Sunday, August 13, 2017

Reading Donald Trump: Responding To Charlottesville

Yesterday, in Charlottesville, Virginia, someone killed someone with a car.

If you haven't yet seen video of the incident, in which a car plowed into a crowd of people protesting a rally of white nationalists who were in turn protesting the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee - and if you want to - here's CNN's version, which stitches together video clips from two of the counterprotestors.

This post isn't about that. It's about President Donald Trump's response to that. He already had a press conference scheduled yesterday to announce new funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and took time to comment on what was happening in Charlottesville. Here's the transcript, in its entirety, as reported by Vox:

Thank you very much. As you know, this was a small press conference, but a very important one. And it was scheduled to talk about the great things that we're doing with the secretary on the veterans administration. And we will talk about that very much so in a little while. But I thought I should put out a comment as to what's going on in Charlottesville. So, again, I want to thank everybody for being here, in particular I want to thank our incredible veterans. And thank you, fellas. Let me shake your hand.

They're great people. Great people. But we're closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It's been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, this has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society. And no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time.

I just got off the phone with the governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, and we agree that the hate and the division must stop, and must stop right now. We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and true affection-- really, I say this so strongly, true affection for each other. Our country is doing very well in so many ways. We have record -- just absolute record employment. We have unemployment the lowest it's been in almost 17 years. We have companies pouring into our country, Foxconn and car companies and so many others. They're coming back to our country. We're renegotiating trade deals to make them great for our country and great for the American worker.

We have so many incredible things happening in our country, so when I watch Charlottesville, to me it's very, very sad. I want to salute the great work of the state and local police in Virginia. Incredible people. Law enforcement, incredible people. And also the National Guard. They've really been working smart and working hard. They've been doing a terrific job. Federal authorities are also providing tremendous support to the governor. He thanked me for that. And we are here to provide whatever other assistance is needed. We are ready, willing and able. Above all else, we must remember this truth: No matter our color, creed, religion or political party, we are all Americans first. We love our country. We love our god.

We love our flag. We're proud of our country. We're proud of who we are, so we want to get the situation straightened out in Charlottesville, and we want to study it. And we want to see what we're doing wrong as a country where things like this can happen. My administration is restoring the sacred bonds of loyalty between this nation and its citizens, but our citizens must also restore the bonds of trust and loyalty between one another. We must love each other, respect each other and cherish our history and our future together. So important. We have to respect each other. Ideally, we have to love each other.
One sentence set the Internet on fire, and well it should have: "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides." On many sides? What the frick-frack are you talking about? Even some of his fellow Republicans took issue.

I suspect that many people, watching the video of his remarks, stopped listening at that point, as a result of their heads having exploded. But read the rest of the second paragraph, beginning with "It's been going on for a long time in our country," and answer me this: is or is not that entire paragraph a steaming pile that goes beyond being offensive into being incoherent?  What does "Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama" even mean?? And, what's been "going on for a long, long time"?

Then, keep going, if you dare - how does "the hate and division must stop, and it must stop now" - a sentiment hard to refute - how does that lead to a boast about "record employment"?

Someone killed someone with a car.

"We're renegotiating trade deals to make them great for our country and great for the American worker."

SOMEONE KILLED SOMEONE WITH A CAR.

The next paragraph is quintessential Trump: the childlike description of the day's events in Charlottesville as "very, very sad," buried in fluff about incredible people doing incredible things, and the assertion that "Federal authorities are also providing tremendous support to the governor. He thanked me for that." Because everything, all the time, has to become about him.

And yet, despite the fact that everything, all the time, has to become about him, in the last paragraph he speaks as if he doesn't see how this - a rally whose organizers are his supporters, in which some participants gave Nazi salutes while saying, "Heil Trump!", and in which someone kills someone with a car -  really is about him. He doesn't see all of this as a result of his success in feeding the fears and resentments that energize hate. No, he doesn't see that; to him, it's a mystery, so he wants to study the situation:

"And we want to see what we're doing wrong as a country where things like this can happen."

The phrase "so many sides" set the Internet on fire, but the entire statement, the entire utterance, was incoherent nonsense. If you form the habit of reading transcripts of Donald Trump, rather than watching videos, you'll see that incoherent nonsense - the weaving of incomplete sentences, pointless hyperbole, insultsunverifiable declarations of fact, and outright lies - is his norm.

And yesterday, I believe, Donald Trump's entire mode of public discourse congealed into an unusable mass of verbal putty.

The man who encouraged supporters to rough people up at his campaign rallies finished by saying. "We have to respect each other. Ideally, we have to love each other."

I'm going to go out a limb to say this: It's too late, Mr. President. The people who voted for you have been too strongly encouraged to hate, to listen to you speak about love. The people who voted against you are too deeply convinced that you do not know love. No one, friend or enemy, can believe that you mean it now when you say that we have to respect and love each other.

If you did mean it, then so much the worse for you, that none of us will believe you. And so much the worse for us, that none of us believe we can.

When Trump tweeted (of course), "We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!" former KKK leader David Duke CORRECTED HIM: "I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency..."

The most powerful man in the world has lost the greatest power that he could have - the ability to inspire others to follow the better angels of their nature. Having chosen to inspire others to hate, he cannot inspire others to love; having lowered himself to operating as a fountain of contempt, he can lift neither himself nor others to drink from purer streams.

Donald Trump's presidency may continue - he has 1,255 days remaining in office. But yesterday, his leadership died.
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