Trump’s inability to handle the truth drags his party down
In case you’ve been wondering why President Trump flip-flopped twice in assigning blame for the Charlottesville street violence last weekend, the reason was simple. As he told reporters in the Trump Tower lobby on Tuesday, he didn’t have the facts at the time of his first comments, and when he learned the facts he revised his remarks.
This from a man who, before his election and ever since, has trafficked in lies and misrepresentations in matters large and small, foreign and domestic. This excuse, that he would have been better off waiting until the facts were established, is rich in light of his own history of spouting off first and trying to explain himself later.
On Sunday, the day after a white supremacist allegedly ran down and killed a counter-protestor with a car, also injuring 19 others, Trump set off a storm of outrage by blaming the violence on “many sides.” On Monday, he read a speech denouncing white supremacists, generating some sense that for once he was backing off this line of interpretation. But on Tuesday he was again assigning mutual culpability, saying there were “two sides” to the violent events.
“I watched those (marchers) very closely, much more closely than you people watched it,” he said, “and you had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say it, but I’ll say it right now.”
Here was Donald Trump single-handedly telling it like it was, while also introducing his own narrative of a clash between extremists on the political right and left facing off with clubs and other weapons.
Aggressively pressing on, waving off reporters with interjections of “Excuse me,” he offered his own narrative: “OK, what about the alt-left that came charging at, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?”
Referring to his previous day’s response, in which he amended his failure to identify the organizers as white supremacists, Trump now said: “I’ve condemned neo-Nazis, I’ve condemned many different groups, but not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.” Some, he said, “were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee.”
Trump was asked whether his reference to “the alt-left” indicated he was putting the counter-protesters on the same “moral plane” as the white supremacist organizers. “I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane,” he said.
“There was a group on this side. You can call hem the left … that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.” He went on, as his hostility to the array of questioning reporters mounted. To one, he snapped: “I’m not finished, fake news.”
Among those who stood aside watching and listening was Trump’s new White House chief of staff, former Gen. John F. Kelly, as the president plunged on in the sort of extemporaneous rant many Trump fans hoped Kelly would be curbing or discouraging.
After Monday’s carefully orchestrated pullback from Trump’s previous unscripted responses to the violence, it was Trump being Trump one more time, a graphic measure of the task still ahead for those who might hope he might yet be housebroken to the ways of normal politicking and discourse.
Of the many self-inflicted wounds to the young Trump presidency, this one particularly illustrated that the administration’s much-discussed communications problem begins with the president himself, no matter how often his public relations office is shaken up.
You can respond to this column at email@example.com.