The president of the United States is the leader of the country. When something bad happens, the nation’s citizens turn to the White House, looking for guidance and for comfort.
The nation reflexively turned to Trump this weekend, after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, North Carolina turned violent, leaving 19 wounded and one person dead.
The president criticized the day’s violence, and said it came “from many sides.”
This didn’t sit well with many Americans who had spent the day watching images of people being beaten, of a car being driven into peaceful protesters.
These citizens wanted to hear from an indignant president, full of wrath and hurt over an American citizen being killed by a white nationalist. They wanted their leader to denounce in no uncertain terms that white supremacy was evil.
The president’s words may have done little to comfort those who believe in equality, but they did nothing but bolster those who do not.
The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist site wiped from the internet due to hosting troubles, wrote that the president’s words ought to embolden white nationalists. “He didn’t attack us … there was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all,” CNN reports.
Finally, this week, under pressure from citizens and politicians of both parties, the president read a prepared statement, “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 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.”
“What I’m saying is this: you had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs, and it was vicious, and it was horrible, and it was a horrible thing to watch, but there is another side, there was a group on this side, you can call them the left, you just called them the left, that came violently attacking the other group. You can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.”
To make it even clearer that he stood behind his earlier “many sides” comment, the president told the gathered press, “I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either.”
He went on to say that any confusion about the facts of Charlottesville was the press’ fault, blaming journalists for not reporting “it accurately.”
The president also questioned whether the alt-right really exists, “When you say alt-right, you define it. Go ahead. Define it for me.”
He then coined a new term, the “alt-left.”
He referred to the alt-left as “very violent,” and said “nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now.”
He asked, “What about the alt-left that came charging at, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? What about the fact that they came charging with clubs in their hands swinging clubs?”
As for the people on the other side, the white nationalist side? The president said they are misunderstood and have been misrepresented.
“You had many people in that group other than Neo-Nazis and white nationalists, okay? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”
This led to an outcry by the press present.
The president, however, talked over their protests, “In the other group also, you had some fine people. But you also had troublemakers, and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats — you had a lot of bad people in the other group.”
Reporters also asked the president about Confederate monuments being taken down.
“You’re changing history. You’re changing culture,” the president said, also adding that he thinks this is mostly a local issue.
He then asked, as many on the alt-right have, where CSA monument removal stops. “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 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 his statue? He was a major slave owner."
Finally, the president made some time for self-congratulation and self-promotion.
“I own a house in Charlottesville. Does anyone know I own a house in Charlottesville?” the president asked, according to CNN.
“I know a lot about Charlottesville. Charlottesville is a great place that’s been very badly hurt over the last couple of days. I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States, and it’s in Charlottesville.”