“Why won’t the president condemn white supremacists?”
That was the question that dominated cable news and social media after a white power rally in Charlottesville, Va., turned violent on Saturday with one of the attendees allegedly mowing down a crowd of anti-fascist protesters. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed and 19 others were injured.
President Trump, who’s never been one to shy away from criticizing anyone or anything — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as “Little Marco” for his lack of gravitas; actress Rosie O’Donnell for being “a pig”; and even Nordstrom’s for dropping handbags made by his daughter, Ivanka — issued some vague, underwhelming tweets.
Then in his first public remarks, he condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” Now it’s quite fashionable in D.C. journalism to blame both sides — it’s a well-paying schtick, no doubt — but even some of the top purveyors of that brand of conventional wisdom like David Gergen and Chris Cillizza tore into Trump on a CNN panel for “both-sidesing” Nazism.
On Monday, Trump issued a half-hearted statement finally calling out the KKK and white supremacists, but no one was buying it. So on Tuesday, Trump lost it at his infrastructure-themed press conference and said there were some “very fine people” at the white power rally. And he told us more about what he really thought:
“What about the alt-left? You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now. You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.”
Nope. Nope. Nope. No Nazis were killed in the protest.
White supremacists showed up in paramilitary garb, waving Nazi and confederate flags. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe described in disturbing detail how the police were outnumbered and outgunned by the white power forces.
And then James Alex Fields, 20, allegedly rammed his car into anti-racist protesters, which Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, says meets the legal definition of terrorism.
There doesn’t seem to be much mystery about what Fields believed or was trying to do. His high school teacher describes him as idolizing Nazis (he “thought they were pretty cool guys.”) While at the Dachau death camp during a post-graduation trip to Europe, Fields allegedly said, “This is where the magic happened,” according to two classmates.
Trump’s disgusting remarks did get rave reviews from the likes of David Duke, the former grand wizard of the KKK and wannabe GOP politician, who tweeted his thanks for the president’s “honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM [Black Lives Matter]/Antifa[cist].”
In other words, we have our answer as to why Trump wouldn’t denounce white supremacists. He didn’t want to. And he’s willing to defend them, even when one of their own allegedly killed a woman in cold blood.
Elected officials, however — Democrats and Republicans alike — have been blasting Trump and the neo-Nazi movement. It’s important to have politicians on the record about this.
I would go further, however. During the course of the 2016 campaign, Trump said dozens of outrageous things — calling Mexicans “rapists”; insulting gold star father Khizr Khan, whose son was killed in Iraq; urging people to check out the sex tape of a Miss Universe he had called “Miss Piggy” and more.
Reporters asked many Republican officeholders and candidates about these statements and often got pushback that it was unfair and “biased” to even ask. Now that Trump is president, he’s still tweeting attacks and blasting enemies at his rallies.
But reporters don’t ask Republican officials much about this anymore. Unhinged rants by the leader of the free world are just the new normal. And besides, he won the election (even if 3 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton), so that means the American people have endorsed this, right?
Well, with all due respect to my colleagues, that’s crap. But here’s something I think is far more important to ask Democrats and Republicans running for Congress, statewide office and leadership positions in 2018: Where do you stand on Trump’s policies, which will certainly impact Michigan?
Given where Trump stands on white supremacists, his proposal to drastically limit legal immigration, build a wall with Mexico, call for police to be “rough” with suspects and his Muslim ban have to be viewed through that lens. Those who want to hold key offices in Michigan deserve to be questioned about these policies and more.
And if these candidates whine that the “fake news” media are being mean, well, then they’re probably not up to the job.
Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.