We had been promised a “pivot” from Donald Trump for at least a year now, certainly ever since he clinched the GOP nomination last summer. This week it finally came when Trump used the bully pulpit of the presidency to offer a full-throated defense of neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
After stewing for days over criticism of his total void in leadership following the Charlottesville violence, Trump went to a press conference on “infrastructure” loaded for bear and got exactly what he was looking for as his voiced boomed through the marble halls of Trump Tower.
Sparring with reporters, he blamed “both sides” for the violence, quite literally equated the counter-protesters to the alt-right by tagging them the “alt-left,” claimed there were some “very fine people” among the club-wielding white supremacists and neo-Nazis, parroted alt-right talking points on the slippery slope of Confederate statue removals, and later lauded the “beautiful statues and monuments” celebrating the Confederate’s fight for human enslavement.
White supremacists were giddy. Former KKK leader David Duke thanked Trump for his “honesty and courage,” while founder of the neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer bragged that Trump was emulating their extremist messaging.
Trump “uses our talking points—that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are next after the Confederate monuments and that they’re trying to destroy our history.”
This was the pivot—Trump finally rid himself of any remnant reverie that he would at some intangible moment in time turn toward an embrace of his better angels. Trump’s intemperate defense of murderous ideologies left no doubt that any lingering hints of grace have long since left his being. That became undeniable at Trump Tower as he took up the cause of a pure and known evil that, both here and abroad, has taken millions of innocent lives in the name of supremacy.
Moments after Trump finished ripping away the veil, news anchors and journalists were visibly stunned by what they had just witnessed—mirroring what almost everybody at home felt too. Even if we knew—even if we had always believed this was the real Donald Trump, watching the pr*sident drive a stake through the very heart of our nation in defense of sheer depravity was still a jarring moment.
On MSNBC, Chuck Todd understandably declared himself “a bit shaken” by the scene. Equally as understandably, longtime Democratic strategist Paul Begala wondered why. On twitter, he responded, “Was he not paying attn when Mr. Trump pushed birther lie, smeared Mexicans, attacked Hisp. fed judge, called for crowds to beat protestors?”
But it was Todd’s reply that seemed to epitomize one of journalism’s biggest failings during the 2016 election.
Really? Because throughout 2016 there was never any indication that a guy who launched his campaign by hurling racist epithets about Mexicans was going to “do the right thing” once in office. If anything, Trump was a consistent practitioner of appealing to people’s worst instincts in order to win them over—racism, nativism, xenophobia and misogyny were the pillars of his campaign. The fact that many journalists offered him a megaphone without contextualizing his comments and viewpoints is at least partially responsible for where we are today.
And here’s where we are: While Trump found the time to coddle and ingratiate himself with the white nationalists who shouted “Jews will not replace us!”—he still hasn’t summoned the decency to call the mother of their victim, civil rights activist Heather Heyer, the young woman who died as a result of the hate they perpetrated in Charlottesville.
Fortunately, Heyer’s mom, Susan Bro, who has been a rock in the midst of her unbearable pain, isn’t waiting by the phone.
“I’m not talking to the president now; I’m sorry,” Bro said during a Friday interview.
She had been so preoccupied with planning her daughter’s funeral and setting up a foundation that she hadn’t watched Trump’s Tuesday disgrace until Thursday. So much the better. Amid his descent, Bro has provided a beacon of light throughout this episode—exemplifying the best in humanity and honoring her daughter by raising up the cause she stood for.
“They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what — you just magnified her,” she declared at her daughter’s memorial service Wednesday. “I’d rather have my child, but by golly, if I gotta give her up, we’re gonna make it count,” she added before walking off stage to a standing ovation.
Bro’s call to action was matched by the swift response of CEOs who revealed Trump as the charlatan he is when they fled his two major business councils. But that was just the beginning. By week’s end, his arts commission and infrastructure council would also be dissolved while nonprofits started dropping like flies from using his Mar-a-Lago resort for their galas.
But no Trump calamity would be complete without a staff casualty, preferably on Friday. This week it was Steve Bannon’s turn to take the baton from Trump’s expat relay team: Reince Priebus, Anthony Scaramucci, and Sean Spicer (Michael Flynn’s barely a ghost of a memory by now).
Bannon, who once bragged that his website Breitbart was “the platform” of the alt-right, was a convenient scapegoat for Trump. He’s a combative white nationalist enthusiast who managed to make scores more enemies than friends in six short months at the White House. But like all those who got the boot before him, his exit won’t make a lick of difference in the amount of vile incompetence that spews from Trump’s White House. That’s coming straight from the top.
Where Bannon’s ouster will most certainly make a difference, however, is outside the walls of the White House. Upon hearing the news, Breitbart Editor At Large Joel Pollak tweeted one word: #WAR.
“The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over,” Bannon said Friday, shortly after confirming his departure. “We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency. But that presidency is over.”
The GOP civil war has arrived, folks. Of all the ousted Trump alums, Bannon will have the greatest impact of anyone from the outside. His troops will make war on whoever betrays his white nationalist goals and readership, whether it’s Hill Republicans or Trump’s White House.
At the same time, Congressional Republicans are finally, finally, starting to show at least glimpses of defiance—of course, not serial sycophants Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell. But when Sen. Bob Corker, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, charges that Trump hasn’t shown either the “stability” or the “competence” to run the country, that’s a potential game changer. That sentiment is growing, according legendary journalist Carl Bernstein.
As Sen. Corker noted, Trump “has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation.” No Congressional Republican has spoken truer words than those in the last six months.
The turning point has come, all right. Trump has pledged his allegiances, and now we’ll find out who the real patriots are.