Things I’m pretty sure of in the wake of Donald Trump’s catastrophic press conference today:
1. The President of the United States cannot control himself. I know, this isn’t really news, but good grief, it is hard to imagine a president who does more damage to himself by not being able to handle his own temper. Even if he 100 percent believed the things he said today, he ought to have enough sense than to say them publicly. If I worked for this administration, I would send my resume out tonight — if not out of a sense of self-respect, then out of a sense of self-preservation. Trump’s temperament is going to bring his presidency crashing down. It has already started.
2. Trump is openly trying to legitimize people who should never be legitimized. Look at this exchange from today’s press conference:
REPORTER: The neo-Nazis started this thing. They showed up in Charlottesville to protest —
TRUMP: Excuse me. They didn’t put themselves down as neo-Nazis. And you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.
You had people in that group — excuse me, excuse me — I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down, of to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.
Now, let me be clear: there really are very fine people who are opposed to taking down Confederate statues. I know some of them. Their kind would not have gone anywhere near that far-right event in Charlottesville. Who was there? According to Wikipedia:
Among the far-right groups engaged in organizing the march were the clubs of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, the neo-Confederate League of the South, the National Policy Institute [Richard Spencer’s think tank], and the National Socialist Movement. Other groups involved in the rally were the Ku Klux Klan, the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, the 3 Percenters, the Traditionalist Workers Party, Identity Evropa, the Oath Keepers, Vanguard America, the American Guard, the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia, the New York Light Foot Militia, the Virginia Minutemen Militia, the Nationalist Front, the Rise Above Movement, True Cascadia, and Anti-Communist Action. Prominent far-right figures in attendance included Richard B. Spencer, Baked Alaska, Augustus Invictus [an occultist, by the way — RD], David Duke, Nathan Damigo, Matthew Heimbach, Faith Goldy, Mike Enoch, League of the South founder Michael Hill, AltRight.com editor Daniel Friberg, former Business Insider CTO Pax Dickinson, Daily Stormer writers Johnny Monoxide, self-described “white activist” and organizer Jason Kessler, and radio host Christopher Cantwell.
Who among this crew is a “very fine” person? The rally was called “Unite The Right,” so named by organizers because they wanted to bring together all the far-right groups. If you went down to that protest this weekend and marched alongside neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen, you deserve to be condemned in the strongest possible terms.
This should not be difficult for the President of the United States to do. But it is, because that’s the kind of man he is.
If you doubt the effect of Trump’s words today, look at this:
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) August 15, 2017
3. Trump was right about the role of the antifa provocateurs, and he was right about this:
TRUMP: George Washington as a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down — excuse me — are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him. Good.
Are we going to take down the statue? Cause he was a major slave owner. Are we going to take down his statue?
It is perfectly legitimate to raise the question of where this ends. Once the anti-Confederate crusaders remove all those statues, they’re going to turn on the Founding Fathers who owned slaves. Why wouldn’t they? And on what principle will they be stopped?
At Pepperdine University, a Christopher Columbus statue was taken down after a protest. There are statues of Columbus all over the country, including one in Central Park. If an angry mob surrounds that one and starts pulling it down, how will police react? A statue of Teddy Roosevelt at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City drew an angry crowd demanding its removal (and for Columbus Day to be renamed) last October. If TR doesn’t belong on the Upper West Side, how does he belong on Mount Rushmore?
Up in Boston, a writer hints that the city should remove local statues of historian Samuel Eliot Morison (who “used language in his writings on slavery that chafed readers”), Henry Cabot Lodge (“a staunch believer in American imperialism”), and even, I kid you not, Abraham Lincoln. (Thomas Ball, who sculpted the latter, wouldn’t let a black man into the house to pose for the statue, which depicts a freed slave kneeling at the president’s feet.) This argument isn’t on the fringe: It was contained in a column written by Pulitzer-shortlisted critic Ty Burr and published in one of the most prestigious newspapers in the country, the Boston Globe. My longtime colleague at the New York Post, film critic Lou Lumenick, carried the logic of Confederate-flag removal through to Confederate-film removal and called for Gone with the Wind to be placed in a museum.
Listen to the way the Left talks about the statues: “The truth is that the desperation to preserve this particular ‘heritage’ and ‘past’ is a facade for something more malignant,” wrote Christine Emba in the Washington Post. “It’s privileged status, not history, that’s being protected.” If this is a war on symbols of “privileged status,” it can never end.
Again: Trump’s point is perfectly legitimate, and an important one. But the aftermath of Charlottesville is not the time or the context in which to discuss it. It is also perfectly legitimate to discuss the role of violent antifa provocateurs — but not when you are the President of the United States, and you are under fire for being unable to straightforwardly condemn neo-Nazis and Klansmen.
4. Things will only get worse from here. The Left is emboldened now, and fired up. Trump is an accelerant. They will get nastier and more confrontational. People on the Right — ordinary people, not far-right activists or people who identify with the far right in any way — will become angrier and more afraid of what the Left in power means for them. And they will be wise to, because old-fashioned liberals are declining in power. (An important sign: watch the reaction to Mark Lilla’s book The Once And Future Liberal, which exhorts the left to abandon identity politics so they can start winning elections.) The radicalized Left will overreach, and we will see even angrier, more conservative Republicans elected to Congress.
5. The Left — including in the media — will now despise all Trump voters equally, without qualification. The liberal journalist Chris Arnade has been doing incredible work actually traveling the country and visiting Trump voters among the down and out. He’s made the point over and over again that a lot of people voted for Trump not because they’re bigots, but because they are in desperate straits, and have concluded that they have been forgotten by elites. Today Arnade tweets:
Before you say, “but his base”, sure unrepentant racist vote for Trump, but large majority of Trump voters are not unrepentant racist.
— Chris Arnade (@Chris_arnade) August 15, 2017
This, I fear, is going to be the media line going forward:
Hillbilly elegies have now officially reached their expiration date.
— Frank Rich (@frankrichny) August 13, 2017
Never mind that Richard Spencer was born and raised in privilege in Dallas, and has a master’s degree from the University of Chicago. Anyway, it’s Deplorable Time again, I’m pretty sure. And this is only going to make our political problems worse.
6. Trump has definitively made his brand pure poison. Anybody who stands by him going forward is going to suffer for it. Look at this:
Reflect on this. Reflect on who has asserted moral authority and who has obfuscated. Shameful. https://t.co/oYNtvCD4Pi
— Michael Wear (@MichaelRWear) August 15, 2017
There are going to be some prominent people who will not recover from their embrace of Donald Trump.
7. The nation is at an extraordinarily weak moment. Nearly two out of three Americans disapprove of the president. That’s bad news for any president, but in Trump’s case, it’s worse, because he’s so polarizing. If this country were to face a serious crisis — a war, in the worst case — do you really see the nation uniting around Donald Trump? If I were an enemy of America, I would see this as an opportunity.
UPDATE: Here is a link to a 22-minute VICE report on the weekend’s events in Charlottesville. Warning: it is not safe for work, because of language. But you need to see it if you have time. These far-right provocateurs are demonic. At the end, Christopher Cantwell, one of the leaders (and a heavily armed dude from New Hampshire) tells the reporter that the killing of the female protester by the fascist kid driving a car was justified — and that by the time they’re done, there will be a lot more dead. Watch it. It’s chilling.