/ Politics

Trump’s Response to the Unite the Right Rally Says A Lot About His Angle

This piece was originally written for a short-lived project of mine called Gray Injustice. After the original site went down, I decided to upload previous articles to my own personal website.

Originally, I was going to be spending my weekend researching and writing a report on the uptick of the reports of police brutality since the Ferguson riots of 2014. However, the recent events in Charlottesville, VA caught my attention, and I feel that it’s a much more important matter to write on.

Considering the attack making the news cycle at the moment is a reaction to a counter-protest in itself, it’s important that I straighten out the timeline, as it might be confusing as to who the intended victim was. Although the events happened this weekend, it actually goes back to this May, where a smaller rally gathered to protest the removal of a historic statue of Robert E. Lee in a public park (previously named Lee Park, now Emancipation Park). Although the Charlottesville city council decidedly voted to remove the statue, a city judge blocked the removal for six months, allowing a series of protests. Based on the person the statue in question is dedicated to, it’s easy to guess the nature of the initial protesters who wanted to block the removal, as well as the demographic of the people who would counter-protest.

There are three major protests in the timeline of the statue removal, from the initial vote to today:

Of course, the most important one there is the third, which broke out into violence and culminated with a car running into a group of counter-protestors. This wasn’t the first sign of violence at the rally, however. On Friday night, in a precursor to the rally, protesters marched with torches onto the University of Virginia campus, bringing together counter-protesters. In the event that was claimed unlawful by police, counter-protestors were pepper sprayed by white nationalists chanting “blood and soil”, a famous neo-Nazi slogan. Both the gatherings on Friday and Saturday have been condemned by the Charlottesville mayor and Virginia governor, Mike Signer and Terry McAuliffe, respectively.

"Everyone has a right under the First Amendment to express their opinion peaceably, so here's mine: not only as the Mayor of Charlottesville, but as a UVA faculty member and alumnus, I am beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus.” -Mike Signer on the UVA protests

"Go home…You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. Shame on you. You pretend that you are patriots, but you are anything but a patriot." - Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Unite the Right rally members

President Trump himself has even chimed in on the matter, which I especially want to chime in on:

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 — not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America."

It is important that he claims to condemn the violence on many sides. A common description of liberals I’ve heard in conservative circles are “the violent left”, both verbally and physically abusing those who oppose their beliefs. And there certainly are people who follow that — I know specific examples. But in this specific scenario, there hasn’t been any specific case of violence initiated by the counter-protestors. The fact Trump tries to wrap in the counter protestors passive-aggressively really bothers me, because it turns what should be a typical presidential condolence of a major tragedy into a high-tone political dogwhistle. Why was that necessary? He didn’t even need to directly call out any side; a simple “We condemn the violence and show of hatred this weekend in Charlottesville” could have sufficed, being vague enough to not make a scene of. Instead, it’s a subtle hit of “whataboutism” by our president, over the injury and lives of political activist, the majority on his opposite side.

I know that Donald Trump was elected because he was considered a political outsider. People like his “straight to the point”, brash, even egotistical attitude. But if he wants to actually do a good job as a leader, he needs to start playing the political game, and that starts with using proper sensitivities. He isn’t the first to use a tragedy to advance a political agenda — take a look at the PATRIOT Act and the Sandy Hook political reactions — but those didn’t overtly blame the victim by subtly claiming they deserved it.

And really, it’s yet another symptom of our overly polarized political environment that we have in the United States today. It’s been slowly polarizing since the passage of the Civil Rights act, and has come to a climax with Trump. There’s simply so much hate for one another, and even Trump’s words in his condolences above perpetuate it. This is a serious problem, and I’m unsure what needs to be done to stop it or even reverse the process altogether. It might be something we’ll never be able to do.