Trump speaks, with ret­i­cence

For a pres­i­dent who typ­i­cally com­ments quickly and ro­bustly, the Char­lottesville vi­o­lence left him at a loss for words.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By David Lauter david.lauter@la­times.com

He is at a loss for words af­ter the vi­o­lence.

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Trump built his pub­lic per­sona on a will­ing­ness to com­ment, of­ten provoca­tively, on any topic, any time, woo­ing sup­port­ers as the one pub­lic fig­ure who would “tell it like it is.”

Sat­ur­day, faced with deadly vi­o­lence dur­ing a sec­ond day of neo-Nazi marches in a quiet Vir­ginia col­lege town, Trump seemed un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally tongue-tied.

As elected of­fi­cials and other promi­nent peo­ple from across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum rushed to con­demn white su­prem­a­cists who marched with torches and Con­fed­er­ate flags in Char­lottesville, Va., on Fri­day night, Trump re­mained silent. His ret­i­cence con­tin­ued into Sat­ur­day, af­ter po­lice shut down the group’s rally be­cause of the vi­o­lence.

Only af­ter his wife, First Lady Me­la­nia Trump, turned to Twit­ter for what was only her sixth com­ment on a pub­lic is­sue since the in­au­gu­ra­tion — “let’s com­mu­ni­cate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from vi­o­lence,” she wrote — did the pres­i­dent make his own ini­tial com­ment.

Even then, the pres­i­dent’s words care­fully avoided nam­ing any spe­cific groups or as­sign­ing any blame for the sit­u­a­tion. Nor did he men­tion Char­lottesville, as she had.

“We ALL must be united & con­demn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of vi­o­lence in Amer­ica. Lets come to­gether as one!” Trump tweeted.

About two hours later, af­ter a car had plowed into a crowd of anti-Nazi coun­ter­demon­stra­tors in Char­lottesville, killing at least one per­son and in­jur­ing 19, Trump made a pub­lic com­ment at a pre­vi­ously sched­uled ap­pear­ance at his golf re­sort in New Jer­sey with Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Sec­re­tary David Shulkin.

The pres­i­dent ap­peared ill at ease, and again avoided any as­sign­ment of blame.

“We con­demn in the strong­est pos­si­ble terms this egre­gious dis­play of ha­tred, big­otry and vi­o­lence on many sides, on many sides,” he said, re­peat­ing the fi­nal phrase for em­pha­sis.

“It’s been go­ing on for a long time in our coun­try; it’s not Don­ald Trump, it’s not Barack Obama,” he added, with­out spec­i­fy­ing what “it” re­ferred to.

Trump spoke briefly, de­vot­ing much of his roughly 13 min­utes in pub­lic talk­ing about his ac­com­plish­ments and shak­ing hands with a group of vet­er­ans. He left quickly, ig­nor­ing shouted ques­tions from re­porters about whether he con­sid­ered the vi­o­lence a ter­ror­ist at­tack.

The pres­i­dent’s re­sponse con­trasted sharply with that of other pub­lic fig­ures, in­clud­ing many of his fel­low Repub­li­cans.

For­mer Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck­abee, for ex­am­ple — the fa­ther of Trump’s press sec­re­tary, Sarah Huck­abee San­ders, and one of Trump’s for­mer ri­vals for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion — openly con­demned white su­prem­a­cists.

“’White supremacy’ crap is worst kind of racism-it’s EVIL and per­ver­sion of God’s truth to ever think our Cre­ator val­ues some above oth­ers,” Huck­abee wrote.

Sen. Cory Gard­ner of Colorado was among many Repub­li­can law­mak­ers who crit­i­cized Trump’s re­marks as weak.

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

More strik­ingly, Trump’s ret­i­cence con­trasted in mul­ti­ple ways with the stan­dard he has set, both as a can­di­date and since be­com­ing pres­i­dent.

On Thurs­day and Fri­day, Trump wel­comed re­porters’ ques­tions, hold­ing three mini-news con­fer­ences over the two days, at one point blow­ing past a stop sign from San­ders in or­der to take more ques­tions as he opined on North Korea, Venezuela, spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III and trans­gen­der ser­vice mem­bers, among other top­ics.

