Trump, His Haters, and the Truth about Charlottesville

Citing scheduling conflicts, Tony Bennett, coach of the University of Virginia men’s basketball team, announced Friday that the team would decline an invitation to celebrate its N.C.A.A. championship at the White House. The move was particularly poignant, editorialized the New York Times news story, “as it highlighted widespread outrage over President Trump’s response to the white-nationalist rally two years ago in Charlottesville.”

The Times did not need to repeat the infamous Trump quote — that there were “very fine people on both sides” of Charlottesville’s deadly Unite the Right rally — because every sentient creature in the universe has heard it. Through a process of telephone tag-like repetition, the quote has morphed into a defense of Neo-Nazis and Klansmen. Most recently, Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden criticized Trump for assigning “a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it.”

Trump is a repellent person in many ways: for his egotism, his sexism, his amoral business practices, his bullying, his carelessness with the truth, his outright lies, and his bull-in-a-china-shop approach to governance. You don’t have to make stuff up to find Trump a grievously flawed individual. But the president’s very real defects appear to be insufficient to feed the Left’s all-consuming hatred of him. While the president routinely and carelessly makes mis-statements of facts along with deliberate lies, the Left and its media allies make up lies of their own. And the “very fine people” controversy, germinated here in Virginia, is one of the biggest.

Normally, I steer clear of any controversy relating to Donald Trump on this blog because: (a) Bacon’s Rebellion focuses on Virginia public policy issues, not national ones, and (b) in my personal experience I have found that it is impossible to carry on a reasoned conversation about the man. All too frequently, conversations between friends degenerate into shouting matches. I make an exception in this case because the controversy originated in events that took place in Virginia, and Trump’s statements have become entangled with Virginians’ interpretation of those events.

By way of preface, let me state my theory of why this particular controversy has legs. The first reason is that Trump can be remarkably inarticulate. He is imprecise. He meanders. He garbles facts. He can leave people confused about his meaning. The other reason is that Trump’s enemies aren’t interested in understanding what he meant; they want only to assign meaning to his words that confirm their own narrative of Trump as racist and borderline fascist.

Trump made a series of statements regarding the Charlottesville clash. In his  first official pronouncement after the tragic events, which resulted in the death of a peaceful counter-protester, the president tweeted: “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!” Then, reports the Washington Post:

About two hours after the president’s tweet, Trump expanded with four-minute statement that began: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” He then added for emphasis: “On many sides.”

The next day, as reported by the WaPo, Trump issued a more forceful denunciation: “Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups.” He continued:

As I have said many times before, no matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God. We must love each other, show affection for each other and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry and violence.

None of these statements sufficed for Democrats or the media. Under pressure to elaborate, Trump made a third set of comments (with critical phrases highlighted):

REPORTER: You said there was hatred and violence on both sides —

TRUMP: Well, I do think there’s blame, yes, I think there’s blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it. And you don’t have any doubt about it either. And, and if you reported it accurately, you would say it.


TRUMP: Excuse me. You had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group, excuse me, excuse me, I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park, from Robert E. Lee to another name.

George Washington was a slave-owner. Was George Washington a slave-owner? So will George Washington now lose his status — are we going to take down — excuse me. Are we going to take down statues of George Washington? How ’bout Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him? Ok, good. Are we going to take down the statue because he was a major slave-owner? Now we’re going to take down his statue. So you know what, it’s fine. You’re changing history, you’re changing culture. And you had people, and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis or the white nationalists because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, ok? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.

Here’s the nub of the problem: Trump appeared to be conflating the Unite the White rally, which consisted almost exclusively of white supremacist groups, with more mainstream groups that had protested the removal of the statues of Civil War generals in Charlottesville and elsewhere. That’s what happens when you talk off the cuff without checking the facts, as Trump does routinely.

When he said there were some “very bad people” on both sides, however, Trump was speaking accurately. The violence in Charlottesville was two-sided. Just as white supremacists descended upon Charlottesville from around the country, so did radical Antifa types. Both sides became armed for hand-to-hand combat, and both sides initiated attacks on the other. It is not engaging in “moral equivalence” to state that both sides committed acts of violence. One can argue that one side was morally righteous while the other was not, but one cannot pretend that only one side violent.

