Analysis: Trump returns to form with alt-right defense
From Trump Tower in New York City, President Trump told reporters that he believed both protesters and counter protesters were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Combative, loud and defensive, President Trump stood in the lobby of his 58-story office tower Tuesday and delivered a stunning defense of right-wing white nationalists who descended on a Virginia college town with torches and assault weapons over the weekend.
Trump did what he often does when challenged: He punched back — mostly against the media but also the "alt-left" and other Charlottesville counter-protesters that he called "troublemakers." He complained that his supporters and loyalists were being treated unfairly.
And he drew comparisons between Confederate generals who took up arms against the United States in defense of the institution of slavery with founding fathers who also owned slaves fourscore years before.
It was seven months and a rhetorical epoch away from his Inauguration Day calls to "rediscover our loyalty to each other" by replacing prejudice with patriotism.
After condemning neo-Nazis and white supremacists on Monday, Trump returned to the moral equivalency that brought so much condemnation of his remarks on Saturday, when he said "many sides" had engaged in violence.
It was a display of full-frontal "what about-ism," engaging in an argumentative style more common to Internet comment sections and Reddit sub-threads than the American presidency.
"What about the alt-left?" Trump said. "What about the fact they came charging? That they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do."
From Trump Tower in New York City, President Trump told reporters that both sides were to blame for the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia. USA TODAY
Asked about Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee — whose statue in Charlottesville the alt-right protestors had come to defend — Trump changed the subject to slave owners George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. "So, will George Washington now lose his status?" he asked. "Are we going to take down statues to George Washington?"
From Trump Tower in New York City, President Trump implied the removal of the statue of General Robert E. Lee could be the beginning of a trend of removing statues of historic figures on public display. He asks 'where does it stop?' USA TODAY
The president also expressed confidence in Steve Bannon, the former executive of the alt-right web site Breitbart News whose office is just a whisper away from the Oval Office. "I like Mr. Bannon. He's a friend of mine," Trump said. "He is not a racist, I can tell you that. He's a good person. He actually gets a very unfair press in that regard."
Trump also condemned neo-Nazis and white supremacists, but said not everyone who came to protest in Charlottesville was a racist. "Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch."
Despite its humble beginnings, the alt-right movement has been gaining national attention with its provocative message.
On day 11 of his two-week "working vacation," Trump had come to the lobby of Trump Tower to talk about infrastructure. He had just signed a 3,400-word executive order to streamline federal permits, and politely wrapped up prepared remarks. "So I want to thank everybody for being here. God bless you. God bless the United States," he told reporters. "If you have any questions, please feel free to ask."
That's when things got contentious. Trump had clearly anticipated questions on Charlottesville, at one point pulling a copy of his remarks from Saturday out of his jacket pocket in order to defend them.
In doing so, he reverted back to blaming both sides equally for the weekend clashes that left one woman dead and 20 more injured. "Yes, I think there’s blame on both sides," he said. "I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either."
Walking away, Trump demonstrated another hallmark of his rhetoric, stopping to tell reporters he knew a lot about Charlottesville because he owns a business there.
"I own, actually, one of the largest wineries in the United States. It's in Charlottesville," he said. "I mean, I know a lot about Charlottesville. Charlottesville is a great place that's been very badly hurt over the last couple of days."
At Trump Tower in New York City, President Trump explains to the media that he thinks removing statues like the one of Gen. Robert E. Lee rewrites history. He also says there were many types of 'bad people' to blame for the violence in Virginia. USA TODAY