His re­luc­tance to re­spond quickly to the vi­o­lence in Char­lottesville also de­parted from the pat­tern he set in re­sponse to vi­o­lent acts else­where.

On Feb. 3, for ex­am­ple, Trump tweeted a com­ment on an ap­par­ent ter­ror­ist at­tack at the Lou­vre Mu­seum in Paris less than three hours af­ter the vi­o­lence, which hap­pened at roughly 5 a.m. Wash­ing­ton time.

“A new rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror­ist has just at­tacked in Lou­vre Mu­seum in Paris. Tourists were locked down. France on edge again. GET SMART U.S.,” he de­clared.

Trump made sim­i­larly swift com­ments af­ter a ter­ror­ist at­tack in Lon­don on June 3, which, like the at­tack in Char­lottesville, was ex­e­cuted by driv­ing a ve­hi­cle into a crowd, sim­i­lar to ear­lier in­ci­dents in Egypt and Ger­many.

And in no­table con­trast to his care­ful avoid­ance of men­tion­ing white su­prem­a­cists Sat­ur­day, Trump long has fa­mously made a cam­paign is­sue of his op­po­nents’ un­will­ing­ness to specif­i­cally la­bel ter­ror­ist threats.

“When will Pres­i­dent Obama is­sue the words RAD­I­CAL IS­LAMIC TER­ROR­ISM? He can’t say it, and un­less he will, the prob­lem will not be solved!” Trump de­clared early in his pres­i­den­tial bid, hit­ting a theme that he would re­peat over and over.

“To solve a prob­lem, you have to be able to state what the prob­lem is, or at least say the name,” he said in one of his cam­paign de­bates with Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Trump’s ap­proach to Char­lottesville, how­ever, was con­sis­tent with the way he han­dled re­la­tions with white su­prem­a­cists and other alt-right fig­ures dur­ing his cam­paign.

Al­though he even­tu­ally — af­ter con­sid­er­able prod­ding — dis­avowed sup­port from for­mer Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, Trump and his top cam­paign aides con­sis­tently avoided con­demn­ing such groups de­spite crit­i­cism from Clin­ton and me­dia com­men­ta­tors.

Overtly racist groups such as those who marched in Char­lottesville make up a small share of the U.S. elec­torate. Their sup­port, alone, would have lit­tle po­lit­i­cal im­pact for Trump.

But re­searchers who have stud­ied the 2016 elec­tion have put to­gether ex­ten­sive ev­i­dence that Trump won over­whelm­ing sup­port from a much larger group of white vot­ers who think the gov­ern­ment pro­vides too much help to blacks and other mi­nori­ties and who re­sent changes that have put the U.S. on course to hav­ing a white-mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tion by the mid­dle of this cen­tury.

Feel­ings of racial re­sent­ment are most com­mon among Trump’s most ar­dent sup­port­ers, polling data have in­di­cated.

Over the last sev­eral weeks, as Trump’s stand­ing with vot­ers over­all has dropped, the White House has ap­peared to aim its mes­sages more ex­clu­sively at those core sup­port­ers — the roughly one-quar­ter of vot­ers who con­tinue to say in polls that they strongly sup­port the pres­i­dent.

That ap­proach sug­gests Trump’s strate­gists are re­signed to the idea that he can­not hope to ex­pand his sup­port right now and there­fore must fo­cus on strength­en­ing ties to those who al­ready ad­mire him.

On Sat­ur­day, af­ter Trump’s ini­tial, generic Twit­ter mes­sage about the vi­o­lence, Duke, who took part in the Char­lottesville marches, tweeted a warn­ing to the pres­i­dent.

Trump should re­mem­ber that “it was White Amer­i­cans who put you in the pres­i­dency,” Duke wrote.

Trump may not have wanted to sug­gest he was heed­ing Duke’s words, but his gin­ger han­dling of the Char­lottesville vi­o­lence is bound to con­vey pre­cisely that mes­sage.

‘We con­demn in the strong­est pos­si­ble terms this egre­gious dis­play of ha­tred, big­otry and vi­o­lence on many sides, on many sides.’ — PRES­I­DENT TRUMP

Pablo Mar­tinez Mon­si­vais As­so­ci­ated Press

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