Trump’s wink and a nod to the neo-Nazis and other white supremacists after the Charlottesville death, was quickly stamped on by some at the White House, notably John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff. He apparently insisted that Trump read out a condemnation of neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists, which Trump dutifully did a day or so later. However, at a press conference regarding the permit process for infrastructure projects, Trump, against advice from John Kelly, agreed to take questions. This was probably a fatal step for his presidency, because, being unscripted, it was the real Trump that shone through. He again stated that there was blame on both sides, and stated again that not all of the people protesting against the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee were “were … neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch”1. This is a ludicrous statement; as if anybody who wasn’t of that ilk would continue protesting when Confederate flags and Nazi flags were being carried aloft and people were shouting in unison “Jews will not replace us”. Those things are dead giveaways. Standing on the periphery of this debacle of a press conference, John Kelly’s body language said it all2.
Following this question and answer debacle, members of Trump’s Manufacturing Council and Strategy & Policy Forum began resigning, with eight of the 37 members resigning last week, while another 12 condemned the violence. Indeed, members of the Strategy and Policy Forum had already decided to disband the group. However, Trump, ever the narcissist, could not stomach that, so he tweeted: “Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!”3
Yesterday, everyone on Trump’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities resigned in protest at his comments on the violence in Charlottesville. The committee sent a letter which began: “Reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville. The false equivalencies you push cannot stand. The Administration’s refusal to quickly and unequivocally condemn the cancer of hatred only further emboldens those who wish America ill. We cannot stand idly by, the way that your West Wing advisors have, without speaking out against your words and actions.” They continued more forcefully: “Ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions.” They ended with: “supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values. Your values are not American values. We must be better than this. We are better than this. If this is not clear to you, then we call on you to resign your office, too” (their emphases)4. How Trump’s narcissism will spin this is anybody’s guess. I suspect he will ignore it, say that the committee had heard he was going to disband it, or that he was going to ask them to resign, or blame it on those in the committee who were holdovers from the Obama presidency.
The heads of the armed forces have also taken offence at Trump’s remarks. Only hours after Trump spoke, the commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert B. Neller tweeted: “.. no place for racial hatred or extremism in @USMC. Our core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment frame the way Marines live and act.”1
Admiral John Richardson, chief of naval operations tweeted: “Events in Charlottesville unacceptable & mustn’t be tolerated @USNavy forever stands against intolerance & hatred.”5 General Mark A. Milley, the Army chief of staff, tweeted: The Army doesn’t tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks. It’s against our Values and everything we’ve stood for since 1775.”5
General David L. Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff tweeted: “I stand with my fellow service chiefs in saying we’re always stronger together-it’s who we are as #Airmen”5. Given that all of these people are the immediate subordinates of Trump, as he holds the office of president and is therefore commander-in-chief, these are pretty damning statements on the values of their superior.
There is a rumour doing the rounds in Washington, that Trump is on the verge of resigning, with a date of August 21 being mentioned in one version of the story. While rumours like this are rarely accurate, we can hope this one is true. If it is, and Trump does resign, it will be the only decent thing he has done for the American people since taking office.