When Donald Trump was given an opportunity to comment on Saturday’s deadly violence in Charlottesville, it didn’t go well. The president condemned bigotry “on many sides,” which delighted white supremacists and sparked bipartisan pushback.
And so, under significant pressure, Trump spoke from the White House today and gave this another try.
For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, the president began his remarks by referencing trade, tax cuts, the stock market, and unemployment, which made it seem as if these were the issues that were foremost on his mind. Trump, carefully following his trusted teleprompter, eventually got around to addressing Saturday’s violence.
“We must love each other, show affection for each other and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans.
“Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans…. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.”
The president did not take questions.
What was wrong with Trump’s prepared remarks? Nothing. It was a perfectly fine speech. What’s hard to brush aside, however, is what it took to get him to that podium.
Ideally, a president would not only get this right the first time; he’d want to make these principles clear without coaxing or public pressure. It’s a positive development, I suppose, that Trump was shamed into doing the right thing, but real leaders are generally held to a higher standard. When a president gets around to condemning white supremacists, he’s clearing a painfully low bar.
Indeed, the idea of presidential do-overs is itself hard to take seriously. Trump spoke his mind on Saturday; it’s a little late for him to effectively say 48 hours later, “No, wait, what I meant to say was…”
In all likelihood, the president’s statement will ease the political pressure that’s been building since Saturday afternoon, but that doesn’t mean anyone should forget what Trump said and did to create the controversy in the first place.