Witcover: Trump mouths platitudes against white supremacy while also trafficking in it

President Trump has outdone even himself in his hypocritical denunciation of racism, bigotry and white supremacy.

For years leading up to the murderous shootings in El Paso and Dayton last weekend, he has trafficked in racist stereotypes, code words and dog whistles. But addressing the nation via television Monday, without taking questions, Mr. Trump intoned that “in one voice, our nation must condemn” such hatefulness. He also blamed social media — his own preferred conveyor belt of hate speech — along with the free press that he routinely labels “fake news.”


"The Media has a big responsibility to life and safety" of the country, he said. "Fake News contributed greatly" to the confusion that has built up over many years, he warned. "News coverage has to start being fair, balanced and unbiased," he said, or these problems can only get worse.

Mr. Trump continued, reading from a prepared script: “Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.” He then erroneously named Toledo instead of Dayton as the Ohio city under attack.


Rather than acknowledge the root cause of problem of mass shootings — we’re a society armed to the teeth — the president offered an incoherent rendition of the standard National Rifle Association pushback, saying, “Mental illness and hatred pull the trigger not the gun.”

Robot Trump
Robot Trump (Phil Hands / Courtesy)

El Paso and Dayton should be a wake-up call to Republicans in Congress that their lockstep support of the NRA and its militant defense of unregulated gun ownership is turning Americans against them.

It is also a call for all in government to recognize the imperative of taking military-style assault weapons out of the hands of civilians.

In response to the public outcry against the two shootings that claimed 31 dead and more casualties in one day, the president limited his first remarks to saying “God bless the people” of El Paso and Dayton, and calling the incidents acts “of cowardice” and “hateful.”

Only later in the day did he elaborate that "hate has no place in our country" and allude to the "mental health" of the two shooters, with no evidence supporting the claim. Both shooters were white men, one of whom associated himself with a white supremacy manifesto declaring armed war on racial, ethnic and foreign-born minorities, especially Hispanic "invaders of Texas."

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York noted: “This manifesto appears to echo the same anti-immigrant sentiment that permeates the language espoused by President Trump. Ultimately it is the perpetrators who bear responsibility for their heinous acts of domestic terrorism, but President Trump’s racist rhetoric has stoked the flames of hate and white supremacy, and increased the likelihood that people will commit mass murder based on these notions. The president must stop his racist rhetoric that has the effect of encouraging mass murder.”

One 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, labeled Mr. Trump on CNN as a “white nationalist” and “an open and avowed racist who is encouraging more racism in this country.”

Bill Bramhall's editorial cartoon for Aug. 6, 2019, following President Trump's remarks on the mass shooting in El Paso, Tex. and Dayton, Ohio. Trump condemned bigotry, racism and white supremacy in his address at the White House on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019.
Bill Bramhall's editorial cartoon for Aug. 6, 2019, following President Trump's remarks on the mass shooting in El Paso, Tex. and Dayton, Ohio. Trump condemned bigotry, racism and white supremacy in his address at the White House on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. (Bill Bramhall/New York Daily News)

Such allegations have provided more ammunition to the more than 100 House Democrats who have called for Mr. Trump’s impeachment despite the opposition of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to such a course of action. She has counseled further investigation by subpoena-armed House committees into allegations of various questionable acts before resorting to acts of impeachment.

Democrats in favor of impeachment number nearly half of the party's House caucus, and their numbers are growing, despite the present unlikelihood that the Republican-controlled Senate would convict the president by a two-thirds majority.

But since the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller identified 11 specific areas in which Mr. Trump could not be exonerated of obstruction of justice, Democratic pressure has mounted to continue investigating anyway.

As long as Mr. Trump occupies the Oval Office, the image and reputation of the United States will be besmirched at home and abroad. Waiting for the American electorate to remove him 15 months from now is more of a risk than this still honorable country should have to take.

(Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.)

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