The immediate aftermath of the widely reported Charlottesville violence wasn’t so much a media look at the issues, or the car-plowing suspect and victims, or even the demographics of the protesters — that many came from out of state to stand strong against a small-town statue of Robert E. Lee — as it was a cause to criticize President Donald Trump.
Heck, the way some in the press painted it two days later, it was Trump himself who caused the mayhem.
But why all the angst against the president?
Trump, asked on Saturday to comment on protests that turned violent and fatal — that led to the death of Heather Heyer and two state troopers whose surveillance helicopter crashed — said this: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It has been going on for a long time in our country. … It has no place in America.”
Sounds about right. And his White House followed that with another similarly worded statement, and an announcement the Department of Justice was kicking off a civil rights investigation into the mayhem.
But the left was quick to seize on Trump’s Saturday statement and use it, for the rest of the weekend and into Monday, to show the president — because he failed to outright condemn white supremacy groups — was a secret white supremacist sympathizer. After all, so the logic went, this is the same Trump who hired the very anti-Semitic, very alt-right, very neo-Nazi supporting Steve Bannon to work in his White House, right?
Here’s a taste of the furor that followed.
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ former press secretary, Symone Sanders, engaged in a fiery back-and-forth with Virginia’s former attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, on CNN, over Trump’s failure to immediately specify white supremacists as the cause of Saturday’s violence — something Sanders claimed as proof positive of this president’s affinity for all-things-white supremacist in nature. Sanders wouldn’t let Cuccineli speak; Cuccinelli finally asked her to shut up.
He was simply speaking what many in the audience were no doubt thinking.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder took to Twitter to slam Trump as well.
“If ISIS rammed a car into a crowd this would be labeled quickly & logically,” Holder tweeted. “Charlottesville — call it what it is, domestic terrorism.”
For that, Holder was quickly and soundly mocked.
“Maybe you should sit this one out, Mr. Workplace Violence,” tweeted one, in reference to Holder’s committed labeling of the 2009 Fort Hood Islamic-tied terror committed by Nidal Hasan as an act of workplace violence.
Even members of Trump’s own party came out with criticisms against his presidential response.
Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted on Saturday: “Very important for the nation to hear describe in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists.”
Sen. Cory Gardner tweeted: “Mr. President — we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.”
But here’s the thing: Trump’s Saturday comments came before the car-plowing suspect, James Alex Fields Jr., 20, from Ohio, was identified and arrested.
So how was Trump to know whom to vilify — which group, which activist organization, which evil was to blame?
When Barack Obama in 2009 weighed in prematurely on the arrest of Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, and characterized the incident, pre-investigation, as a black man being wrongfully targeted by white police, he was condemned by the right for ratcheting racial tensions — and rightly so.
Obama should’ve withheld judgment, and let the investigation unwind, the facts present.
That’s what Trump was doing Saturday. But for that, he was criticized — even by those in his own political party? It doesn’t make sense.
Today’s political reality is that A) protest movements like Black Lives Matter can get as violent as its participants want, and still receive the support of the left and press, and B) protests are very often not what they seem. For instance, as Cuccinelli pointed out in his CNN exchange with Sanders: The suspect who plowed into the crowd in Charlottesville was from Ohio. Why would an Ohio guy care about a Robert E. Lee monument in small-town Virginia — unless, of course, he was part of a larger movement with intent to agitate and cause chaos.
Questions that deserve answers. Questions that could actually confirm Trump’s initial response, that while taken on wild hyperbolic rides by the left and anti-Trumpers of the nation, was more presidential in nature. After all, one of the anti-Trump crowd’s biggest condemnations is that this president is un-presidential — that he doesn’t possess the proper character traits, impulse control and diplomatic skills to serve as White House chief. So Saturday, he showed that he wasn’t going to jump on the same assumption bandwagon the rest of the left was riding and send messages out he may later have to retract or correct. And for that, he’s vilified.
It just goes to show one thing: No matter what Trump could’ve said on Saturday, it wouldn’t have been well-received by his detractors and naysayers, even those within his own Republican party. No matter what, he wouldn’t have won points. And one quick note: When Trump later on Monday condemned neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the KKK as repugnant, the critics were quick to snark, well, why didn’t he say so sooner? Again, danged if he does, danged if he doesn’t. No matter what Trump said or says, some will forever find cause to criticize.