Donald Trump has just pushed some very fine people, as he would put it, over the edge. Some very fine people now know that the president of the United States is not just your random unfit demagogue who somehow ended up in the White House.
He’s the unfit demagogue who has chosen to publicly align himself, before God and country and all those TV cameras, with white supremacists.
Some very fine people who were certain that nothing Trump could say could shock them anymore watched in dismay as Trump, who built an empire on his brand, has unaccountably branded himself as friend to Nazis and the KKK — the two most thoroughly despised brands in American history.
I wrote the other day that we shouldn’t talk about Trump and his nod to both-siderism as having crossed a line, because he had crossed them all before and to no effect — either on him, on his congressional enablers, or on his base.
But that was before Tuesday. It’s one thing to call immigrants rapists or to mock a disabled reporter or to give winking support to the alt-right. It’s another to publicly say that those in Charlottesville who were bravely standing up to the neo-Nazis and the KKK were no better than — yes, you know — the Nazis and the KKK themselves. He said there were “very fine people” on both sides, even if only one side — yes, the Nazis — had permits. He said the press had treated those marching alongside the Nazis “very unfairly” and that he alone was ready to point out that the anti-Nazi “alt-left” was also “very, very violent.”
“You had a lot of people in that group who were there to innocently protest and very legally protest,” Trump said of the Nazis. Trump obviously hasn’t seen the VICE report from the ground in Charlottesville and the shocking video of Trump’s so-called peaceful march. He should watch it. Everyone should watch it.
And maybe it’s just me, and I guess all the others in the fake-news press, but if you’re marching with those holding the tiki torches and chanting anti-Semitic slogans, that may disqualify you from the whole very-fine-person construct.
So, Trump did cross a line, which is quickly turning into an abyss. David Duke tweeted his thanks for Trump’s honesty. Meanwhile, Trump’s two main CEO councils have now been disbanded. Imagine, the nation’s CEOs standing in as the national conscience.
And when they write the books about the rise and fall of Donald Trump — and the “fall” is now as inevitable as it is likely to be tragic — the question they’ll have to answer is how far Trump dragged America down as he went.
There are other questions, of course. How long can the American people stand the turmoil of a Trump presidency before they put enough pressure on Republican lawmakers to finally disassociate themselves from Trump? You don’t need a graph to spot the trend line here. One Trump crisis bleeds — in this case, in the death of Heather Heyer, literally and tragically bleeds — into the next and then the next and then the next. As a friend noted to me the other day, no president other than Trump could have threatened fire and fury nuclear war on a Tuesday and have it forgotten by the weekend.
But maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way. Maybe the question is how long Trump can stand it. We saw at the Tuesday presser a man entirely guided by impulse. He was mad at the media for criticizing his Saturday both-siderism — now seen as Trump’s halcyon days — mad at his handlers for forcing him to give the hostage-like “racism is evil” statement, mad enough that he took questions from the press so that he’d have the chance to show how mad (and not just angry mad) he was.
If he felt the need to reach out, as some have suggested he was doing, to those with sympathy not for Nazis but for the concept that white America is getting a bad deal, you can see how desperate he is. He tried again to make the moral-equivalency case, this time that removing Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson statues would mean that statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson inevitably follow.
It’s an absurd argument. Washington and Jefferson, though both slaveholders, helped birth the nation and the very ideals that make America, at its best, great. Lee and Jackson were the generals who bore arms against the United States in defense of slavery and whose statues were erected, in the main, as a political statement in favor of Jim Crow and Southern apartheid. There is no more equivalency here than there was between the Charlottesville protesters and the Nazis.
I don’t know what comes next for Trumpworld, only that the political tensions aren’t going away and neither is the question of what comes next. The cumulative effect is clear. Trump may have his unshakeable base, something like a third of the electorate, but the ground keeps shifting, on them, on Trump, on the rest of us.
Biographer David Maraniss suggested this in a tweet: “The living former presidents – Bushes, Carter, Clinton & Obama- should make a joint statement calling on the racist Trump to resign.” They won’t do it, of course. Not yet anyway. But it’s a simple proposition and an even simpler test. If you’re having trouble condemning Nazis, you’re probably not fit to hold the office.
But here’s a sure prediction: It won’t be the last test that Trump fails. And it won’t be the last one that tests a nation along with him.