What President Trump should have said

The lowest form of journalism is analyzing the sufficiency of condemnations.

That said, as hyperbolic and unhinged as the media’s reaction to Donald Trump’s statements in the wake of Charlottesville may be, they do still have a point. President Trump did not, in my opinion, say the right thing, and I wanted to hear things out of his mouth that I did not hear.

But let’s back up to what happened over the weekend, and examine it really quickly.

On Friday night, a rally was planned to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville. The people who showed up to this protest were a mix of a lot of different people, including some who genuinely thought the statue’s removal was an assault on Southern heritage, but the bulk of the group was made up of white supremacists, and neo-Nazis.

Now, let me say pretty clearly that if I ever found myself at any rally, and I looked around and saw swastikas and white nationalists spewing hatred about Jews and ethnic minorities, I would not only immediately leave the rally in disgust, but I would take serious stock in my life.

If you stay, and stand shoulder to shoulder with racists, then you are associating yourself with them, and the stench of their poisonous ideology now belongs to you as well.

But back to the event. Also showing up were counter-protesters, and in the beginning, these protesters were thoughtful people who supported the statue’s removal, and were peacefully protesting the other group’s twisted view on the world.

However, that group grew, and as it did, it changed. Soon, members of a group known as Antifa — short for “anti-fascism” — showed up, and things changed.

Antifa is a group that believes in violence, and they are very open about it.

As Scott Crow, a long time Antifa organizer, puts it, “The idea in Antifa is that we go where they (right-wingers) go. That hate speech is not free speech. […] And so we go to cause conflict, to shut them down where they are, because we don’t believe that Nazis or fascists of any stripe should have a mouthpiece.”

In other words, it is the belief of Antifa activists that the scum that we see in neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups are so reprehensible that the opposition to them must not be just rhetorical, but also physical.

Antifa relishes in sparking violent action. They do it everywhere they go.

This is why they showed up in Charlottesville. They came wearing black bandannas and helmets, and wielding clubs and rocks. They had one mission in going there, to incite a riot and violently respond to the neo-Nazis and white nationalists at the rally.

Their goal was violence. They wanted it. They were trying to make it happen, because they believe it is justified.

When you add that to a group of hateful, bigoted racists who are themselves itching for confrontation and inherently violent, too, you were bound to see something bad happen.

So, in my mind there was indeed room for the president to bring up, and talk about, the violence that groups like Antifa engage in.

President Donald Trump speaks in the lobby of Trump Tower on Tuesday. Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

His big mistake was focusing so much of his attention on making that point, and failing to express, in as much specificity as possible and with as much outrage as possible, his horror over the presence of neo-Nazis and white nationalists at the rally.

Here’s what I would have said, if I were him.

“I am absolutely disgusted by what I saw in Charlottesville. You have a group of neo-Nazis and racists that espouse the most hateful, vicious rhetoric imaginable, and preach a disturbing ideology of racial superiority, anger and hatred, which I condemn in the strongest possible terms. They have a terrifying legacy of hate and violence in this country, and they should be opposed by every American.

“As we oppose them, however, we cannot fall into the trap of choosing violence as a means to pursue justice. Present in Charlottesville were many people who believe violence is appropriate, simply because the target of their violence are people we all consider reprehensible. This cannot be how we fight hate, and I condemn all those who choose violence, no matter who they are.”

This would have highlighted that the story of Charlottesville was a complex one with many actors who are themselves deserving of repudiation and scorn, while also reserving the bulk of his ire for those — the white supremacists — who represent the worst instincts of humanity.

Not that the media would have given him any credit, even if that was what he said.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.