As political statements go, saying “Neo-Nazis and white supremacists are bad” doesn’t seem as though it should be particularly controversial. But it’s a statement that Donald Trump can’t quite seem to bring himself to make.
In the wake of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville this weekend, which left one counterprotester dead and more wounded, Trump’s only response was a vague statement that condemned “violence and bigotry on many sides.” The White House later amended Trump’s statement to make it perfectly clear that he was talking about both the people marching with swastikas and torches and driving cars into crowds of counterprotesters — whom he has not named as white supremacists or neo-Nazis — and the people who traveled to the rally to protest against them. It was a rhetorical move that multiple major Republican voices condemned, including Marco Rubio and John McCain.
I asked the White House what @POTUS meant by "on many sides." The response, from a WH official --> pic.twitter.com/pw3WZAMG1A— Hallie Jackson (@HallieJackson) August 12, 2017
But prominent American neo-Nazis were quite pleased by Trump’s response. And as John Oliver pointed out on Sunday night, “Nazis are a lot like cats. If they like you, it’s probably because you’re feeding them.”
“We are determined to take our country back,” said former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke in Charlottesville on Saturday. “We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s what we voted for.”
“That kind of connection is something that anyone in their right mind would want to immediately and repeatedly disavow,” Oliver says — but Trump has multiple times proved himself reluctant to disavow his white supremacist supporters. When he does condemn them, as he did on the campaign trail, it’s generally with much less enthusiasm than he devotes to sniping at, say, Rosie O’Donnell. And in his statement on Saturday, Trump walked out of the room without a word as the press volleyed questions at him about whether or not he was willing to condemn the white supremacists who say they are acting in his name.
“A non-answer in a moment like this is an answer,” Oliver says. “If you had asked me, ‘Have you ever been aroused by the fairies in Zelda: The Ocarina of Time,’ and I responded by slowly and silently walking away from you, you would know exactly what I was saying.”
And writers on the infamous neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer seemed fairly certain they knew exactly what Trump meant when he walked away. “Trump comments were good,” wrote a Daily Stormer commenter. “He said he loves us all. Also refused to answer a question about White Nationalists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”
“There is clearly no point waiting for leadership from our president at moments like this, because it is just not coming,” Oliver concluded. “Which means we will have to look to one another. Because incredibly, in a country where previous presidents have actually had to defeat Nazis, we now have one who cannot even be bothered to fucking condemn them.”