President Donald Trump staged one of the most memorable press conferences in U.S. history Tuesday afternoon: a combative exchange about last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville. It was an opportunity to reinforce his heavily scripted message from Monday, condemning neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Instead, he went off script, reiterating talking points of the self-described “alt-right.”
Politicians of the modern era have generally taken a hard line on overt racism and anti-Semitism — nearly every modern president has had an opportunity to condemn neo-Nazism, and has done so without the appearance of hesitation, thus setting a tone for the nation. Denouncing racism is easy, so it’s unclear why President Trump seems to have such a hard time doing so.
Texas Standard host David Brown talked with four Texans about their perspective on Trump’s stance following the violence in Charlottesville.
Sister Norma Pimentel is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.
On Trump’s missed opportunity to promote unity:
“This was a lost opportunity, for a moment, to bring us together and to denounce what is completely wrong and divisive.”
On how multi-faith gatherings bring the community together:
“Hosting gatherings where we bring us together form different faith denominations…these type of events begin to take away that sense of fear and that sense of I don’t know you.”
Troy Nehls is Fort Bend County sheriff. He recently held a “Diversity and Living Together” forum there.
On the idea that President Trump is misrepresented by the media:
“I think the left has, and will continue to be, critical of everything Donald Trump says from here forward. …This fake news, it is out there. I don’t think Donald Trump, our president, is a racist.”
On America’s volatile political climate:
“I think you’re seeing people starting to stand up more, exercising their First Amendment right. Whether we agree with it or not isn’t the point. …The point is is that this is a very, very emotional time in this country when it deals with race, when it deals with immigration issues and everything else.”
On Fort Bend County’s effort to promote diversity:
“We are considered, according to the Rice University’s Kinder Institute, the most diverse county in the entire country. …We’ve done a great job brining people together, understanding each other’s cultures.”
Omar Rachid is a member of the Victoria Islamic Center, which was burned down in January by an alleged arsonist charged with a hate crime.
On Trump’s missed opportunity to unite Americans after Charlottesville:
“It was the wrong message to be confrontational yesterday. It only adds to the divide.”
On Trump not condemning Nazism:
“He basically condones the neo-Nazis and people cheering, basically saluting and using the Adolf Hitler salute. This is not (the) America, that our soldiers fought for to defeat Nazism.”
On feeling unsafe as an immigrant since Trump began his presidential campaign:
“I’m an immigrant, I’m a Muslim-American. …I’ve been in Victoria 24 years; I have never felt threatened or discriminated against until President Trump, or candidate Trump at the time, began to just throw rhetoric against Muslims.”
On how the solution starts with Trump:
“The solution also begins with President Trump. He needs to bring the country together. He needs to condemn the acts of racism, bigotry… (and) within our own community, we have to provide the dialogue.”
Vincent Harding is an African-American attorney and chair of the Travis County Democratic Party.
On what changed after Trump’s press conference:
“That goes from being someone who turns a blind eye to being a cheerleader for white supremacy and neo-Nazis. …I believe, ultimately, there is no common ground here: Either you are against white supremacists and neo-Nazis, or you’re wrong.”
On how debates over race get passionate:
“There may be some yelling, or some screaming or some cursing, but I believe it is better to yell and to scream and to curse as opposed to get into fights. …When you have that honest dialogue and you have corresponding action…these are the types of things that will move this country forward.”
Written by Caroline Covington.