In a press appearance at Trump Tower Tuesday, President Donald Trump decided to take questions from the media — and he made clear that his true opinions on this weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, are very different from the staff-scripted statement he read Monday.
Indeed, he went out of his way to defend the demonstrations, repeatedly arguing that while some demonstrators were “very bad people,” others were “very fine people.” Trump also emphasized that many counterprotesters on “the other side” were “very, very violent.”
But in Trump’s telling, the demonstrations were to a large extent about protesting the possible removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a city park. And he implied he agreed with them. “You’re changing history, and you’re changing culture,” he said. “Is it George Washington next week, Thomas Jefferson the week after?”
This was a remarkable, er, whitewashing of what actually happened over the weekend, which went far beyond the issue of the statue. The demonstrations themselves were organized by a self-professed “pro-white” activist. On Friday night, around 100 white nationalists marched on the University of Virginia campus and chanted Nazi slogans. And the chaotic scene that unfolded on Saturday eventually culminated in a reported Nazi sympathizer driving a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, leaving one dead and injuring several more.
When Trump first spoke about the violence on Saturday, he vaguely condemned “hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides” without specifically condemning white supremacism or white nationalism. Criticism then poured in from Democrats and Republicans.
Finally, in an effort to change the subject, Trump read a prepared statement Monday condemning this weekend’s “racist violence” and saying “racism is evil.” This was the latest iteration of what Matt Yglesias has dubbed the “Trump Tango” — “a halfhearted disavowal” of racism “way too late.”
And almost immediately, the president made clear that he was unhappy with the reception of his remarks, tweeting Monday evening that the “#Fake News Media will never be satisfied”:
Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the #Fake News Media will never be satisfied...truly bad people!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2017
So now he’s returned to his initial instincts — to send the message that when he sees a big rally of “pro-white” demonstrators, he isn’t taking sides against them. Instead, he’ll bend over backward to give them the benefit of the doubt.
“You had some very bad people in that group. You also had some very fine people on both sides,” he said. “Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.” It’s clear from his Tuesday remarks that’s what he really thinks.