Charlottesville: A day of shame

Trump’s initial refusal to condemn the violent far-right mob over Charlottesville has given the supremacists encouragement

US President Donald Trump, under heavy political pressure from Democrats and Republicans alike, condemned white supremacists who rallied in Virginia over the weekend. Video: The White House

 

History presents every US president with moments that call on them to ascend to true leadership; opportunities to embody the moral authority of that office, cast aside the language of partisan politics and find words that do justice to national indignation and pain. Few presidents are thrown an easier opportunity than the one that came Donald Trump’s way last weekend, when neo-Nazi thugs rampaged through Charlottesville, Virginia in a violent and menacing show of strength. A 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, was killed when a car driven by a white nationalist ploughed into a crowd of counter-demonstrators.

Faced with those horrors, Trump could not bring himself to condemn the racists outright. He offered instead a cowardly and tone-deaf statement about hatred, bigotry and violence “on many sides”. A president who has attacked journalists, the United Nations, Nato allies, his attorney general, his intellience services and his party colleagues could not find it within himself to repudiate violent bigots. It was perhaps the most disgraceful day of an ignominious presidency.

It should not come as a surprise that a man who built his political brand by advancing the Birther conspiracy theory, counts white nationalists among his confidantes and vilified Mexicans and Muslims on the campaign trail should act in this way. President Trump’s refusal to disavow white supremacists is entirely consistent with Candidate Trump’s willingness to accept their support and stoke their prejudice. The significance of Trump’s refusal to condemn the violent far-right mob over Charlottesville has not been lost on the supremacists themselves, who have taken encouragement from the president’s evasive language.

There can be no moral equivalence between the bigots and Ku Klux Klan leaders who marched through Charlottesville, flanked by militiamen with assault rifles, and those who gathered to protest peacefully against them. That something so self-evident needs to be said is a measure of the depths to which the Trump presidency has brought American democracy.

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