DO­MES­TIC WOE TESTS TRUMP’S METTLE

He faces crit­i­cism for not con­demn­ing the role of white su­prem­a­cists

New Straits Times - - World -

FOR United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, this was the week when the real world be­gan to in­trude upon his pres­i­dency.

The vi­o­lent clashes in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia, be­tween white na­tion­al­ists and coun­ter­protesters con­fronted Trump with per­haps the first true do­mes­tic cri­sis of his young ad­min­is­tra­tion. And to some, even within the Repub­li­can Party, he came up short.

As images of ris­ing ten­sions and a deadly car ram­page in Char­lottesville filled tele­vi­sion screens na­tion­wide, the pres­i­dent was crit­i­cised first for wait­ing too long to ad­dress the vi­o­lence and then, when he did so, fail­ing to ex­plic­itly con­demn the white-su­prem­a­cist marchers who ig­nited the melee.

Marco Ru­bio, a Repub­li­can se­na­tor who was Trump’s ri­val for the pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, quickly sug­gested Trump’s ini­tial re­sponse was in­ad­e­quate.

On Twit­ter, Ru­bio wrote that it was “Very im­por­tant for the na­tion to hear events in Char­lottesville for what they are: a ter­ror at­tack by #white­supremacists.”

While Trump has had to deal with the pres­sures of the fed­eral probe into Rus­sian med­dling in last year’s elec­tion, dis­ar­ray in his White House, and con­flicts with Congress over his stalled agenda, there have been few ex­ter­nal crises that have tested his pres­i­den­tial mettle.

By con­trast, his pre­de­ces­sor, Barack Obama, in­her­ited a se­vere eco­nomic down­turn dur­ing his first year in of­fice, and would go on to face, among other tests, a cat­a­strophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mex­ico, Mid­dle East up­heaval, ter­ror at­tacks in Bos­ton, Or­lando, and else­where, and civil un­rest in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri and Bal­ti­more, Mary­land.

Trump has spent this week at his tony golf club in New Jersey, at­tempt­ing to show the Amer­i­can pub­lic that he is in­deed work­ing and not va­ca­tion­ing. He held one event af­ter the other, while an­swer­ing me­dia ques­tions with an ap­proach­a­bil­ity he hasn’t shown for months.

Yet, when news of the sit­u­a­tion in Char­lottesville first started fil­ter­ing out last Fri­day, Trump was si­lent. He first ad­dressed the mat­ter — through a tweet — on Satur­day af­ter­noon, af­ter a planned white-su­prem­a­cist rally had been dis­persed, fights had bro­ken out, and a state of emer­gency de­clared.

By the time Trump ap­peared be­fore re­porters at a staged bill­sign­ing event at his club, footage of a car speed­ing up and slam­ming into a crowd of pro­test­ers had swamped so­cial me­dia and cable net­works, rais­ing the spec­tre of do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism. At least one woman died and sev­eral peo­ple suf­fered crit­i­cal in­juries.

Trump read a state­ment re­buk­ing the vi­o­lence, but with­out specif­i­cally men­tion­ing or fault­ing the role of white na­tion­al­ists.

“We con­demn in the strong­est pos­si­ble terms this egre­gious dis­play of ha­tred, big­otry and vi­o­lence on many sides.”

Be­yond Ru­bio, Trump’s re­sponse was also not enough for Se­na­tor Cory Gard­ner, who chairs the Repub­li­can Party’s Se­nate-elec­tion ef­fort.

“Mr Pres­i­dent, we must call evil by its name. These were white su­prem­a­cists and this was do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism,” he tweeted.

Repub­li­can Or­rin Hatch, who has served as a se­na­tor for 40 years, ref­er­enced his brother, who was killed in World War2.

“We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fight­ing Adolf Hitler for Nazi ideas to go un­chal­lenged here at home,” he said on Twit­ter.

Demo­cratic Se­na­tor Brian Schatz said that Trump had not demon­strated moral lead­er­ship. “There are NOT many sides to this,” he wrote.

Trump tweeted sev­eral more times af­ter the press event, of­fer­ing sup­port to Char­lottesville and the po­lice, but still de­clin­ing to cri­tique the vi­o­lence in more ex­plicit terms.

Both as a can­di­date and as pres­i­dent, Trump has met with charges that he has courted the sup­port of white su­prem­a­cists and na­tion­al­ists, the so-called “alt-right”, as a key part of his pas­sion­ate voter base.

He was forced at one point last year to pub­licly de­nounce the Ku Klux Klan and one of its lead­ers, David Duke.

Af­ter Trump was elected, he in­stalled Steve Ban­non, a trusted fig­ure in na­tion­al­ist cir­cles and for­mer chair­man of the hardright out­let Bre­it­bart News, as a top ad­viser in the White House. Reuters

AGENCY PIX

White su­prem­a­cists clash­ing with counter pro­test­ers at a rally in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia, on Satur­day.

Peo­ple re­ceiv­ing treat­ment af­ter a car ran into pro­test­ers in Char­lottesville on Satur­day.

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