Charlottesville: Trump calls for unity - but divisions still run deep a year after deadly protests

Trump actions over the last year have done little to heal the rifts caused by the violence

Christopher Stevenson
New York
Saturday 11 August 2018 18:11
Comments

For many, the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, on 12 August 2017 confirmed their worst fears about the impact of Donald Trump’s presidency.

A white nationalist rally, called to protest against the removal of a Confederate statue, ended in tragedy with a counterprotester – 32-year-old Heather Heyer – being killed by a car driven through a crowd. Two police officers monitoring the rally also died after their helicopter crashed.

A year on, Trump displayed on Saturday the statesmanlike behaviour that numerous members of congress, rights groups across the country, and many citizens thought was sorely lacking in the wake of the rally.

“The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division,” the president tweeted. “We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!”.

Those sentiments are in stark contrast to Trump’s first response to the violence and the death of Ms Heyer, with the president saying there were “very fine people on both sides”.

Amid a storm of criticism over a failure to condemn the white supremacist and white nationalist groups involved in the rally, two days later, and reading carefully from a written statement, Trump condemned the KKK, white supremacists and neo-Nazis. However, in a situation that has become common with America’s 45th president, in an unscripted moment the next day, Trump again said there was “blame on both sides”.

The far right cheered the apparent even-handed nature of the remarks. Meanwhile Democrats and a number of Republicans condemned Trump as not representing the America they knew, with the alleged driver of the car that hit Ms Heyer facing a number of charges, including murder.

In truth, Trump’s stance merely entrenched views of his presidency, not change them. The left said that Mr Trump’s failure to condemn stretched back to his campaign, with white nationalist groups being supportive of the president’s run for office. For Republicans, polls suggested that Mr Trump’s remarks had little effect on their support.

Donald Trump challenges, and cherry-picks, coverage of his Charlottesville statements at rally

According to a CBS News poll taken in the days after the Charlottesville clashes, a wide share of Democrats – about seven in 10 – said Trump’s policies encouraged racial division in the country, little different from a poll conducted earlier in the year. By comparison, more than eight in 10 Republicans said the president’s policies either had no effect on race relations or encouraged unity.

Those numbers have not changed much in the year since, with Trump’s job approval rating among black communities also sticking around the 10 per cent mark.

The shock subsided and the White House moved on. Trump’s latest tweets suggest he is looking to counter criticism of his response last year.

In Virginia, a state of emergency has been called, with heavy police presence expected around Charlottesville and other other areas. Authorities had faced criticism about their response to the violence at the ‘Unite the Right’ rally last August and they are keen to show that lessons have been learned.

Permits for a number of events in Charlottesville, including "Unite the Right 2" have been rejected by local authorities but there will be a number of memorials. Instead, Unite the Right 2 will take place in Washington DC, something the White House could have done without.

Even without the permits, local residents are worried that white nationalists and members of far-right groups could return on their own – with Virginia governor Ralph Northam making clear when declaring the state of emergency that everyone should make alternative plans or stay at home if they plan to hit the streets.

Despite all these moves, the reality is little has changed. Trump still attacks the character of whoever he likes – over the past year, from his perch in the White House he has repeatedly questioned the intelligence of prominent black figures, including Representative Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California, basketball star LeBron James and CNN anchor Don Lemon, whom he called “the dumbest man on television”.

You could argue that these insults are aimed at the individuals merely because Trump does not like what they have said about him – but they also play into outlandish, ridiculous and stereotypical insults about the intelligence of black people, which a president should be above.

Beyond that, in the last week, Trump has repeated his long-running criticism of black NFL players who kneel during the national anthem. He believes in it partly because it is a political winner that energises many parts of his white supporter base. He revived the matter on Friday, tweeting that the players are expressing outrage “at something that most of them are unable to define”. That is just not true; the protest started as a demonstration against police killings of black men and has expanded to social injustice and racism as a whole.

Meanwhile a new memoir from former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman labels Donald Trump a “racist” and claims she’s been told there are tapes of him using the N-word repeatedly while filming The Apprentice reality series. The White House has denied this, dismissing Manigault Newman as “a disgruntled” former employee merely seeking attention.

A year on from Charlottesville, Trump will have to do far better in letting his actions speak louder than his words, if he is to help heal the divisions America is currently experiencing.

New Jersey senator Cory Booker, a Democrat and one of just three black members of the senate, said that the consequences for Trump’s tone and actions could extend well beyond political pain in November’s crucial midterm Congressional elections.

“The president’s demeaning and degrading and cruel attacks on minorities,” Booker said, “make people feel like they have license to hate, make people feel like they have license to hurt others.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in