Where Trump went astray was to suggest that mainstream defenders of statues of Civil War generals and slaveholders like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington participated in the United the Right rally. As he stated incorrectly: “You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists.”

If such people participated in the Unite the Right rally, their numbers were insignificant. In this regard, Trump was flat-out wrong. The statement typified his carelessness with facts. Trump’s enemies have every justification for criticizing this sloppy rendition of events. The American people have a right to expect their presidents to be well informed. Sadly, with Trump, even people who broadly support his policies cannot believe a word that issues from his mouth — not upon his authority  anyway.

It is equally false — perhaps more so, coming from those who purport to be arbiters of the truth — to describe Trump on the basis of his Charlottesville proclamations as racist. He repeatedly denounced the white supremacists. He repeatedly denounced the violence. But Trump was not the only one to overlook important facts. So do those who deny that violence in the Charlottesville riot emanated from extreme leftists as well as from the far right. Asserting that the anti-fascist militants were morally in the right does not erase the reality of their actions.

If you re-frame the issue as a controversy over the propriety of maintaining the General Lee statue in Charlottesville — as Trump was trying to do, albeit on the basis of inaccurate information — it is not unreasonable to say that there are “very fine” people on both sides. I’m one of those people. I detest Neo-Nazis, Klansmen and white supremacists but I support keeping most of the statues. (I’m not a fan of the Jefferson Davis statue in Richmond.)

Unfortunately for my cause, Trump thoroughly muddled the issue. But garbling the facts about who attended the rally doesn’t make him a neo-Nazi sympathizer — and it doesn’t make his haters right.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


22 responses to “Trump, His Haters, and the Truth about Charlottesville”

  1. djrippert Avatar

    I’ve lived in New York City on two separate occasions. You want to meet 1,000 Donald Trumps? Come with me to Wall Street. I’ll introduce you. Loudmouthed, over-paid, self-proclaimed masters of the universe. Trump is just another one of them. When you elect a New York billionaire you get New York billionaire attitude and behavior. Who can forget Michael Bloomberg’s use of window air conditioners to keep his SUVs cool after passing and anti-idling law?

    In my opinion you have to separate Trump the asshat from Trump the president. He certainly can be an asshat. As I said, so can a lot of rich New Yorkers. But when it comes to the economy, foreign entanglements, streamlining (?) the tax code and killing off horrific Obama – era ideas like the Iran nuclear deal … I don’t see the need to become unhinged. And many on the left are completely unhinged by Trump. Otherwise intelligent people say and write things that literally (not figuratively) sound insane. Crime boss, brown shirts, treasonous, etc.


    1. djrippert Avatar

      As an aside … I did defend a Democratic politician for his ill conceived statements too …

      Northam doesn’t seem like the sharpest tool in the shed and he’s done more to make me wonder about his attitudes on race but he’s not a Nazi, KKK member, white supremicist, traitor or any of the other utterly absurd comments that are slung at Trump.

    2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      I made a living for many years representing extremely large commercial lenders doing very large deals with, including loans and joint ventures with, very successful real estate moguls in the 1970s, and 1980. Most all back then were self made men. Donald Trump’s personalty was then, and still to some extent still is, quite typical of these sorts of people. So much so that in 2001 Tom Wolfe wrote a novel centered on fictionalized version of the type called “A Man in Full”.

      In my own experience dealing with these guys, one threatened to throw me out a conference room window high above street level, another threatened to yank off a manhole cover, stuff me inside the sewer and replace the cover, and a third tried to do a hand stand on my conference room table, saying otherwise “I’ll punch you in the face.” All three of these guys were big democratic donors, the manhole cover guy a legendary Democratic bundler and back room operative. Democrat big wigs aren’t suddenly now snowflakes. They’re power hungry and money lovers, who will do and say most anything to get all the power, fame, and money that they can grab.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    so the claim here is that he talks trash but he performs “good” ?

    That’s he’s a good leader for the country and just needs to curb his tongue?

