Vice President Pence looks on as President Trump delivers remarks at the White House on Monday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Columnist

The White House appeared to suffer a teleprompter mix-up on Monday when President Trump, addressing the nation after a pair of deadly shootings over the course of two days claimed more than 30 lives, briefly appeared to condemn white supremacy.

“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy," Trump said. "These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.”

This is very far from his usual tone. Trump has always been careful to avoid giving the impression that he rebuked white supremacy. He once refused to denounce David Duke, saying “You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about." He insisted, post-Charlottesville, that there were "very fine people" on both sides of the clash.

And, while the president has vacillated on many questions of substance, his fondness for dog whistles — the louder the better — is consistent.

Long before his presidential campaign, Trump once ran a full-page ad in the New York Times calling for the death penalty for the Central Park Five, a group of teenagers who were accused of a brutal rape and assault — and who have since been completely exonerated. Since the dawn of his campaign, when he denounced immigrants for “not sending their best” and suggested that those coming to this country from Mexico were murderers and rapists. He has used terms such as “infestation” to describe those who come to this country seeking better lives, and “shithole countries" to describe the countries from which they come. He told four congresswomen of color, all U.S. citizens and three of them born in the United States, to go “back” where they came from — and basked in chants that said the same. At a rally in Panama Beach City, Fla., in May, Trump asked about those coming across the border, “How do you stop these people?” and when someone in the crowd shouted, “Shoot them!” Trump chuckled, “That’s only in the Panhandle you can get away with that stuff.”

So, it seems clear that there must have been some serious teleprompter error that has prompted such a, frankly, shocking deviation from his usual rhetoric. How embarrassing that no one on his staff bothered to get something so crucial right.

Trump also offered his condolences to shooting victims in Toledo, but given the heavy burdens he carries, such a slip is inevitable. The president was busy this past weekend making cameos at weddings and supervising games of golf, and a higher level of attention to the details of tragedy could not have been expected from him.

But to speak against white supremacy instead of offering a kind of smirking, winking, tacit approbation? No, there must have been a grave mistake.

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