President Donald Trump loves to sound tough. He likes his insults in the strongest, most direct and offensive terms. As a candidate last year, he called his opponents “Crooked Hillary,” “Crazy Bernie,” “Lying Ted” and “Little Marco.” He has called journalists “enemies” and loves to accuse people who challenge him of being “overrated” (Meryl Streep! “Hamilton!”) or “failing” (the New York Times, the National Review) or a “disaster” (President Obama, Obamacare). “Disloyal” is another favorite (Macy’s, Republicans). He never documents these extreme terms with any specific, verifiable details, and when he tries, his accusations are often random or irrelevant or not true. There was that time when he accused “dumb as a rock” journalist Mika Brzezinski of bleeding from the face, disproven by photos. The New York Times documented 351 Trump insults as of last month.
President Trump likes to make threats. HIs “fire and fury” warning to North Korea was closer to Saddam Hussein’s “mother of all battles” threat than any statement made by an American leader with an understanding of statecraft or diplomacy. When he could not get Trumpcare passed, he threatened to stop making payments on the health care plans for Members of Congress, at that point more like a tantrum than a bargaining chip.
He especially likes to sound tough when it comes to terrorism and cannot wait to tweet his outrage — as long as attacks appear to be by immigrants or Muslims. When a Minnesota mosque was bombed, he was silent, even after his advisor, Sebastian Gorka, suggested that it may be a “fake hate crime.” There was no such “wait and see” before he responded to the terrorist attack in Paris, even before local authorities had identified it as such.
The only two categories where this proudly outspoken president consistently gets weak at the knees and pulls his verbal punches are:
1. Russia/Putin. When Congress voted overwhelmingly to impose sanctions on Russia, all of the president’s criticism was aimed at the elected officials, not the reason for the sanctions: Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election, as well as its human rights violations, annexation of Crimea and military operations in eastern Ukraine. To add insult to injury, the president bizarrely thanked Putin for seizing U.S. property and throwing out 755 U.S. staff, “joking” that he had saved us payroll expenses. Of course, he didn’t. We may find out that Russians control some aspects of this administration, but even if they do, it does not extend to the employment of U.S. officials. They are still on the payroll; they just can’t do their jobs anymore.
2. White supremacists/Nazis/citizen terrorists and traitors. Today, white American citizens carrying the flag of the world’s greatest enemy government, the Nazi party, as well as the flag of the treasonous Confederate Army, who withdrew from the United States in order to preserve slavery according to their own documents of secession, marched through Charlottesville, Virginia, to declare their belief that white people of European descent are better than other races and are the only true inhabitants of the United States. They echoed the followers of Adolf Hitler by raising their arms to declare, “Heil Trump!” The BBC reported that Robert Ray, a writer for white supremacist site Daily Stormer, was heard to yell, “The heat here is nothing compared to what you’re going to get in the ovens,” apparently a reference to the Holocaust.
There could not be a clearer statement of views that are antithetical to the fundamental beliefs of the United States, going back to the literally revolutionary assertion in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal and are equally entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We have not always lived up to that ideal, but we have never questioned our commitment to it. And now, at the very spot where the man who wrote those words established one of the greatest institutions of higher learning in the world, we have a small group of ignorant, hateful, bigots. And President Trump cannot bring himself to condemn them. Indeed, he has surrounded himself with people affiliated with the euphemistically termed “alt-right” or “White Nationalist,” a failed effort to rebrand bigotry and anti-Semitism.
This is not a partisan issue. Republican leaders Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Orrin Hatch, and Rob Portman spoke out unequivocally against the white supremacists, using words like “evil” and “terrorism.” But not President Trump. The man who bragged, “I have been hitting Obama and Crooked Hillary hard on not using the term Radical Islamic Terror” cannot bring himself to use the word “terrorist” about white Christian groups, even after a deadly violent attack. He refused to respond to reporters who asked him whether he would call the white supremacists in Charlottesville terrorists. Now he decides to get moderate with his language, saying only that the event was a “display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.” He repeated, “on many sides.”
There is only one side here, and it is the American side.
Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol responded to a tweet from CNN’s Jeff Zeleny about Republicans “privately wincing” at the president’s statement: “It’s getting harder and harder to abide the Grand Old Party of Private Wincers.” Now is the time for everyone in public life to join together to say that they will not support this assault on our commitment to justice and liberty and for all of us in private life to hold them accountable if they don’t. Starting with President Donald J. Trump.