President Donald Trump tweeted a condemnation of the violence at white-nationalist rallies in Charlottesville over the weekend — without explicitly identifying who was to blame.
President Trump, who is on a “working vacation” at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, didn’t say anything about the rallies until Saturday afternoon. The tweet came after counter-protesters were assaulted Friday night at a torchlit march that featured Nazi slogans; clashes that erupted between rallygoers and counter-protesters on Saturday morning; and after Charlottesville police dispersed the rally from its original location minutes after the scheduled start time.
For some, that 14-hour silence was notable — especially because Trump has immediately leapt to comment on outbreaks of violence outside the US that are perpetrated by Islamist terrorists. (And while the president is nominally on “vacation,” he hasn’t let vacation get in the way of his Twitter use when it comes to threatening military action against North Korea or ragging on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.)
The president ultimately tweeted, “We ALL must be united and condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!”
We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2017
He later tweeted that he was busy working on veterans’ issues in Bedminster, “but Charlotteville sad!”
Am in Bedminster for meetings & press conference on V.A. & all that we have done, and are doing, to make it better-but Charlottesville sad!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2017
On the face of it, the tweet is reminiscent of some of the rhetoric he used during his inaugural address, when he called for national unity beyond dividing lines of race or gender. But Trump has usually been more comfortable calling attention to divisions than calling on people to surmount them.
And he’s usually been uncomfortable, even reticent, to denounce the white supremacists among his followers — from responding to an attack on a homeless immigrant by two Trump supporters by saying “My followers are very passionate” during the presidential primary, to claiming unconvincingly not to know who former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke was as an excuse for not having distanced himself from him.
Trump was somewhat constrained by Twitter’s 140-character limit, though he’s been known to tweet comments in parts before. Furthermore, his White House could have issued a formal statement instead, and had not as of the time of the tweet.
The omission is notable. A president who believes fervently that the key to defeating terrorism abroad is to call it “radical Islamic terrorism” didn’t identify who, exactly, was perpetrating the “hate” and “violence.” Given that many Trump supporters believe that Black Lives Matter is a “hate” group, and tend to assume that any violence is initiated by “antifa” liberals against peaceful Trump supporters, it’s easy to imagine that the president’s tweet might not have been universally read as a condemnation of the Unite the Right rally itself.
Indeed, while David Duke criticized Trump for his tweet, white nationalist Richard Spencer (perhaps with tongue in cheek) asked if Trump was condemning the left-wing “antifa” counterprotesters:
Did Trump just denounce antifa? https://t.co/jOgiw4pPzK— Richard ☝ Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) August 12, 2017