Democracy Dies in Darkness

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The nation can only weep

By Editorial Board

August 15, 2017 at 7:17 PM

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President Trump first asked reporters to define the "alt-right," before saying members of the "alt-left" were also to blame for violence in Charlottesville, while taking questions from reporters on Aug. 15 at Trump Tower in New York. (The Washington Post)

TUESDAY WAS a great day for David Duke and racists everywhere. The president of the United States all but declared that he has their backs.

When a white supremacist stands accused of running his car into a crowd of protesters, killing one and injuring 19, Americans of goodwill mourn and demand justice. When this is done in the context of a rally where swastikas are borne and racist and anti-Semitic epithets hurled, the only morally justifiable reaction is disgust. When the nation's leader does not understand this, the nation can only weep.

On Saturday, after the murder of an innocent protester in Charlottesville followed marches that included armed men and Nazi salutes, President Trump's instinct was to blame both sides. Widespread criticism followed, including the resignations of business leaders from a White House advisory council and condemnation from political leaders of both parties. On Monday, Mr. Trump read a prepared statement condemning white supremacists and racism, delivering it in a manner suggesting he neither wrote nor endorsed the words. On Tuesday, he removed any doubt: His initial reaction, putting Nazis and those protesting them on equal moral footing, is how he really feels.

"I think there's blame on both sides. You look at — you look at both sides," Mr. Trump said to reporters in Trump Tower, adding that there were "very fine people, on both sides." We've all seen the videotape: One side was composed of Nazis, Klansmen and other avowed racists chanting "Jews will not replace us." The other side was objecting to their racism.

Yes, there are good and moral Americans who oppose the removal of statues of Confederate generals. Yes, there are reasonable Americans who fear that slaveholding Founding Fathers will be the next target. Notwithstanding Mr. Trump's comments Tuesday, we don't find it difficult to distinguish between a monument to George Washington, say, and statues to Confederate generals that were erected in the 20th century with the goal of maintaining white supremacy.

President Trump speaks to reporters. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

There may be a time to debate such questions — but not, as any national leader with a sense of decency would understand, now. Not in a time of mourning, with the wounds so fresh. Not when Mr. Trump has not even bothered to call the family of Heather Heyer, the young woman mowed down on Saturday. Not when Americans are looking for a clear and unequivocal condemnation of the hatred that brought those 700 marchers to Charlottesville.

That car in Charlottesville did not kill or wound just the 20 bodies it struck. It damaged the nation. Mr. Trump not only failed to help the country heal; he made the wound wider and deeper.

Read more here:

The Post's View: What a presidential president would have said about Charlottesville

E.J. Dionne Jr.: After Charlottesville: End the denial about Trump

Eugene Robinson: Trump's response to Charlottesville should surprise no one

Greg Sargent: Why is Trump reluctant to condemn white supremacy? It's his racism — and his megalomania.

Michael Gerson: Trump babbles in the face of tragedy

FILE - In this March 13, 2017 file photo, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during an event to formally launch the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware, in Newark, Del. Biden?s memoir is coming out Nov. 14 and will be called ?Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose.? The book centers on 2015, when his son Beau died and he decided not to run for president even though he believed he could win. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 28: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) looks on during a press conference regarding the Senate's defeat of the GOP health care plan, on Capitol Hill, July 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. Senate Republicans failed to pass a stripped-down, or 'Skinny Repeal,' version of Obamacare reform early Friday morning. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - AUGUST 13: Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe answers questions from members of the press after attending morning services at the First Baptist Church August 13, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The city of Charlottesville is still reeling following violence at a 'Unite the Right' rally held by white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the 'alt-right'. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee speaks at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit in Altoona, Iowa, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, speaks during a news conference after a weekly GOP luncheon meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, July 11, 2017. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he's delaying the Senate's August recess by two weeks after divided lawmakers have been unable to agree on how to revise health-care legislation he proposed to replace Obamacare. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Former U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his speech during the 4th Congress of Indonesian Diaspora Network in Jakarta, Indonesia, Saturday, July 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)
FILE - In this June 5, 2017 file photo, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks in Baltimore. Clinton lost the 2016 election to President Donald Trump, but some Republicans in Congress are intensifying their calls to investigate her and other Obama administration officials. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 11: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) talks with reporters at the U.S. Capitol July 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing for Nikki Haley, governor of South Carolina and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (UN) nominee for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. Haley, the first woman elected governor of South Carolina, also will face the challenge of winning over skeptical global diplomats stunned by the president-elects rapport with Moscow, open questioning of the One-China policy, doubts about climate change and antagonism toward historic security alliances. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
WASHINGTON, DC - Senator John McCain answers questions from journalists while rushing to votes concerning the Republican version of the healthcare bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC Wednesday July 26, 2017. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
President Donald Trump speaks about the ongoing situation in Charlottesville, Va., at Trump National Golf Club, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Bedminster, N.J. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Photo Gallery: Some condemned the violence and the white supremacist beliefs held by demonstrators, while others criticized President Trump?s statement in the wake of the protest.
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