    1. I don’t see how any literate reader could infer the conclusion that “he’s a good leader for the country and just needs to curb his tongue?” from what I wrote. In this post, I did not address that question or anything like it.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        No – it WAS a question not an inference. Did you answer it?

        What I’m HEARING is that he is “flawed” and has some issues but the left hates him .. and the implication that the left is biased and others don’t hate him – consider him to be “ok” except for the mouth.

        So.. again .. is he a good leader who just has a bad rap with the left haters?

        or is he an idiot? Is there justification in “hating” him? Will the nation only get better if (when?) he goes another 4 years?

    2. djrippert Avatar

      Economic growth – above average
      Deficit management – below average
      Curbing military adventurism – above average
      Tax simplification – average
      Foreign affairs (non-military) – below average

      Take away the rhetoric and it’s a mixed bag. He’s pretty average. Unfortunately, his rhetoric incites the prog-libs who retaliate with even more venom which, in turn, escalates Trump. The net effect of the “rhetoric cycle” is a polarization of the electorate – which is not a good thing.

      I hope Larry Hogan decides to challenge him in the primary. I’d like to have two reasonable choices in 2020 instead of the two bad choices we had in 2016.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Hogan would get positively SLAUGHTERED by Trump and his GOP supporters! I don’t think Hogan is that dumb!

        I have a prediction. Trump will dump Pence and pick a FOX News anchor for VP.

        1. djrippert Avatar

          I’m sure your comments about Hogan are similar to what you thought about Trump’s ability to get the Republican nomination and then to win the election in 2016.

          Larry Hogan is one of the very, very few American politicians who can credibly claim to have provably worked across the aisle. A lot of Americans want to end the political infighting and get on with the business of leading America. Hogan is arguably the best positioned politician in the United States to claim that high ground.

          You also underestimate how many people voted against Criminillary Clinton rather than for Trump.

    3. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Beats the hell out of Hillary who regularly proclaims all women alleging sexual assault must be believed except for her rapist husband Bill. That comes from a guy who supported Gary Johnson.

      The only reason Donald Trump won is because a lot of white people who voted for Obama couldn’t stomach Hillary Clinton.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Every woman has the right to be
        Believed… Unless you are raped by Bill
        Clinton, beaten by Keith Ellison, groped
        by Cory Booker or killed by Ted Kennedy.

        1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

          If I bought the Washington Post, I would change the motto from “Democracy Dies in Darkness” to “Rape Is Acceptable if Done by a Democrat.”

      2. LarrytheG Avatar

        Unfortunately TMT is 100% correct. But was it Hillary or her sex?

  3. spencer Avatar

    Heck of a job, Bacon, helping the President rewrite history. And just in time for 2020!

    There was no ambiguity leading up to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Everyone knew the intent of the rally and legitimate Civil War enthusiast groups avoided the march because they (“the good people”) didn’t want the bad PR that comes with standing arm and arm with white nationalists and neo-Nazis. Had the President bothered to go to his security briefings he would have known that the rally was of a nefarious nature. Certainly his staff was aware.

    The week of the rally social media (of which he is a fan) was abuzz with warnings and profiles about the hate groups, cable news too. Every major news network was live-streaming the rally across all social media platforms (because like the President, they knew that the Klan and Nazis were about to descend on an American town). He knew who was at the rally and what their intent was. He did not misspeak. He, err his handlers, made the political calculation that an ambiguous statement that wouldn’t upset his base would suffice. Now the same handlers are betting that enough time has passed and the public won’t remember the timeline thus allowing them to invent a new one.

    I don’t pretend to know if the President is a racist or not. I do know that he and the GOP seem reluctant to offend those who are overtly racist. If only American women were afforded the same respect from today’s Republicans*. Wouldn’t that be glorious!

    *seriously, the rape comments here go beyond the pale. If we weren’t all relics, I’d be sad for the future.

    1. “Everyone knew the intent of the rally and legitimate Civil War enthusiast groups avoided the march.

      Like I said in my post: “Where Trump went astray was to suggest that mainstream defenders of statues of Civil War generals and slaveholders like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington participated in the United the Right rally.”

    2. djrippert Avatar

      The ambiguity of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville was that nobody was paying particular attention. Sadly, white nationalists rally somewhere in the US almost every week. In virtually all of these rallies (except Charlottesville) the police make a strong show of force, keep the parties separate and other than some jeering the incident passes largely unnoticed.

      There was a white wing rally in Seattle not long after Charlottesville. It happened and never made national headlines because the governor, mayor and law enforcement officials did their jobs and kept the peace. In Charlottesville things were different. After a long and newsworthy debate over the removal of Confederate statues the “Unite the Right” rally was scheduled. Few noticed. Had the governor of Virginia and the Mayor of Charlottesville done their jobs Charlottesville would never become newsworthy. However, neither of those so-called representatives of the people did their jobs and violent chaos ensued.

      I was eating lunch with my youngest son in Sterling, Va when the riots came on the TVs in the restaurant. I immediately called my friends in Charlottesville to ask if they were OK. They said they were fine and they didn’t really know what was going on. They were stunned that this was happening in their city but they were short on details as it happened.

      As Bacon correctly points out, Trump followed his usual modus operandi and went public with his “fine people on both sides” comments. He was referring to the Confederate statue debate rather than the riots. What should he have done? He should have shut up until he knew what was happening. But that’s not Trump. Is he a loudmouth? Yes. Did he condone white nationalists? No.

      At the time that the riots happened and shortly thereafter nobody really knew what was going on.

      As for your comments about the amount of advanced intelligence about what ultimately happened in Charlottesville – two points:

      1. I assume you understand the amount of such information that is collected nationally and globally so you also understand that no president is going to track it all. As I already mentioned there have been many other white nationalist rallies where no violence occurred.

      2. Where is your ire at Terry McAuliffe and the mayor of Charlottesville? One would thing that Virginia-specific warnings of trouble would hit the governor of Virginia’s desk and he would so something about it. Even more so the mayor of Charlottesville. But neither took the effective action that has been taken in hundreds of other cities for similar despicable rallies over the years. Trump’s words didn’t cause the violence in Charlottesville, McAuliffe’s ineffectiveness did.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    The folks who showed up in C-ville to “protest” – came fully-armed and ready to rumble to express their views about Jews and non-white folks and the monuments were secondary – a pretext for them to assert their white supremacy views. They were NOT “fine people” in any stretch of the imagination except to those who cannot deal with reality.

    The VAST majority of people who lived in and around C-ville and showed up to oppose them did not show up with equivalent weapons to do battle with them and that included the gal who was killed. The claims that Antifax showed up .. I ask – how many? do we have a number? I’m pretty skeptical.. it seems more a meme than truth.

    Trump did NOT “go astray”. After the first statement that he was given to read – and you can tell that was the case – after that – he very clearly stated his own views – not once – but over and over – repeatedly – not only for the cameras at the WH but in subsequent rallies to his supporters.

    Anyone who thinks that Trump went “astray” and said things he did not intend to say or was “inarticulate” is dreaming. His intentions are clear and unambiguous to most rational folks.

    The guy HAS exposed and tapped into an ugly part of US -of our society and unfortunately there are quite a number of folks who are haters of other people, races and cultures and what happened at Cville – was them showing up to make it clear who they are and how they feel – AND they very much associated themselves with TRUMP. They believe he is a closet supporter of their hate.

    With the advent of social media – we now have these crazies running amok almost every other day grabbing their guns and going to “exterminate” those they believe do not belong here. We’ve seen this around the world – and until now – we thought America was not this way. Sad to say – we now know the truth. We are this way also and we have a POTUS who knows their song.

  5. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    New Yorkers as “1,000 Donald Trumps?”

    What nonsense, at least in my experience. I worked for a New York based firm for 18 years, including 15 at a business news magazine. I spent four years working in NYC. I did not find New Yorkers anywhere near Trumplike. In fact, when I was at the magazine in the 1980s and 1990s, during Donald’s tabloid years, there was a standing rule. Any story about Trump had to have the editor-in-chief’s permission. Trump was universally detested.

  6. spencer Avatar

    The misremembering campaign is strong I see.

