By Melissa Ryan
resident Donald Trump had one job.
On the morning of Saturday, August 12, Americans woke up to images of neo-Nazis wielding flaming tiki torches on the march in Charlottesville, Virginia. As the morning progressed, the news got even worse. A car plowed into a group of antiracist counter-protesters, killing activist Heather Heyer and injuring others. As the public attempted to digest the unsettling news, the White House remained silent.
It was nearly two hours after the attack when President Trump spoke from his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey.
In times of national tragedy modern U.S. Presidents generally follow the same familiar script. They appear on TV to give a brief statement, reassuring Americans that we are resilient and there’s nothing we can’t overcome. They outline who the bad guys are, as well as the heroes, and promise us that the heroes will triumph in the end because we are America. Most importantly, they bring the country together, reminding us that we’re stronger when we’re united.
So Trump had one job, and a relatively easy one at that: to unite the country against the literal neo-Nazis who were terrorizing Charlottesville. Instead, much to the astonishment of Americans across the political spectrum, he did the opposite.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence,” he proclaimed. “On many sides, on many sides.”
“On many sides.” Much of the national conversation in the days that followed centered on the fact that Trump couldn’t manage to condemn the murderous white supremacists. But this wasn’t merely, as some speculated, to score political points by bashing the left. And it certainly wasn’t a misguided attempt at unity, spreading the blame evenly around.
It was that Trump couldn’t risk alienating this mob.