The Trump White House sees itself as balanced and unifying on the violence in Charlottesville. Its talking points are full of true facts and balance, but on this issue, no balanced perspective exists.
These are the facts about Charlottesville:
- A mass of protestors who self-identify as the “alt-right” came to Charlottesville and shouted white supremacist slogans. How many? I have found no accurate count in any of the stories about it. Some were armed with semi-automatic rifles.
- There were also counter-protesters (also known as “antifa” or anti-fascist protestors). Some were armed with clubs.
- James Fields, an alt-right protester, apparently ran over and killed Heather Heyer, a counter-protester, and injured dozens of others.
The president is under attack for his comments after the protest. He criticized violence “on many sides” immediately after the protest, and was slow to condemn the alt-right groups like the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis by name. His failure to come out more strongly and unilaterally against bigotry and hate has put him at odds with corporate CEOs, who deserted his advisory councils yesterday, and congressional leaders like John McCain.
Analyzing the White House talking points
In the wake of all of this, the White House Press Office distributed talking points to Republicans in Congress, which somebody promptly leaked to The Atlantic. How they look depends entirely on your point of view. If you believe there are two sides to this story, both similarly responsible for violence, then Trump’s talking points make perfect sense. If you believe the bigots and haters in the alt-right are the problem and the counter-protests are less important, then the talking points seem absurd.
Talking points are supposed to be biased towards one side. In fact, I could find no lies in the talking points, but they omit many other facts. See for yourself. My commentary follows.
The President was entirely correct — both sides of the violence in Charlottesville acted inappropriately, and bear some responsibility.
Commentary: There was violence on both sides. Are both sides an equal threat?
- Despite the criticism, the President reaffirmed some of our most important Founding principles: We are equal in the eyes of our Creator, equal under the law, and equal under our Constitution.
- He has been a voice for unity and calm, encouraging the country to “rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that brings us together as Americans.”
- He called for the end of violence on all sides so that no more innocent lives would be lost.
Commentary: President Trump sees himself balanced in criticizing violence on both sides. It’s a stretch to see him as “a voice for unity and calm” given the anger his comments have created across the political spectrum. His calls for an end to violence are impotent, since the causes of this violence are immune to any statement by Trump.
- The President condemned – with no ambiguity – the hate groups fueled by bigotry and racism over the weekend, and did so by name yesterday, but for the media that will never be enough.
- The media reacted with hysteria to the notion that counter-protesters showed up with clubs spoiling for a fight, a fact that reporters on the ground have repeatedly stated.
- Even a New York Times reporter tweeted that she “saw club-wielding “antifa” beating white nationalists being led out of the park.”
- The local ACLU chapter also tweeted that
Commentary: Trump believes he is bring balance to the argument by focusing on the violence of the counter-protestors, which has gotten much less attention.
- We should not overlook the facts just because the media finds them inconvenient:
- From cop killing and violence at political rallies, to shooting at Congressmen at a practice baseball game, extremists on the left have engaged in terrible acts of violence.
- The President is taking swift action to hold violent hate groups accountable.
- The DOJ has opened a civil rights investigation into this weekend’s deadly car attack.
- Last Thursday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced it had completed the largest prosecution of white supremacists in the nation’s history.
Commentary: This equates the protests and violence on the left with the protests and violence on the right.
- Leaders and the media in our country should join the president in trying to unite and heal our country rather than incite more division.
Commentary: This is a fascinating statement. Is criticizing both sides equally “trying to unite and heal our country?” Is calling out white nationalists as evil “inciting division?” The alt-right is full of hate groups. Its opponents have plenty of hate for those they see as fascists. Is validating the choice to hate, on either side, uniting or dividing?
The fundamental problem is that there is no balanced perspective
Breaking down down White House statements, both in these talking points and in Trump’s remarks, gets you to a simple statement of his point of view. I’d state it this way:
“The protesters in Charlottesville have a legitimate right to their opinion. There are two sides here. Elements of both sides are violent. The problem is the violence, not the opinions.”
If both sides were equal, this would be a balanced perspective. But there is really no middle ground here.
If you believe the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacy, bigotry, generalizations about blacks and Jews, and the entire alt-right perspective are wrong, then you see everything they do as pernicious hate speech that will inevitably lead to violence.
If you believe their opinions have an element of truth, you see what happened as the activities of a few violent people at the front of a protest of white people attempting to air legitimate grievances.
Despite what Trump says, no unity is possible — people pretty much believe one of these narratives or the other. There’s no middle ground to stand on.
We can continue to suppress the angry speech of white supremacists. It’s easy to believe you can define which speech is offensive. But I worry about further steps down that path. Will the government suppress my speech next?
Alternatively, we can allow the white supremacists to continue their offensive protests and watch violence continue to break out everywhere they and their opponents show up. I don’t want to live in an America torn apart by riots and hatred, either.
There are no good paths here, only less bad ones. Navigating this moment in history requires not balance, but leadership. I’m still waiting for that leadership to arrive.