“On Many Sides” : Trump’s Take on Charlottesville and Race Relations

By: Diya Chadha, Senior Contributor

A year ago, I thought that the biggest problems facing the United States were the seemingly unsolvable war in Syria, terrorism, and the possibility that Donald Trump would be running the country. Those fears, it appears, were entirely justified. At the same time, the rise of white nationalism and hate crimes were not problems I expected to resurface, especially considering the steady healing of race relations that occurred throughout my childhood.

According to the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, hate crimes in the United States have increased by 20% in just 9 metropolitan areas (including New York, Washington, and Chicago, among others) since Donald Trump’s election last November. Coincidence? I think not. Researchers associate this rise in hate crimes with Trump’s violence-inciting rhetoric. The logic behind it is simple; when a figure of authority fails to condemn acts that should be seen as abusive and regressive, they’re instantly deemed appropriate – particularly by the perpetrators. This disgusting cycle of “acceptance” breeds a dangerous environment in which hate groups  are empowered in a way that brings the US back to the 1900s.

Due to recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, it has become increasingly clear that this rise in hate crimes is only worsening. After the city motioned to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general during the Civil War, unrest ensued. Those who still believed in the Confederate cause, namely members of the KKK and the alt-right Neo-Nazi movement, organized a rally by the name of “Unite the Right.” These supporters just so happened to have been large supporters of Donald Trump during the most recent election. To lose them as a support base would hurt Trump’s chances for re-election, as well as his barely-existent approval ratings. These are the truest supporters of Donald Trump, which clearly illustrates the flaws in our current political system.

Granted, some may argue that it is the first amendment right of white supremacy groups to voice their opinions in a public manner. Looking towards past precedents, however, the government has a tendency to limit the rights of the people in an attempt to ensure the safety of the “greater good.” In the years of the World War I draft, several protesters were arrested and jailed for violating the Espionage and Sedition Acts, which “prohibited forms of speech, including ‘disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States.’” Seeing that the government took controversial actions like this in the past, Donald Trump’s lack of a significant reaction immediately following the violence is alarming. His response that “We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence, on many sides. On many sides,” gives off the impression that in the eyes of the administration, the actions of counter-protesters are just as harmful as the actions of “Unite the Right.”

The real flaw in his response comes down to the fact that he didn’t acknowledge (until almost three days later) the hate violence for what it is : domestic terrorism.

On July 14th, Trump made a statement to the press, finally “condemning” the actions of white supremacy groups in Charlottesville. He noted “Racism is evil — and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America,” Trump said. But, for one known to “speak his mind” and “tell it like it is,” Trump’s use of a teleprompter during this speech indicates that he was simply succumbing to media pressure.

Predictably, Trump contradicted himself the next day, returning to his initial rhetoric that placed the blame “on both sides.” At a press conference in front of Trump Tower, the president spoke from his biased heart, with many analysts calling the speech “a human Twitter feed.” Trump went so far as to display disapproval for the removal of Confederate statues, a change that is being demanded in many southern states. For this, he received support from David Duke, a former leader of the KKK.

The implications of the situation in Charlottesville don’t just harm race relations and public perception of the government; the administration itself is falling apart, as well. Six business leaders have resigned from presidential advisory councils since Monday, showing that for many, this was the last straw.

Of course, this story may be viewed on many sides. Nevertheless, when looking at the bigger picture, Trump’s behavior, or lack thereof, shows us that our voices need to be used to renounce hatred and preach diversity, rather than to demonstrate complacency and inexcusable reserve.

Photo Credits: By Evan Nesterak (Discussion 1) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons