Washington Watch: Moral vacuum at the White House

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”

A demonstrator holds signs during a rally in response to the Charlottesville, Virginia (photo credit: REUTERS/STEPHEN LAM)
A demonstrator holds signs during a rally in response to the Charlottesville, Virginia
(photo credit: REUTERS/STEPHEN LAM)
Switzerland was arguably Hitler’s most valuable ally. It enthusiastically served the Third Reich with not only its banking system but also precision guidance instruments and other valuable materials and services. When Congress was investigating the role of Swiss bankers and the restitution of assets of Holocaust victims, one Swiss diplomat told American officials and others – including me, personally – that his country was innocent of any collusion because it was strictly neutral and treated both sides equally.
I tried to explain to him that if ever there was a conflict between good and evil, that was it, but he failed to grasp it. “We were neutrals,” he repeatedly insisted.
“We did nothing wrong.”
I was reminded of that this weekend when President Donald Trump even-handedly condemned “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” in the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
But even that response didn’t come until after an alleged white supremacist and admirer of Hitler rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing one and wounding many more before fleeing the scene. Trump condemned both sides, unable or unwilling to distinguish between them, and sent bland sympathies to the victims.
Such is the state of tolerance in Trump’s America, where the “alt-right” and assorted neo-Nazis and white supremacists believe – not without cause – that they have a friend in the White House.
Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen and white supremacists and militia members – some heavily armed – had traveled to Charlottesville to oppose the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Former Klan imperial wizard David Duke said the protesters had come “to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” to “take our country back.”
Protesters were chanting Nazi-era slogans and “Jews will not replace us,” shouting “kikes” at Jews, and carrying signs saying, “The Jewish media is going down.”
There were frequent verbal attacks on Charlottesville’s Jewish mayor, Mike Signer.
Counter-protesters came to confront them. Violence quickly broke out and the demonstration had to be canceled before it was scheduled to begin. Gov. Terry McAuliffe acted quickly to shut it down and condemn those responsible for the violence. Meanwhile, the president, at his New Jersey golf club, waited several hours before coming out with a statement that was as offensive as the violence itself.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides,” he said in keeping with his Swiss neutrality.
When asked for specifics, like condemnations of the neo-Nazis and white supremacists, a White House spokesman stuck to that strict Swiss neutrality.
There’s only one explanation for his even-handed condemnation: he was loathe to offend the white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Klansmen and other despicables who are key components of his political base.
If Trump sees no difference between neo-Nazis and Jews, how does he expect to persuade any Israeli leader, and especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to trust him to negotiate peace with the Palestinians? Jewish groups got that message loud and clear.
The American Jewish Committee tweeted: “Condemning ‘hatred, bigotry & violence on many sides’ blurs truth & gives pass to neo-Nazi perpetrators.”
The Anti-Defamation League admonished Trump’s initial response as seeing moral equivalence between the two sides and called on him to show “moral leadership.”
Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, condemned the neo-Nazi violence but failed to say anything about his friend Donald Trump’s reprehensible neutrality. Two days later when Trump – albeit reluctantly – said (more correctly read from a teleprompter) the right words, Lauder jumped in to praise him.
Some Republican leaders called for a stronger White House response to the terrorism from the right, but there is little indication they intend to take any stronger action to curb a president who continues to trade in incitement and hatred.
Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) said in a statement, “White supremacists aren’t patriots, they’re traitors – Americans must unite against hatred & bigotry.”
But Trump could easily ignore that because, as a draft dodger, he knows that real heroes don’t get captured.
They go to prep school in upstate New York.
Former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough said, “You said Barack Obama was afraid to call Radical Islamic Terrorism by its name. Will you call White Supremacist Terrorism by ITS name?” That helps explain his failure to condemn the August 5 bombing of the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota. Gov. Mark Dayton branded it “an act of terrorism.” However, Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka, a defender of white supremacists, attributed Trump’s silence to the possibility that the bombing might be a leftist hoax to smear the alt-right.
It took the White House another day to say yes, the president did also condemn white supremacists in Charlottesville, but tried to say in not so many words that that’s what he meant. Only Fox & Friends was buying that lame explanation.
Being a spokesperson for Trump is like being the guy with the shovel and pail who follows the elephants in the circus parade.
Ultimately it took Trump 48 hours to condemn violent white racism in person, but even then he spoke from prepared text on a teleprompter, not from the heart or soul.
Trump had a lot of trouble – reluctance – during the campaign trying to distance himself from the racists before saying the right words, and apparently he still does.
This is another conflict between good and evil. And the president of the United States seems to have a lot of trouble telling the difference.
All this leads to the inescapable conclusion that Trump is unfit to be the president of the United States and the leader of the free world.