President Trump's initial comments on the violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA condemned "hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides," failing to specifically call out the extremist groups responsible or say the name of the woman who was killed while protesting bigotry. Monday afternoon, more than 48 hours after the incident, the president finally called Saturday's events "racist violence," but every hour that passed before he did so spoke volumes.
Trump started his Monday remarks by talking about how well the economy is doing, a strange move when addressing the nation about what National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Attorney General Jeff Sessions called a domestic terror attack. When he eventually brought up Charlottesville, he said, "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 that we hold dear as Americans."
He also spoke about Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman who was killed when a car rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters at Saturday's rally, and the two police officers who died in a helicopter crash while responding to the incident. "These three fallen Americans embody the goodness of America," Trump said.
But where were these statements on Saturday? Or even Sunday?
The president took more than two days to call the KKK, neo-Nazis, and other white supremacist groups racist, when that should have been one of the first things he told the country. And decrying racism is to be expected of the president after people are killed at a white supremacy rally, but felt hypocritical coming from someone who's called Mexicans rapists and criminals.
His stronger words on Monday came only after he was heavily criticised for condemning violence "on many sides" over the weekend. This wasn't the first time he was hesitant to speak out against white supremacy, either. Trump failed to disavow white supremacists during the 2016 election when asked about former KKK leader David Duke and other groups supporting his bid for president.
His failure to denounce white nationalists this weekend was especially troublesome since Duke explicitly linked Saturday's rally to President Trump. Duke told the The Indianapolis Star on Saturday, "We are determined to take this country back. We're gonna fulfil the promises of Donald Trump. That's why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he's going to take our country back."
Trump's initial statement was also interpreted by white nationalists like Richard Spencer as denouncing the counter-protesters — not white supremacy or racism.
While Trump was avoiding the issue of domestic terrorism and white supremacy, he did find the time to bash Kenneth Frazier, CEO of the pharmaceutical company Merck & Co., who resigned from the President's American Manufacturing Council on Monday morning because of Trump's response to the violence in Virginia. In a statement posted to Twitter, Frazier said, "America's leaders must honour our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy."
Before addressing the nation to declare that "racism is evil," Trump tweeted that the council will have "more time to lower ripoff drug prices" now that Frazier is no longer involved.
While some will surely praise Trump for denouncing racism and promising that justice will be served for those who died in Charlottesville, his so-called defining moment came after 48 hours of silence. It shouldn't take the president of the United States two days to publicly condemn white supremacy after violence breaks out.