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Opinion Heather Heyer’s mother just brutally unmasked Trump’s racism and cruelty

Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed on Aug. 12 while protesting white nationalist, gave powerful remarks during Heather's memorial service. (Video: The Washington Post)


In a remarkable new turn in the Charlottesville saga, the mother of the young woman who was murdered for protesting racism and white supremacy said on Friday morning that she will not speak to President Trump. In so doing, she shed a whole new light on Trump’s racism and cruelty — and on the profound abdication of basic decency and presidential duty at the core of Trump’s response to the racial violence that erupted last weekend and that could continue.

Speaking on “Good Morning America,” Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, said the White House had tried to reach her with “frantic” messages, presumably to set up a call with Trump, but added that she would refuse any communications now that Trump has suggested a moral equivalence between the racists, Nazis, and white supremacists in Charlottesville and those protesting them:

QUESTION: Have you talked to him directly yet?
SUSAN BRO: I have not. And now I will not. At first, I just missed his calls. The first call looked like it actually came during the funeral. I didn’t even see that message. There were three more frantic messages from press secretaries throughout the day. And I didn’t know why. That had been on Wednesday. And I was home recovering from the exhaustion of the funeral. So I thought, ‘well, I’ll get to him later.’ And then I had more meetings to establish her foundation. So I hadn’t really watched the news until last night.
And I’m not talking to the president now. I’m sorry. After what he said about my child. It’s not that I saw somebody else’s tweets about him. I saw an actual clip of him at a press conference equating the protesters, like Ms. Heyer, with the KKK and the white supremacists. …You can’t wash this one away by shaking my hand and saying, ‘I’m sorry.’

On Monday, after Trump had read aloud a string of words that did call out white supremacy by name and denounced racism as evil, Bro released a statement thanking Trump for his comments. The next day, Trump held his now-infamous news conference, at which he reverted to blaming “both sides” for the racial violence and claimed that the white supremacists and Nazis had been treated “unfairly” by the media, conspicuously avoiding unambiguous condemnation of them. After watching the clip of Trump — and it’s key that she watched the video, which vividly displayed the depravity and stubborn megalomania coursing through his remarks — Bro now has rescinded her thanks and won’t take his call.

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Bro’s emotional response to Trump is a reminder that his reversion to his current reprehensible posture didn’t have to happen. While his flat condemnation of white supremacy did not undo the damage caused by his initial statement on Saturday blaming “many sides,” it largely said the right thing. Republicans were pleased and relieved by it. The mother of the young woman who died had thanked him for it.

But then Trump just had to make a large show of returning to his original position, dividing blame between white supremacists, Nazis and Klansmen on one side, and those protesting their racism, hatred and belief in the inferiority of African Americans and Jews on the other. We know Trump did this at least in part because he did not want to be seen surrendering to pressure to single out racism and white supremacy for full blame. He was in a rage because he “felt he had already given too much ground to his opponents.” He didn’t want to deliver the statement condemning white supremacy because he was “loath to appear to be admitting a mistake.” It is utter madness that these sentiments played such an important role in shaping the presidential response at such a fraught moment of national tension and introspection.

Meanwhile, Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, is strutting around extolling the political brilliance of Trump’s Charlottesville response. Bannon did a media tour yesterday boasting that Trump’s escalating defense of Confederate statues is a political winner for him. Now Bannon adds to this in a  brash email to The Post:

“This past election, the Democrats used every personal attack, including charges of racism, against President Trump. He then won a landslide victory on a straightforward platform of economic nationalism.”

The idea that Trump won a landslide is an absurd lie, and the idea that Trump has any kind of agenda of “economic nationalism” to speak of is laughable. There are no trade or infrastructure plans (something progressives would actually like to see) in sight. The only real policies Trump has embraced that fit under what Bannon describes as “economic nationalism” are stepped-up deportations, slashing legal immigration and the thinly disguised Muslim ban. Indeed, it’s telling that Bannon defends Trump’s Charlottesville response by pointing to the alleged power of his alleged “economic nationalism” — it validates suspicions that this was always intended largely as a fig leaf for xenophobia and racism.

Bro’s appearance today throws all of this into even sharper relief. We expect presidents to recognize that their role carries with it obligations and duties to try to calm the antagonisms that are being unleashed at moments like this. That’s particularly true right now, with experts warning that Trump’s handling of Charlottesville’s aftermath could cause an escalation in white supremacist activity — meaning it could end up encouraging more violence and death. But Trump’s response at this critical moment is rooted largely in megalomania and a desire not to be seen capitulating, and his chief strategist is barely disguising his view that racial strife and turmoil are good for Trump politically.

As Bro’s new comments remind us, real people died in Charlottesville. Hopefully they will illustrate in a new way just how massive an abdication on the White House’s part all of this represents.

