WASHINGTON — No one should have been surprised to see President Trump playing footsie with racists. He’s been doing it for years.
On Saturday, when Trump could not bring himself to condemn white supremacists for the Charlottesville tragedy, he was just being consistent: He often has shown empathy for white racial grievance.
After all, who was the most prominent voice of birtherism, the unfounded and blatantly racist challenge to President Obama’s legitimacy? Who exclaimed on Twitter in 2014 that “you won’t see another black president for generations” because of Obama’s performance? Who has disseminated false, racially charged “statistics” about black crime?
Trump made a rare climb-down on Monday, specifically condemning violence by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. But his initial reaction on Saturday — after a car, allegedly driven by a young Nazi sympathizer, plowed into a crowd of demonstrators, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring many others — was to denounce “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”
In fact, there were just two sides in Charlottesville: militant white nationalists, including former Klan leader David Duke and neo-Nazis, who had descended in large numbers; and counter-protesters who came out to tell the assembled racist horde to get lost. Trump’s first statement seemed to make no moral distinction.
Those are stirring words, gentlemen, but where have you been hiding all this righteousness? Were you not paying attention when then-candidate Trump attacked a federal judge for his Mexican-American heritage and demeaned a Gold Star mother and father for their Muslim faith?
I might take all the GOP breast-beating more seriously if the party would abandon its state-by-state campaign to impose restrictive election laws that disproportionately disenfranchise African-American and Hispanic voters.
In contrast to the Republican reaction, the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website was quite pleased with Trump’s initial comment. “He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together,” wrote the racist, anti-Semitic site’s founder. “No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Charlottesville incident was, indeed, an act of terrorism, and that the Justice Department has opened a hate crime investigation. Reflect for a moment on how Trump’s “many sides” comment made Sessions, of all people, look like some kind of civil rights hero.
There are those who see Trump’s initial reluctance to denounce white-power groups as nothing but politics — an appeal to white voters who are anxious about growing diversity. Yet the president’s Monday reversal was clearly a political calculation. I believe what we heard Saturday was simply a genuine first reaction.
In 1973, Trump and his father were sued by the Justice Department for refusing to rent apartments to African-Americans. He said in a 1989 interview that “a well-educated black” has an advantage in the job market — a victimhood claim refuted by academic studies and his own record of not having minorities in key posts at the Trump Organization.
Trump has called himself the “least racist person on earth.” There is no end to the man’s lies.