In his infamous Tuesday press conference responding to criticism that he was too slow to condemn violent events at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, President Donald Trump brushed aside concerns that he was giving comfort to white nationalists.
Instead, he argued he was simply giving credit to “very fine people” who were there to support a confederate monument. Trump cast himself as a principled supporter of the public display of confederate symbols as a way of preserving American history.
All of those people — Excuse me — I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee.
So — excuse me — and you take a look at some of the groups and you see and you would know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases, you are not. But, many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?
He later tweeted that “the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”
At the start of his presidential campaign, Trump had a completely different view. Asked whether the Confederate flag should be taken down from the South Carolina statehouse, Trump, in June 2015, said that it should. He suggested that it be placed in a museum instead. To those that were upset about the removal of a confederate symbol, he advised them to “get over it.”
Trump has changed his view only now that his purported concern for the monuments gives him a mechanism to support the aims of the Charlottesville rally without explicitly supporting white supremacists.
In so doing, however, he is mimicking the veiled arguments of the white supremacists themselves. In a lawsuit filed after the city denied a permit for last weekend’s event, organizers claimed this was a protest about a Robert E. Lee statue and the renaming of a park.
“But they were there to protest — excuse me — you take a look, the night before, they were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee,” Trump said.
The white supremacists and Trump are both using the fig leaf of the statue to obscure the true character of the event. Actually, the night before, there was a group of white supremacists and Nazis carrying torches and yelling, “Jews will not replace us!“
Trump’s sudden concern for statuary also tracks the advice of his chief strategist, Steve Bannon. “The race-identity politics of the left wants to say it’s all racist. Just give me more. Tear down more statues. Say the revolution is coming. I can’t get enough of it,” Bannon told the New York Times.