* TRUMP’S RACISM IMPERILS GOP AGENDA: The Post reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other senior Republicans are saying that Trump will make it harder to pass tax reform and other agenda items if he continues defending Confederate statues. This is a fun quote:

“It’s a pretty tough transition from ‘white supremacists aren’t so bad’ to ‘let’s do tax reform,’ ” Josh Holmes, a longtime McConnell ally, said in an interview.

Put that one in the time capsule.

* THE CONSTERNATION RUNS DEEP IN THE GOP: Politico reports that Republicans say Trump’s defense of Confederate statues comes at exactly the wrong moment, what with all the other important stuff that needs to get done right now:

Republicans are practically pulling their hair out … the party is gearing up for one of the most politically precarious legislative stretches in recent memory. In addition to the debt ceiling and tax reform, GOP leaders need to avert a government shutdown, strike a long-term spending deal with Democrats and pass a budget that appeases conservatives and moderate Republicans — all in the next couple months. There are also serious concerns about North Korean’s heightened aggression toward the U.S.
And yet, rank-and-file Republicans have had to drop what they’re doing to repudiate Trump’s remarks on Charlottesville, as have Cabinet members and military officials.

But remember, chief Trump strategist Bannon keeps telling us how brilliant this strategy is.

* REPUBLICANS AGREE WITH TRUMP ON CHARLOTTESVILLE: A new Survey Monkey poll finds that 53 percent of Americans disagree with this Trump assertion about Charlottesville: “You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent.” Among independents, 59 percent disagree.

But 87 percent of Republicans agree with it, so the claim is having exactly its desired effect.

* GARY COHN IS STAYING — FOR NOW: The Post reports that Gary Cohn, a senior economic adviser to the White House, is “mortified” by Trump’s comments about Charlottesville. But he’s staying for the time being. Here’s why this matters:

The White House needs Congress to vote to raise the debt ceiling and clear the way for tax cuts in the next few weeks, measures that have split the Republican Party and could face cliffhanger votes. Without Cohn, “a very solid stabilizing force in the West Wing will be lost,” said Camden Fine, chief executive of the Independent Community Bankers of America, a trade group in frequent contact with the Trump administration. “Bottom line — not good.”

Just what the White House needs right now — losing a “stabilizing” force at the moment when the deadline to raise the debt ceiling, and avoid default, looms.

* IT’S SINKING IN THAT TRUMP IS UNFIT: Paul Krugman notes that Charlottesville seems to have precipitated a recognition of Trump’s unfitness to serve that is broader than usual:

Journalists have stopped seizing on brief moments of not-craziness to declare Trump “presidential”; business leaders have stopped trying to curry favor by lending Trump an air of respectability; even military leaders have gone as far as they can to dissociate themselves from administration pronouncements. … Put it this way: “Not my president” used to sound like an extreme slogan. Now it has more or less become the operating principle for key parts of the U.S. system.

Of course, we’ve seen moments like this before, but Trump has (temporarily) quieted down and they have proven fleeting. Let’s hope we don’t see a similar reversion this time.

* TRUMP HIT BY BRUTAL MAGAZINE COVERS: Axios has graphics depicting three major magazine covers that all hit Trump’s racism: The New Yorker and the Economist both feature Trump alongside various depictions of Ku Klux Klan hoods. Time magazine’s cover blares: “Hate in America,” alongside an image that blends an American flag with a Nazi salute.

Of course, all this really means is that the weenie coastal media elite is in a tizzy about Trump, which only shows he’s doing something right.

* ROGER STONE EXPLAINS TRUMP’S REAL PROBLEM: Trump loyalist Roger Stone, explaining the chaos inside the White House, gives a remarkable quote to the Washington Examiner:

“If the president had surrounded himself with Trump loyalists who understand his constituency and the dynamics of the current political situation, instead of establishment types who are of the same mindset as Trump’s critics, perhaps he would not have these staff issues. When you hire gutless moderate Republicans, you shouldn’t be surprised when they act like moderate Republicans.”

Yeah, Trump’s real problem is that there aren’t enough sycophants around him who tell him he is always right, no matter how low he sinks. That’s the ticket!

Charlottesville remembers Heather Heyer

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - AUGUST 16: People attend the memorial service for Heather Heyer, who was killed when a car slammed into a crowd of people protesting against a white supremacist rally, were asked to wear purple at the Paramount Theater August 16, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Purple was Heyer's favorite color. Charlottesville will hold a memorial service for Heyer Wednesday, four days after she was killed when a participant in a white nationalist, neo-Nazi rally allegedly drove his car into the crowd of people demonstrating against the 'alt-right' gathering. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)