Due to a combination of intense competition between the two major parties, national polarization among the citizenry, and the press’ insatiable appetite for “news” to report, the U.S. is now in the midst of what can only be described as a case study in hysteria, sparked by the tragic events of Charlottesville.
President Trump is getting pilloried over absurd details of his response to the killing. Let’s look at his initial tweet on August 12 (limited, note, to 140 characters):
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!
What could possibly be wrong with those remarks? In ordinary times, with an ordinary president, that language would be standard and received with approbation. Trump’s “crime,” in the current hysteria, is that he did not explicitly use terms like white supremacist. But wasn’t it implied in the phrase “all that hate stands for”? Has common sense (not to mention decency) gone out the window?
Later on the same day Trump said,
We want to get this situation straightened out in Charlottesville. And we want to study it. And we want to see what we’re doing wrong as a country.
Let me ask this: What if Hillary had been president and had made exactly the same statement? Would the press be attacking her 24/7? I claim there is empirical evidence that the answer is No, as follows.
In June 2015 a white supremacist opened fire in an African-American church in Charleston, SC. As far as I can tell, Hillary never used the term white supremacist in her remarks condemning the killings. According to this report in TIME, she said,
How many people do we need to see cut down before we act [on gun control]?…So as we mourn and as our hearts break a little more, and as we send this message of solidarity that we will not forsake those who have been victimized by gun violence, this time we have to find answers together…In the days ahead, we will again ask what led to this terrible tragedy and where we as a nation need to go. In order to make sense of it, we have to be honest. We have to face hard truths about race, violence, guns and division…The shock and pain of this crime of hate strikes deep
The similarity between Hillary’s and Trump’s messages is striking: Hillary’s points, “find answers together,” “ask what led to this terrible tragedy,” “the shock and pain of this crime of hate strikes deep” and so on are echoed in Trump’s tweet. In fact, a cynic might even suggest that Trump borrowed from Hillary’s message in composing his tweet.
And again, look at what is missing from Hillary’s remarks: The term white supremacist. In fact, one almost gets the impression that she viewed the killing primarily as an issue of gun control, with race coming in second. (I too support gun control, but tragically, Charlottesville showed that there are other weapons besides guns.)
Yet there was no uproar over Hillary’s remarks.
Trump has also been castigated for saying that there are “many sides” to the issue of the statue of Robert E. Lee. While that might not have been a wise point to make at the time, it is true. It is entirely possible to oppose dismantling the statue while supporting fair, just and amicable relations between the races. That’s middle ground. Then there are the extremes of keeping the statue up at all costs (and among some, for hateful reasons), and tearing it down ASAP. A statue, by the way, of a man who wrote that slavery is “a moral & political evil.”
Mind you, if Hillary had won the election, the Republicans and the right-wing press would be just as hostile and unreasonable to her as the Democrats (and some grandstanding Republicans) and the liberal press are to Trump now.
This is inexcusable.