Even when President Donald Trump stepped to the podium on Monday to say the least that could be said of the racist terror attack in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend, he paused to high-five himself for the soaring stock market before getting to the point.
He did not suggest that he was in any way mistaken to have waited so long to say something so obvious. He did not allow that maybe he’d been wrong to have at first blamed “many sides,” aka nobody in particular, for the deadly violence, to the delight of the neo-Nazis and white supremacists whose growing strength is no accident.
This is because Trump did not misspeak. He did not misjudge the situation, choose the wrong words or the wrong moment to say them. Instead, in what he has said and done, not said and not done, he has been consistent in laying off the “alt-right” extremists who are among his most enthusiastic supporters. He has given us no reason to believe that’s anything but intentional.
The president immediately name-checked Ken Frazier, the African-American Merck CEO who fled Trump’s manufacturing council in protest on Monday morning. Yet he waited days to spit out “racism” and “Nazi.”
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Instead, when he responded to Charlottesville on Saturday, he said, “We want to study it. We want to see what we’re doing wrong as a country that things like this can happen.” And his first reaction to this particular act of terror was a kind of good news/bad news tweet: “Am in Bedminster for meetings & press conference on V.A. & all that we have done, and are doing, to make it better-but Charlottesville sad!”
Yes, Charlottesville sad. But sad, too, is that more Republicans who know exactly who Donald Trump is are not more clearly distancing themselves even now. Every toxic leader, and Trump is one, is made possible by those who know what’s wrong and yet for their own reasons keep quiet.
Trump’s belated and begrudging rejection of racial violence would have been more convincing had he announced that he was expelling senior adviser Steve Bannon, who before running the Trump campaign ran Breitbart as what he called “the platform for the alt-right,” which celebrated the 45th president’s ascension, and by extension, their own. But we are not among those demanding that he fire Bannon and others like him now, as if they were the problem instead of the symptoms of it.
Donald Trump entered political life selling the racist birther lie that Barack Obama was not born here. He entered presidential politics calling Mexicans rapists and arguing for a Muslim ban. He purported not to know anything about David Duke’s well-documented history of bigotry. It’s Trump himself who is further dividing us, energetically and without any ambiguity.
And that’s why it is time for Republicans to repudiate not just his word choice or timing, but the president himself.
Some may be headed in that direction, including Kansas Rep. Kevin Yoder, who didn’t wait to see the polling before tweeting that “white supremacy is an evil ideology.” But is that you hiding over there, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, saying only that, “The hate and violence in #Charlottesville have no place in America”? They do have a place, that place is growing, and all those who continue to stand with Trump will find out that place has their name on it.