After spending a weekend not writing about politics, you just know what's bursting at the seams. After all, SO much has already been exclaimed, pouring out deafening American outrage at not only the contemptible actions of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK in Charlottesville -- but directed at the shocking, sudden inability of the president to point direct fingers at those at the core of it all.
And yes, I know this is long. But I spared you writing about it over the weekend, so you get the whole pent-up thing here now. But then, you also get some perspective on it all at the end, as well...
But first things first. Let's be exceedingly clear, this past weekend is not about racists or hate nor it it even about white nationalists. "White nationalists" is a comforting term, like the comfy "alt-right." It's white supremacists. And it's neo-Nazis -- on American soil. "Nazi" is a word I'm always reticent to use for others not part of the Third Reich, even during the past year of hatred, racism and violence -- but then when you're dealing with swastikas and with sieg heil salutes, there's no other appropriate word to use. They're neo-Nazis. Anything else is obfuscation and skirting the issue. And make no mistake, the movement they're pushing is what their namesake Nazis pushed -- hostile bullying through hatred and violence, which ultimately is terrorism.
And how did Trump deal with this over the weekend? Neo-Nazis on American soil and white supremacists and the KKK? His first "tweet" was, at best, just empty, generic typing. No specifics of what was actually happening in Virginia -- which was pretty hard to miss, especially for someone who watches so much TV -- but instead, something so devoid of thought that it actually wished "Best regards" to everyone. Yes, "best regards" the sort of thing you'd include in a birthday card -- albeit an impersonal one, to someone you really weren't close to, but felt an obligation to send.
"Condolences to the family of the young woman killed today," he typed, "and best regards to all of those injured, in Charlottesville, Virginia. So sad!"
Reading this, coming from the so-called American president, you might have thought that maybe a patio collapsed where a garden party was being held. (Well, except for the whole "best regards" part. That might have bewildered you. Sending a nice, little "howdy" wave.) If anything was "So sad!", that was it.
That was it. The epitome of "So sad!" -- but only until the public statement he finally made.
While I know that most of the country focused instantly on the the words Trump said -- and didn't say -- my first reaction was something else entirely, which I haven't heard commented on. And it's that this was a written statement that read so incredibly poorly, with no thought or understanding of the words someone else put down for him. I watched aghast that this soulless man was unable to speak extemporaneously at all, unable to express himself from the heart about this horror unfolding before us all. Yes, I know it's too easy to quip, "Well, that's because he doesn't have a heart." But of course he has one. It's just that he has no idea how to access it normally like a functioning human.
And as we all know now, not only didn't he name white supremacists or neo-Nazis in his brief talk, likely written by Steve Bannon it would seem (good job on the ball there, Chief of Staff John Kelly -- remind us again why you were brought in to be the "adult" in the room), but he merely talked in the most generic terms about this violence going on, using the phrase that, at this point, we all know ended up ratcheting the national outrage towards him, as he tried to suggest that the violence was "on many sides. On many sides."
(The repetition of the second "On many sides" appears to have been the only unprepared words Trump had it in him to speak.)
It doesn't take much observational skill to grasp the sickness of the statement. NO, don't drag others into this. This is about white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK. Not many sides. It's about one side. That side. The side of violence, bullying and terrorism.
(The best comment I read about this came from Michael Viser of the Boston Globe. He wrote -- "There were two sides during World War II, too. We picked one.")
Bizarrely, though not surprisingly, Trump even figured out a way to unnecessarily and inappropriately bring Barack Obama into his remarks, stating in an oh-so "thoughtful" way that this hatred didn't start during Obama's presidency -- as if we shouldn't think he bore responsibility. Which we didn't. Though in fairness, a lot of violent racism actually was ratcheted up by racists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK over there being a black president.
So, no, I can't imagine that any rational, thinking person did consider that Barack Obama bore any responsibility for this hatred. Such people understand that it was on Trump. And by "such people," I include those who have entered pre-kindergarten and up.
It's not that Trump hasn't denounced the hatred and violence of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK during the past year (going so far as trying to say that he supposedly didn't even know who former-KKK leader and one-time Louisiana senate candidate David Duke was -- which if it was true, and it isn't, he would be even more ignorant a candidate for president that he was already), merely commenting off-handedly that he supposedly didn't want their votes, but also that Trump's lack of condemnation has continued to the present day. Even amid all the current violence this weekend, Trump still has not even commented on the mosque bombing in Minnesota, which has been called an "act of terrorism" by the FBI. Not one word from Trump! Still. (Imagine for just a moment if it had been a church that had been bombed, and by Muslims -- or by anyone, since he likely would have blamed it on Muslims anyway, and made it a case of domestic terrorism.) His silence, his total inability to even dare criticize white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK -- ever -- is what gives aid and comfort to them, gives them a sense of protection to spew more hatred and violence and terrorism because they know they have not been denounced by the president of the United States. And the end result is that it causes the violence and death of Charlottesville.
It was a truly ghastly public statement, showing Trump relinquishing any chance of even pretending to ever claim moral leadership. (Not that he could have before, but this eliminates it even being ruminated on a bad day.) Chris Cillizza put it powerfully in a scathing article for CNN, whose title explains it succinctly and best -- "Donald Trump's incredibly unpresidential statement on Charlottesville." I heartily recommend reading it, which you can find here.
