U.S. President Donald Trump continues to face a barrage of criticism for his contention that both white supremacists and counter-protesters were to blame for the deadly violence that erupted last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.
On Wednesday, the president announced that he had dissolved two business advisory committees made up of top American corporate executives, after at least seven CEOs announced they were resigning from the councils because of his remarks.
Also Wednesday, two former U.S. presidents, George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush, the last two Republicans elected to the White House before Trump, said in a joint statement, “America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms.”
The two former presidents added, “As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city’s most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights,” a reference to Thomas Jefferson, one of the country’s Founding Fathers. “We know these truths to be everlasting because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country.”
President Trump’s remarks have been roundly criticized by a broad range of U.S. leaders, including top Republican party officials, U.S. military commanders, and business executives.
As the violence unfolded last Saturday, Trump initially blamed it on “many sides.” By Monday, he condemned the neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the racist Ku Klux Klan for their role in the unrest.
But on Tuesday, at a news conference in his Trump Tower skyscraper in New York, Trump reverted to his initial assessment of the violence that killed one woman and wounded 19 others when a Nazi sympathizer drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters.
“I think there’s blame on both sides,” Trump said. “You look at both sides. I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it.” He said there were “fine people” among the white nationalists and counter-protesters at the rally 160 kilometers southwest of Washington.
David Duke, the one-time Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, immediately praised Trump’s remarks, saying, “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists.”
US, global reaction
But key Republicans took immediate offense at Trump’s contention there was equivalency in who was to blame for the hours of street violence, as demonstrators squared off with makeshift clubs, engaged in fist fights, and fired bursts of chemical irritants at each other.
The leader of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Speaker Paul Ryan, said, “We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.”
Senator Marco Rubio, defeated last year by Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, said, “Mr. President, you can’t allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame.”
Ohio Governor John Kasich, who also lost to Trump in 2016, said, “The president of the United States needs to condemn these kind of hate groups. This is about the fact that now these folks are apparently going to go other places and they think that they had some sort of a victory.
“There is no moral equivalency between the KKK, the neo-Nazis, and anybody else,” Kasich said. “Anybody else is not the issue. These folks went there to disrupt.”
The Senate Democratic leader, Senator Charles Schumer, said, “When David Duke and white supremacists cheer your remarks, you’re doing it very, very wrong. Great and good American presidents seek to unite, not divide. Donald Trump’s remarks clearly show he is not one of them.”
Trump’s remarks also drew a rebuke from an ally, British Prime Minister Theresa May.
May said, “I see no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them. I think it is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far-right views wherever we hear them.”
Earlier this week, the German government of Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the white nationalists at the rally. Her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said “there was outrageous racism, anti-Semitism and hate in its most despicable form to be seen, and whenever it comes to such speech or such images it is repugnant.”
He said the rally was “completely contrary to what the chancellor and the German government works for politically, and we are in solidarity with those who stand peacefully against such aggressive extreme-right opinions.”