In response to yesterday’s car-ramming attack on anti-racism protesters in Charlottesville (which even several Republican senators called white-supremacist terror), President Trump 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.”
CNN editor Chris Cillizza was completely on point when he wrote:
“It’s hard to imagine a less presidential statement in a time in which the country looks to its elected leader to stand up against intolerance and hatred. […] Both sides don’t scream racist and anti-Semitic things at people with whom they disagree. They don’t base a belief system on the superiority of one race over others… This is not just a protest where things, unfortunately, got violent. Violence sits at the heart of their warped belief system.”
Shortly after, Trump moved on to name all the ‘good things’:
“Our country is doing very well in so many ways. We have record — just absolute record employment. We have unemployment, the lowest it’s been in almost 17 years. We have companies pouring into our country. Foxconn and car companies, and so many others, they’re coming back to our country. We’re renegotiating trade deals to make them great for our country and great for the American worker. We have so many incredible things happening in our country.”
And finally, to connect it all up to Charlottesville, Trump said:
“So when I watch Charlottesville, to me it’s very, very sad.”
This is not the first time Trump runs this stunt. In fact, this one is very similar to the one he did on February 15th, under a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. There, he was asked a question by a reporter:
“Mr. President, since your election campaign and even after your victory, we’ve seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic — anti- Semitic incidents across the United States. And I wonder, what do you say to those among the Jewish community in the states and in Israel and maybe around the world who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones?”
Trump’s stunning response, in which he started out by talking about his election victory, was widely commented upon at the time:
Washington Post: “Trump was asked a question about anti-Semitism. His answer was about the electoral college”.
Time: “President Trump Was Asked About Anti-Semitism. He Responded by Talking About His Win”
The Independent: “Donald Trump brags about electoral college victory while answering question on anti-Semitism”
Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA): “President Trump answered a question about anti-Semitism by boasting about his election victory”
As Emily Jane Fox of Vanity Fair wrote in her piece titled ‘Donald Trump Answers Question About Anti-Semitism by Bragging About His Electoral Win’, ‘When Trump chimed in to answer, it was almost as if he heard nothing after “even after your victory.” What the reporter did was open the door for him to talk about that victory, and since the door was open, Trump did a victory lap right on through’.
So, at that incident, Trump started out with himself and his successes, while in the current case he leaves that mostly to the later part of the address, but it’s there.
Back when he got the anti-semitism question in February, he went on to address “racism”:
“I will say that we are going to have peace in this country. We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long-simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on. There’s a lot of bad things that have been taking place over a long period of time. I think one of the reasons I won the election is we have a very, very divided nation, very divided. And hopefully, I’ll be able to do something about that. And I, you know, it was something that was very important to me”, Trump said.
Not once was the word anti-Semitism used – the subject of the actual question. Notice that phrase, “a lot of bad things that have been taking place over a long period of time”, and mirror that with yesterday’s “hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides” and “this has been going on for a long, long time”.
In February, Trump continued the generalist response by saying:
“As far as people, Jewish people, so many friends; a daughter who happens to be here right now; a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren. I think that you’re going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening. And you’re going to see a lot of love. You’re going to see a lot of love. OK? Thank you”.
The question wasn’t about Trump and his Jewish relatives. It was about anti-Semitism.
Now notice how Trump continued yesterday:
“No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society, and no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play, or be with their parents, and have a good time”.
Like, seriously? What’s this to do with Charlottesville? He’s bringing up children like he did back in February. What kitsch! Then he continued yesterday:
“We have to come together as Americans, with love for our nation, and true affect…” [here he seems to go off script] – “really…and I say this so strongly, true affection for each other…”
Mirror that with his February “you’re going to see a lot of love. You’re going to see a lot of love. OK?”
This is Donald Trump. All that vagueness, all that kitsch, it’s a sugar coating for a downright rotten morality, and refusal to call out racism by its particular name, by generalizing it and appropriating blame in all directions. It is a pathological tendency of Trump. And the white supremacists, they get it. They don’t need more explanation, they don’t need the ‘love’ and all the rest of it, they just need Trump to not condemn them – that’s enough for them. They know he’s saying all those fancy words because of ‘political correctness’ as it were. What Trump is not saying directly is a dog-whistle for them.