Amid all his few efforts at addressing the public during the weekend, the best Trump could offer was to merely type empty words in one "tweet" that "We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!" Yet he didn't name a single group among the perpetrators, he didn't say who actually caused the violence and death to occur.
If Trump truly believed that "There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!", it would be adorable (and shocking) if he would tell this to Steve Bannon, whose Breitbart News proudly proclaims itself as the home of the alt-right. And tell it to Sebastian Gorka. And to Stephen Miller. And to whoever brought them into HIS White House. The problem is, that would be him. Meanwhile, he could also cc: Eric Trump on the memo, since his son so often likes to re-tweet from white supremacist websites.
And we would be remiss if we didn't note the equally weak words and lack of specifics from the chief legal official in the United States, the Attorney General Jeff Session. Just a pastiche of generic, bland blather. But then, given his background, It caused me to wonder if Mr. Sessions will have to recuse himself from any white supremacist prosecutions...
And the default of leadership by Mike Pence is best left to the trash bin of history. Put on your adventurer's pith helmet and try track it down with a magnifying glass.
It's not as if Trump got no support, mind you. One of the more notable quotes on behalf of the so-called president came from that aforementioned former-leader of the KKK, David Duke. He said that white supremacists would "fulfill the promises of Trump" If anyone blind enough still needs convincing of the impact of Trump on hate, you have it. I wrote elsewhere that I hope the press would ask Trump his reaction to Duke's quote. It turns out that subsequently they did ask at a White House press conference, but it was ignored and wandered away from. It should be asked again and again.
But for all the visceral sensibilities of the weekend, I think there are some fascinating realities that point to a very problematic future for Trump.
Most importantly, to begin with, as sickened as most Americans were at seeing the violence of these terrorist groups on American soil, I believe that this neo-Nazism is FAR more likely to unite aggressive opposition to it -- and to Trump -- across patriotic party lines than grow its own macabre support.
Indeed, beyond the many Democratic officials who spoke out loudly, we've already seen a surprising number of Republican senators and some Congressman bluntly outraged in their very-specific condemnation of "white supremacists" and "terrorism." Republican senator Cory Gardner of Colorado was especially outspoken. So were some unlikely voices like Republican Charles Grassley of Iowa. And even Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. All of this shines the klieg light intensely on Trump's silence against neo-Nazis and highlights it in its fullness.
In fact, I think Trump’s inaction to criticize or even just name neo-Nazis (wait, let's repeat that, since it's so stunning a concept to say -- "Trump's inaction to criticize or even just name neo-Nazis"!!!) is going to be more of a tipping point than has been addressed in the media thus far. No, not that it's THE tipping point -- it isn't. Just one, "a" tipping point, only one of several that could lie ahead, but one which is very real, I believe, not merely the "Well, this should finally outrage people" kind of thing we seen that goes nowhere. Because it is creating an impact with people on both sides of the spectrum, as I noted.
Here's the very big "tipping" problem for Trump on this -- conservatives will defend anything conservative, even deeply FAR right conservatism. But they will NOT defend actual neo-Nazis. Actual swastikas, actual sieg heils. That's something else entirely. That's not conservatism. We've seen this from these many Republican officials, in addition to Republican outrage online and in public. And so, because Trump refuses to condemn it -- refuses to even name what is there in full, clear, real pictures -- he is out on the limb alone.
Further, the more that Republican senators and Republican representatives and Republican voters criticize Trump openly on this, the more they break that umbilical cord of not criticizing their party leader, and in doing so bring down the impenetrable barrier. Not condemning neo-Nazis is not only a bridge too far for Republicans, it's not Republican. Not conservative. It's antithetical to America, and why we fought in World War II.
To be very clear - although it's still essential that as president of the United States Trump speak out specifically against "white supremacists" and "neo-Nazis" and the "KKK" by name, and denounce their hatred and violence, the country knows he is far too late to the table and has already shown HIS side. Any condemnation remains necessary from the president, even if he is forced into a corner to do it -- but being forced into a corner against his best judgment to do what the mass of Americans understand is morally and politically and humanely and properly right is now officially and forever on Trump's side of the ledger.
By the way, for the record, if anyone in the White House is paying attention -- what took place in Charlottesville over the weekend actually is real news. This is what it looks like.
And the thing is, Trump cannot hide behind his base on this one, hoping that speaking to them will protect him, because THEY are the problem.
Whatever Trump decides to eventually do or say about white supremacists and neo-Nazis and the KKK and their domestic terrorism, he has already failed. The best he can hope for is to glue the broken pieces of the heirloom vase back together, because that's his obligation. But it's still broken, and he did it.
That's the Pottery Barn Rule. You break it, you own it.
In the end, here is the "rock and a hard place" Trump finds himself in now amid violence, death, swastikas, sieg heils and outcries of domestic terrorism by neo-Nazis -- he can keep Steve Bannon as his adviser and showcase White House support for maintaining a staff overloaded with white supremacists, or he can fire Bannon and become the target of Breitbart wrath.
It's his disastrous mess. And he caused it.
And he owns it.
Meanwhile, Robert Mueller, the FBI, the Senate and House keep right on investigating...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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