Trump’s comments about the conflict in Charlottesville at yesterday’s news conference – if it can be called that – have sent shock waves around the United States.
Veteran presenters on CBS television said they had “never seen a news conference like this one” after the POTUS returned to his original stance of equating alt-right and Nazi demonstrators with anti-racist opponents.
Nazis and racists were so prominent in Charlottesville that the descendants of Robert E. Lee, the Civil War general, whose statue was a flash point, condemned the misuse of their ancestor’s memory.
Mainstream Republicans, including both former presidents Bush, the Fox media and even former members of Trump’s inner cabal felt obliged to oppose Trump’s defence of racial bigotry and anti-Semitism.
Trump’s American Manufacturing Council melted down as CEOs and the President of the AFL-CIO resigned in droves. Trump tweeted that he was dissolving the council on Wednesday afternoon.
So what did happen at Charlottesville? Journalist and eye-witness Paula Reid, in a fact-check for CBS News, said that there was no comparison between the 1,000 white supremacists and around 100 who protested against them.
White supremacists had come to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee. Almost all of them carried weapons, including assault rifles. They outnumbered their anti-racist opponents – who included clergy, local residents, Black Lives Matter activists, and Antifa activists by 10 to 1. And it was peaceful protesters who were killed and injured when James Fields drove his car into the crowd.
Trump defended the actions of the white supremacists, comparing General Robert E. Lee with US founding fathers Thomas Jefferson (whose estate Monticello is near Charlottesville) and America’s first president, George Washington. They were all slave owners, Trump said. So where would the tearing down of monuments stop?
Yes, Mr Trump, it’s true that America’s founders were slave owners. But they also proclaimed that all “men” were born equal. This huge contradiction was and remained at the centre of the American revolution.
America’s founding fathers were not only slave owners. They led a revolution against monarchy by breaking free of the British Empire. And they drafted a constitution that set out their new nation’s aspiration for an equal society.
The question of slavery was put on the back burner and remained a fault-line in the original US constitution. That’s why it took a long and bloody civil war to unite America.
The erecting of statues to Confederate heroes was a rearguard attempt by white supremacists late in the 19th and early 20th centuries to hold back history and build up the Jim Crow order in the south.
But civil rights and Black Power struggles have advanced the cause of equal rights, despite many setbacks and continuing racism. With all its defects, the Obama presidency set down a huge marker.
Like other right-wing demagogues Trump has a sinister way of exploiting the fears of the poor and ignorant and those who have lost out.
With the conflict over Charlottesville, the crisis over America’s constitution is deepening. It is creating conditions for a 21st century democratic revolution.
It’s time to impeach Trump. It’s time to work for a new constitution that facilitates a truly democratic distribution of economic and political power, not only in America but here in the UK as well.