Think about the way Trump reacts to things. After the bombing of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, President Donald Trump called the perpetrators “evil losers.” It was a very Trumpian formulation, but one that seemed strangely appropriate, even insightful. “I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term. They would think that’s a great name,” Trump said. “I will call them from now on losers because that’s what they are.”
And remember when Donald Trump was a candidate and he was confronted by reporters about David Duke endorsing him. Trump got strangely cautious. At first he said he didn’t know anything about Duke. Later, cornered again, he just said “David Duke endorsed me? O.K. All right. I disavow, O.K.?.” He later repeated it, “I disavow.” White nationalist Richard Spencer, then enjoying a kind of media tour, was pleased by the vagueness. “There’s no direct object there,” Spencer observed, “It’s kind of interesting, isn’t it?”
This weekend in Charlottesville Richard Spencer organized his “Unite The Right” march. David Duke was there too. Fights broke out between the demonstrating racists and the people protesting them. A motorist driving a Dodge muscle car rammed into a group of anti-racist protestors, injuring several and killing at least one.
Even if you believe as I do, that Spencer’s form of white nationalism is a marginal movement granted far too much attention, the sight of hundreds of unmasked young men marching through Charlottesville with torches and chanting racist slogans inspires genuine fear in many Americans. Trump was given a chance to speak to that fear today, and to offer the same moral condemnation and deflation he’s given others. Instead he essentially repeated his disgraceful half-disavowal of Duke. He refused to call out these white supremacists by name, and condemn them. He merely condemned “all sides.” An energetic law and order president who had any sense of the divisions in his country would have announced today that he was instructing his Justice Department to look into the people in these groups, and zealously ferret out and prosecute any crimes they turned up.
This is a target-rich environment. Some of these scummy racists in Charlottesville wore chainmail, others went around shouting their devotion to Adolf Hitler. A president with Trump’s intuitive sense of depravity should be able to call them what they are: evil losers. More pathetic: evil cosplayers. Just as Spencer took Trump’s “I disavow” without a direct object to be a kind of wink in his direction, surely he’ll take today’s statement about “all sides” as another form of non-condemnation. With his performance today, Trump confirms the worst that has been said about him. He’s done damage to the peace of his country. What a revolting day in America.