Franklin D. Roosevelt on the presidency: “It is preeminently a place of moral leadership” (quoted in The New York Times, Sept. 11, 1932).
I watched an interview with Bill Kristol of the conservative Weekly Standard, who said that he has “given up” on Donald Trump ever being capable of moral leadership. Donald Trump has no interest in providing moral leadership. Kristol called on Republican governors, mayors, civic and religious leaders to fill the void of moral leadership lacking from Donald Trump.
Kristol, as well as many Republican elected officials and political pundits, have been highly critical of Trump’s failure to condemn White supremacist groups for their violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday.
Trump’s reticence was because these white supremacist groups are a key constituency of his base. It was a crass political calculation.
Former Ku Klux Klan imperial wizard David Duke appeared at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, saying that the event represented fulfilling the promises of President Trump. David Duke: Charlottesville protests about ‘fulfilling promises of Donald Trump’.
“This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back, we’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump, and that’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back and that’s what we gotta do,” Duke said.
Trump condemned the violence on Saturday without specifically calling out white nationalist groups during a press conference Saturday afternoon. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides — on many sides,” Trump said.
Duke responded to Trump’s weak tweet on Saturday:
As David French of the conservative National Review said, The Alt-Right’s Chickens Come Home to Roost:
Incredibly, key elements of the Trump coalition, including Trump himself, gave the alt-right aid and comfort. Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, proclaimed that his publication, Breitbart.com, was the “the platform for the alt-right,” Breitbart long protected, promoted, and published Milo Yiannopolous – the alt-right’s foremost “respectable” defender – and Trump himself retweeted alt-right accounts and launched into an explicitly racial attack against an American judge of Mexican descent, an attack that delighted his most racist supporters.
In other words, if there ever was a time in recent American political history for an American president to make a clear, unequivocal statement against the alt-right, it was today. Instead, we got a vague condemnation of “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” This is unacceptable, especially given that Trump can be quite specific when he’s truly angry. Just ask the Khan family, Judge Curiel, James Comey, or any other person he considers a personal enemy. Even worse, members of the alt-right openly celebrated Trump’s statement, taking it as a not-so-veiled decision to stand against media calls to condemn their movement.
On Monday, Kenneth Frazier, the CEO of Merck, one of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies, announced that he is resigning as a member of Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council because the president’s reaction to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville was simply too much for him. (Frazier is an African-American). Trump slams Merck CEO after resignation from White House council:
“As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism,” Frazier explained.
With remarkable efficiency, Trump returned fire with an angry tweet.
“Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”
It’s hard not to appreciate the irony: Merck’s CEO resigned because Trump wouldn’t denounce white supremacists. The president responded, not by condemning dangerous radicals, but by blasting … Merck’s CEO [an African-American].
Also note the speed with which Trump can move when he wants to. Facing criticism that he was slow to speak out on Saturday’s deadly violence – the president published an underwhelming tweet hours after the fact, and still hadn’t condemned the white supremacists who gathered in Charlottesville – Trump went after Ken Frazier by name less than an hour after the Merck chief’s statement.
If he’d invested this much energy in condemning white supremacists on Saturday, Trump wouldn’t be in this mess.
It’s a reminder, of course, that nothing motivates this president like a sense of grievance in response to a personal slight. Trump isn’t especially concerned by criticisms of the United States, but affronts to him personally are nearly always met with swift and angry rebukes.
Those who praise Trump, meanwhile, can feel confident that they will remain in the president’s good graces – indefinitely and unconditionally.
After making the situation worse by attacking Ken Frazier this morning, Trump finally got around to a more forecful condemnation of white supremacists. He clearly had to be told it was something he had to do, even though he did not want to do it. Two days later, Trump tries to get Charlottesville right:
When Donald Trump was given an opportunity to comment on Saturday’s deadly violence in Charlottesville, it didn’t go well. The president condemned bigotry “on many sides,” which delighted white supremacists and sparked bipartisan pushback.
And so, under significant pressure, Trump spoke from the White House today and gave this another try.
“We must love each other, show affection for each other and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans.
“Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans…. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.”
The president did not take questions (see below).
What was wrong with Trump’s prepared remarks? Nothing. It was a perfectly fine speech. What’s hard to brush aside, however, is what it took to get him to that podium.
Ideally, a president would not only get this right the first time; he’d want to make these principles clear without coaxing or public pressure. It’s a positive development, I suppose, that Trump was shamed into doing the right thing, but real leaders are generally held to a higher standard. When a president gets around to condemning white supremacists, he’s clearing a painfully low bar.
Indeed, the idea of presidential do-overs is itself hard to take seriously. Trump spoke his mind on Saturday; it’s a little late for him to effectively say 48 hours later, “No, wait, what I meant to say was…”
In all likelihood, the president’s statement will ease the political pressure that’s been building since Saturday afternoon, but that doesn’t mean anyone should forget what Trump said and did to create the controversy in the first place.
Trump’s statement came during what had been billed by the president last Friday as a “big press conference” on Monday. Oooh, the suspense!
The press got played again. President Trump promised a ‘big press conference.’ Here’s what happened.
Last Friday, after two days of unusual engagement with the White House press corps, Trump promised to hold a “pretty big press conference” at the White House on Monday.
But the White House didn’t set up any press conference. Instead, he gave a hastily-arranged speech without answering any questions.
When he came before cameras a second time Monday, and CNN’s Jim Acosta, who was in the room serving as pool reporter, asked about the lack of a presser, Trump said, “We had a press conference. We just had a press conference.”
As Acosta pressed, asking if reporters could ask more questions, Trump turned to him and said, “I like real news, not fake news, you [CNN] are fake news.”
Acosta responded: “Haven’t you spread a lot of fake news yourself, sir?”
Trump’s declaration that “we had a press conference” seemed to confirm what some White House correspondents already surmised — that Trump is counting any appearance in front of the press corps as a press conference.
Journalists, historians and past presidents all agree on a different definition. A “press conference” is a structured, seated event where the president fields a series of questions.
“It’s not a press conference if you don’t take questions from reporters,” CNN White House reporter Kaitlan Collins said on air.
David Graham of The Atlantic said on Twitter that Trump “says confidently that there was a press conference that didn’t happen, which is some aggressive gaslighting.”
So the takeaway from this “press availabilty” is that Trump was forced to make a more forceful condemnation of white supremacist groups because he had to staunch the flood of bad press he has been getting since Saturday. The sincerity of his statement is seriously in doubt.
This is really a case of Trump saying “Will it make you feel better if I say it? Fine! I’ll say it. Are you happy now? Now that I have said it, I am done talking about it. We’re done here.”
Trump returned to his comfort zone of attacking the media asc”fake news,” a shout-out to his alt-right supporters at Breitbart. Take that as a wink and a nod to his alt-right supporters that his statement was not sincere.
UPDATE: President Donald Trump on Monday evening complained the “fake news media will never be truly satisfied” by his belated denunciation of white supremacists and other hate groups, two days after violence at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump Complains Media Not ‘Satisfied’ By Belated Denunciation Of Hate Groups:
In fact on Sunday, a Trump TV Ad Attacked Democrats, Media As ‘The President’s Enemies’: President Donald Trump’s campaign released a 30-second TV spot attacking Democrats and the media as “enemies” who are “obstructing” Trump’s agenda.
This ad completely undercuts Trump’s words today:
“We must love each other, show affection for each other and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans.”
You are either with him, or you are his enemy.