    The rally was well publicized days and weeks before it happened. Even local news in Richmond talked about businesses on the Downtown Mall closing for it (and what economic impact it would have on the businesses). The Governor addressed it. It was trending on Twitter and Facebook. Vice, Huffington Post, CNN, CBS…most major news outlets wrote articles about the impending rally.

    My nephew in Fort Collins asked if I was going, my sister in Milwaukee called to ask me not to go. My friends in MA and OR lamented the fact that they couldn’t attend. Even if you were uninterested enough to not pay attention leading up to it, Saturday morning your Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds were chocked full of images of the “Forth Reich in khakis” storming the lawn at UVA the night before. By the morning of the rally it was clear what Unite the Right was about. I’m having a very hard time believing that the President, even this obtuse one, didn’t understand who was in attendance. Certainly the government was aware of and interested in hate groups assembling in broad daylight a mere 90 miles from the White House.

    As for your friends, of course they knew about the rally before the day of it. Road closings alone would have received ample coverage in the local media. I was there. At one point I was an arms length from Katie Couric. News crews from New York City and Washington DC were swarming the area. Vice was there filming the whole thing. You cannot show up to something if you don’t know that it is happening.

    Later that day I stopped by Horton and Barborsville vineyards (before heading back to Richmond). Both were filled with Charlottesville residents who got out of town for the day in order to “avoid the mess”.
    That sentiment was expressed over and over Saturday afternoon.

    Back to the President… he didn’t misspeak. He wasn’t uncertain about the intent of the rally. He did not conflate it with a pro-history, peaceful demonstration (again, those groups withdrew from the rally and it was well publicized at the time).

    Here we are 20 months later and the strategy, it appears, is to hope that the public has forgotten so that he can claim it has all been taken out of context. 2016 was the context. Blame can’t be placed squarely on Trump but in 2016 anti-semitism and hate speech (and hate crimes) were on the rise, and at an accelerated pace. We were all sensitive to it and it was definitely trending on social media (more so than anything else aside from Trump himself and maybe Syria). That’s why “fine people on both sides” was so shocking. We were all dogs and heard that whistle very loudly.

    1. Hawes, I think you have accurately captured the sense of things for people living in Charlottesville and, to a lesser degree, throughout Virginian. We were all following the events closely, and we all knew that the Unite the Right rally would be dominated by white supremacists. Even then, our fore-knowledge was less than perfect. I had friends in Richmond (peaceful church goers) who were planning to attend. I did not appreciate the degree to which left-wing militants were organizing to mix it up with the white supremacists.

      But what we were absorbing from local media was not the same as what El Presidente was absorbing from whatever assortment of conservative new sites such as Breitbart, the Blaze, Red State, reside on his favorites list. I’d be willing to wager that the right-wing media did not cover the build-up to the rally the same way as local media did. As far as the “very fine people” in favor of keeping the statues El Presidente was referring to, I’d wager that one of them was Virginia’s very own Trumpier-than-Trump candidate, none other than Corey Stewart, who held one or more rallies at the Lee statue before the Unite the Right rally. So, no, I don’t think Trump was engaging in dog whistles, but I do believe that he had a garbled view of what was happening in Charlottesville.

      1. spencer Avatar

        DJ, law enforcement stood back because just a few weeks before this rally, the police aggressively intervened at a similar event in Portland. They were accused of giving safe harbor to the white nationalists while cracking the heads of those that were there to counter protest (that’s kinda how it went down). I guess you forgot about that context too (or are those on the right really so shockingly out of touch with what is going on)?

        As for the Governor and local police, they were raked over the coals for how unprepared they were (and for assuming that free speech between adults would work itself out). At no time did they describe Nazis and the KKK as “very fine people”. Mistakes can be forgiven. Character is character.

        1. spencer Avatar

          Also, with so many armed people the police were afraid that a misstep on their part could quickly escalate the situation. This point (what does an open carry demonstration look like and how does one contain it without inciting a shootout) was covered extensively before and after the rally (if I recall the point was raised on this very blog).

          This wasn’t just one of many rallies either, it was billed and reported as the largest gathering of American white nationalists in decades.

Leave a Reply