Last week members of both parties joined to pass an unprecedented congressional joint resolution. It called on the President to explicitly “speak out against hate groups that espouse racism, extremism, xenophobia, antisemitism and white supremacy.” The fact that there was even a need for this type of communication is evidence of a disturbing sickness that infects the nation. And that sickness has only gotten worse since the election of Donald Trump.
The impetus for this resolution was the violence and murder that erupted during a march of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia last month. Following the tragedy, Donald Trump actually took the side of the white supremacists. He ignored their antisemitic and racist chants to falsely spread the blame around and charge that there was fault on both sides. It was that botched, insensitive, and universally condemned, reaction that moved Congress to act.
The result was S.J. 49, an uncommonly direct and bipartisan expression of the sense of the Congress that sought to force the President to go on record. It explicitly condemned “the violence and domestic terrorist attack that took place during events between August 11 and August 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia.” It further directed the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security “to investigate thoroughly all acts of violence, intimidation, and domestic terrorism by White supremacists, White nationalists, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and associated groups in order to determine if any criminal laws have been violated and to prevent those groups from fomenting and facilitating additional violence.”
Who could argue with any of that? It was a plainly stated rejection of racism and the hate groups that espouse it. There wasn’t a hint of politics in it. Which is why it easily gained the support of both parties. The only people who could fail to put their full support behind this resolution would be the bigots who it was condemning. So of course, Donald Trump could not simply sign it and move on. That would offend too much of his base. So he attached a signing statement to it that diluted the impact of its message:
“As Americans, we condemn the recent violence in Charlottesville and oppose hatred, bigotry, and racism in all forms. No matter the color of our skin or our ethnic heritage, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God.”
Notice that Trump failed to do what the resolution explicitly called for. Rather than citing the white supremacists, the KKK, etc., he reduced the criticism to a more vague censure of generalized prejudice “in all forms.” That was a deliberate gesture to take the heat off of his racist followers. And to insure that his point was crystal clear, he followed it up with another public statement placing the blame on both sides:
“You have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also. […] When you look at really what’s happened since Charlottesville, a lot of people are saying and people have actually written, ‘Gee, Trump may have a point.’ I said there’s some very bad people on the other side also.”
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Note that Trump is referring to the counter-protesters who oppose the white supremacists as “the other side.” Therefore, his side is the one aligned with the alt-right neo-Nazis. And this is how Trump responded to the congressional resolution seeking to put him on the record. Well, it certainly did just that.