted for him by narrow margins that would surely abandon him by huge margins today. Even Republicans who once enthusiastically backed Trump are seeing that. A member of the president’s own party who was even considered as a possible running-mate, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, issued a sharp rebuke by saying,”the president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.” But politics aside, Mr. Trump should not hesitate to condemn these hate-groups because it is the right thing to do.
I can recall various elections when a front-runner in a Democratic primary was African-American and people would argue against nominating that person because they feared he/she couldn’t win the general election. My view at that time was that I’d rather see that candidate be nominated and lose rather than giving in to that garbage. One such candidate was Harvey Gantt who twice challenged the vituperative Jesse Helms (Gantt did lose both times, and much of at least his first loss was due to racial politics). Instead, Mr. Trump has turned a deaf ear and still has folks connected to the hate movement. Steve Bannon is now gone but Trump tweeted his affection to him less than 24 hours. But Sebastian Gorka still remains. And Trump still signals a belief that he is impervious t the issue at hand because he rhetorically questions whether removing statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson might be next.
In short, Mr. Trump needs to use his bully pulpit and not only unify the nation, but make clear that hate does not have two sides. And he needs to do it with regularity. After all, the solar eclipse will be coming Monday – a once in a 99-year occurrence – he should be expressing his distaste in what seems to be more often than that. This week marked the 40th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. In the words of the immortal King, “It’s now or never.”