President Donald Trump’s press conference yesterday at Trump Tower was supposed to be focused on his infrastructure plan but ended up being almost entirely devoted to Charlottesville and his response to the Alt-Right.
President Trump (and the nation) would have been better served taking only questions about his plan and refer the media back to his last statement. There isn’t any reason he needed to say more, and I wish he hadn’t.
But Trump is Trump, and he just can’t help himself.
Here are three primary problems with President Trump’s press conference yesterday.
1. Innocent protestors?
But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were White Supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee.
So – excuse me. And you take a look at some of the groups and you see – and you’d know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you’re not, but many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.
The group protesting in Charlottesville had planned this rally called Unite The Right that the KKK, neo-Nazi groups, and other white supremacist groups, as well as, known white supremacist speakers such as Richard Spencer and David Duke.
People who showed up at this protest had more than a benign historical concern for the dismantling of Confederate memorials. Get real. No one in their right mind would associate with these groups unless they have an aligned worldview. If you are not racist you would never join in with these groups. They may not have thrown a punch, but they were there promoting hate.
2. It Provides White Supremacists Cover
Trump also gave white supremacists cover during his press conference.
I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane. What I’m saying is this. You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and it was horrible. And it was a horrible thing to watch.
But there is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You’ve just called them the left – that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.
Well, I do think there’s blame – yes, I think there’s blame on both sides. You look at – you look at both sides. I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either.
First, white supremacy is absolutely immoral, without question. He should have said that.
Second, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) is right, assigning 50 percent blame lets White Supremacists off the hook. What group organized the event? Which side had someone charged with murder (and yes that person is innocent until proven guilty, we are not going to throw due process out of the window)?
The Alt-Right got this ball rolling by way of their rally. Yes, they have a First Amendment right to their speech, but free speech also comes with responsibility. The nature of their message begets violence (from them and those whom their message targets). Condemnation, not defense, is what they deserve. I pointed out why in my piece on Monday.
So while he called them out by name in his press conference saying they are only partially to blame helps them to hear they are not to blame at all – someone else is.
3. President Trump’s Messaging Allows Antifa the Moral High Ground.
I agreed with Erick Erickson when he tweeted:
Erickson expanded his thoughts:
In fact, it seems one of the biggest problems with having Donald Trump as the messenger is that he is so flawed he allows the press and others, even people like Mitt Romney, to give Antifa and violent leftwing activists a pass they should not get. The President has so mishandled the situation that he is allowing bad guys to be cast as either innocent or as heroes when they intended and did further escalate the situation in Charlottesville. If the President had done what he needed to do on Saturday and call out the white supremacists by name, the media cycle would have been different. How do I know? Because he held his press conference before the young lady was killed. His moral clarity occuring before that happened would have changed the way the story was covered.
President Trump was indeed factual in his statement about the counter-protesters, he said:
You had a group – you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent.
There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You’ve just called them the left – that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.
He has also made references to the press not covering this event fairly. Though I reject the claim the Alt-Right is being mistreated; it is evident that the media has ignored this group. Because of his defense of the Alt-Right, however, it gives the press (and others) the opportunity to gloss over Antifa’s involvement.
The fact is while Antifa’s motivation may not be racial like the white supremacists and neo-Nazis; they have been violent in the past, and they were violent in Charlottesville.
Peter Beinart at The Atlantic has an excellent piece discussing this group.
He notes that they have resorted to violence and have received support from some in the mainstream left:
Since antifa is heavily composed of anarchists, its activists place little faith in the state, which they consider complicit in fascism and racism. They prefer direct action: They pressure venues to deny white supremacists space to meet. They pressure employers to fire them and landlords to evict them. And when people they deem racists and fascists manage to assemble, antifa’s partisans try to break up their gatherings, including by force.
Such tactics have elicited substantial support from the mainstream left. When the masked antifa activist was filmed assaulting Spencer on Inauguration Day, another piece in The Nation described his punch as an act of “kinetic beauty.” Slate ran an approving article about a humorous piano ballad that glorified the assault. Twitter was inundated with viral versions of the video set to different songs, prompting the former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau to tweet, “I don’t care how many different songs you set Richard Spencer being punched to, I’ll laugh at every one.”
The violence is not directed only at avowed racists like Spencer: In June of last year, demonstrators—at least some of whom were associated with antifa—punched and threw eggs at people exiting a Trump rally in San Jose, California. An article in It’s Going Down celebrated the “righteous beatings.”
Beinart makes the point, and I think he is correct, that this group has only added fuel to the fire when it comes to countering the Alt-Right.
Antifa believes it is pursuing the opposite of authoritarianism. Many of its activists oppose the very notion of a centralized state. But in the name of protecting the vulnerable, antifascists have granted themselves the authority to decide which Americans may publicly assemble and which may not. That authority rests on no democratic foundation. Unlike the politicians they revile, the men and women of antifa cannot be voted out of office. Generally, they don’t even disclose their names.
Antifa’s perceived legitimacy is inversely correlated with the government’s. Which is why, in the Trump era, the movement is growing like never before. As the president derides and subverts liberal-democratic norms, progressives face a choice. They can recommit to the rules of fair play, and try to limit the president’s corrosive effect, though they will often fail. Or they can, in revulsion or fear or righteous rage, try to deny racists and Trump supporters their political rights. From Middlebury to Berkeley to Portland, the latter approach is on the rise, especially among young people.
Revulsion, fear, and rage are understandable. But one thing is clear. The people preventing Republicans from safely assembling on the streets of Portland may consider themselves fierce opponents of the authoritarianism growing on the American right. In truth, however, they are its unlikeliest allies.
Instead of criticizing Antifa many on the left and in the media (though I repeat myself) make this into some binary choice. A friend of mine on Facebook pointed out that on one side you have neo-nazi fascists and on the other side, you have neo-Marxist anarchists, and we are looking for an Option C.
Can we oppose both? We must, but President Trump didn’t make that any easier.
Their motivations may be different, and in Charlottesville, it was the Alt-Right side that had someone charged with murder. It could very well end the other way around next time.