Denouncing the white supremacists, neo-Nazis and KKKers in Charlottesville – that should have been the easy part. But now that he’s stumbled so badly there, will the suddenly tongue-tied Donald Trump ever stop seeking alliances with race-baiting, alt-right extremists?
Does he even want to?
This is a president, don’t forget, who will insult almost anyone – his top campaign aides, his own cabinet officials, the leading Republicans in Congress. Anyone, that is, except for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who seems to have “Survivor”-style immunity against any and all Trump storms. Now, we have to place another entry on Trump’s never-single-out list: gun-toting Confederacy nostalgists.
In the hours after hundreds of violent extremists showed up in the historic Virginia university town to “Unite the Right,” and a speeding car slammed into counterdemonstrators, all Trump could muster was the mushiest denunciation of bigotry and violence “on many sides.” It was as if the race-haters were the moral equivalent of those who were objecting to them.
Can you imagine if an American president, in the immediate aftermath of a terror attack by radical Muslims, held “many sides” equally responsible? Can you imagine if this president had blamed both North and South Korea equally for Kim Jong-un’s nuclear outbursts?
As Republican senators raised loud objections to Trump’s false equivalency, the White House press office tried to clean up the rhetorical mess, saying, “Of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, Neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.” But the clarification stopped far short of what a growing number of Republicans and Democrats are demanding: a direct condemnation of white supremacy.
Don’t hold your breath. The reason Trump protects these haters is the same reason he protects Putin. They have something on him, or he feels like he owes them. In this case, he very well may owe them for his presidency.
David Duke, as close as this movement has to a matinée idol, put it quite succinctly in Charlottesville: “We're going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That's what we believed in. That's why we voted for Donald Trump – because he said he's going to take our country back, and that's what we gotta do.”
That should send shivers “on many sides.”
Metro columnist Ellis Henican is a veteran journalist, best-selling author and frequent commentator on CNN and other TV networks. Follow him on Twitter @henican.