I decided to write this article because Trump's Charlottesville comments have become the definitive evidence that he's racist. The phrase that is used to back up this assertion is:
"You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides".
Look, I'll admit, when taken out of context, and if you look at it with the right bias, it looks like Trump was saying that the neo-Nazis and white supremacists had some "very fine people". And of course, neo-Nazis and white supremacists are not very fine people, and so if this is the case then this one quote is de facto evidence that Trump is racist and a neo-Nazi/white supremacist sympathizer.
However, when making such sweeping assumptions, it's important to look at things in context. Below, I've gone through all three press conferences, and pulled out all of the relevant quotes that give us context on the quote above.
It is my firm belief that after reading his statements in totality, it's impossible to think that his statement above was referring to neo-Nazis and white supremacists; it was instead applying to other people who had shown up to protest the taking down of a Robert E. Lee statue.
But why is this important?
There are two issues here, and they are separate, and I want to address them separately.
The first issue is whether Trump is actually a racist white nationalist sympathizer. And the second issue is whether Trump's supporters think he's a racist white nationalist sympathizer.
The first issue is important because, obviously, we don't want that type of person being president. But the second issue is even more important because it seems that half of the country has decided that the other half supports Trump *because* he's a racist white nationalist sympathizer.
And if that is true, then half of the country is evil, and that's just further justification for combat instead of empathy. If half of the country are basically Nazis, then the #resistance becomes virtuous and violence becomes acceptable.
It is my contention that the evidence doesn't support the accusation that Trump is a racist white nationalist sympathizer. But more importantly, even if he is, it's my contention that most of his supporters (the overwhelming majority) don't see it that way. So even if you personally believe that Trump is a racist white nationalist sympathizer, I would still argue that it's not fair to think that his supporters support him because of it, or even in spite of it.
Below, I have included quotes, transcripts, and videos.
August 12 (transcript)
"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It's been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, this has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society. And no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time."
This was a short statement, criticized in the media for being vague and putting blame on both sides. It could have been better. In his next press conference, he explained that he didn't have all the information and didn't want to make a detailed statement. You can decide whether you believe that or not, but I find it plausible. The important take away here is giving a vague and incomplete statement is not evidence of racism.
August 14 (transcript)
"As I said on Saturday, we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of bigotry, hatred, and violence. It has no place in America. And as I have said many times before, no matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws; we all salute the same great flag; and we are all made by the same almighty God. We must love each other, show affection for each other, and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry, and violence. We must discover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans. Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans. We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal. We are equal in the eyes of our creator, we are equal under the law, and we are equal under our constitution. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America."
In my opinion, this should be an open and shut case at this point. I'm not sure how it's possible to issue a stronger statement condemning every possible group that might have been involved in the Charlottesville violence, specifically, and unequivocally.
August 15 (transcript)
"The driver of the car is a murderer, and what he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing".
Clear and unequivocal denunciation of the driver.
"You had a group on one side that was bad, and you also had a group on the other side that was very, very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I'll say that right now. You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very, violent"
Clarification that there was "a group", presumably the neo-Nazis and white nationalists who were "bad". And also a violent group on the other side.
"I've condemned neo-Nazis. I've condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E Lee."
Clear denunciation of neo-Nazis. In my opinion, unequivocal clarification about who he was talking about with his statement "good people on both sides".
(reporter) "The neo-Nazis started this thing..."
Context is important!
(Trump) "You had some very bad people in that group [the neo-Nazis]. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group – excuse me, excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down, of to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name."
Again, clarifying, in a different way, that his statements about "very fine people" was not referring to the white nationalists. Over and over, Trump is hammering the point that there were other people at the rally besides white nationalists.
-- a few seconds later --
"George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? ...Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him? OK, good. Are we going to take down his statue, because he was a major slave owner. Now we're going to take down his statue. So you know what? It's fine. You're changing history, you're changing culture, and you had people — and I'm not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally — but you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, OK? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly."
Not only has he stated that he denounced neo-Nazis, but he goes out of his way to denounce them again, including white nationalists, in the strongest possible terms - "totally".
Once again, he reiterates that there were other people at the rally, and that's who his comments were referring to.
"And in the other group, you had some fine people, but you also had some troublemakers and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats. You had a lot of bad people in the other group, too."
Again, "fine people" and troublemakers. On both sides.
(reporter) Are you saying that the press has treated white nationalists unfairly?
Again, context is important! The question is about white nationalists.
(trump) "No, and I looked the night before. If you look, there were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E Lee. I'm sure in that group there were some bad ones. The following day it looked like they had some rough, bad people - neo-Nazis white nationalists, whatever you want to call them - but you have a lot of people in that group who were there to innocently protest. And very legally protest, because you...I don't know if you know... They had a permit. The other group didn't have a permit."
Again, neo-Nazis and white nationalists are "rough, bad people". But there were a lot of people there to innocently protest.
In my opinion, when you look at the entirety of Trump's statements, it's basically impossible to conclude that he was calling the white nationalists "very fine people".
And maybe *you* don't agree. Fine.
Maybe, to you it looks like he was dog whistling or very carefully crafting his statement to pander to the white nationalists. Again, fine.
But also realize that the vast majority of people on the right don't see things that way. It's not that they know that Trump is a white nationalist sympathizer and they love him because of or in spite of it.
No, most Trump supporters think that this racist/white nationalist stuff is mostly fabricated by the media, or if not fabricated, manipulated to be misleading...I think with some evidence.
Half of America are not racist, white nationalist sympathizers. Indeed, I believe they are good people - very fine people, even - who simply have a different worldview.