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.
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.
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