Last night’s presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump was a horror show. It was somehow worse than most of us even expected—and we expected it to be pretty bad! Among all the yelling, the rambling, the lies, and the personal attacks, the worst moment of the night had to have been when Trump straight up refused to condemn white supremacy.
Moderator Chris Wallace said that Trump has repeatedly criticized Biden for not condemning what Trump sees as antifa mobs at protests across the country, and asked if Trump would be willing right then and there “to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities.”
“Sure, I’m willing to do that,” Trump said casually before distinctly not doing it. “But I would say almost everything I see is from the leftwing, not from the rightwing.”
“I’m willing to do anything,” he said. “I want to see peace.”
“Well then do it, sir,” Wallace said, while Biden jumped in with “Say it, do it, say it.”
Trump seemed to have forgotten what they were even talking about. “What do you want to call them?” Trump asked Wallace after a searching pause. “Give me a name, go ahead, who would you like me to condemn?”
“White supremacists,” Wallace said while Trump continued to talk over him. Biden added, “Proud Boys,” referencing the Trump-loving, neo-fascist, white supremacist group behind the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville and other violent demonstrations.
Trump acquiesced. “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” he said, which is very much not a condemnation. Some will say it is, but you know who’s not saying that? The Proud Boys. They heard Trump’s message loud and clear, and they’re already celebrating online.
— Vera Bergengruen (@VeraMBergen) September 30, 2020
It’s also already being sold as merch.
CONFIRMED: The original shirt is now down, but two more are still for sale: pic.twitter.com/k2jj7MpJxp
— Sleeping Giants (@slpng_giants) September 30, 2020
After telling his neo-Nazi base to “stand by,” as if he’s commanding his own personal troops, Trump immediately pivoted back to both-sides-ism, which is really only one sided, since he had to have the initial non-condemnation of racist violence dragged out of him while eagerly pouncing on the opposing target.
“But I tell you what,” he said in the same breath, “somebody has got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing problem.”
First of all, he’s really telling on himself (and his party) by calling racist violence a “right-wing problem,” but hey, he’s not wrong.
Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security published a report earlier this month calling white supremacists the most significant terrorism-related threat to the United States today. Yet, Trump continues to focus on antifa, which is not an organized group but rather an ideological opposition to fascist violence, the remedy for which, if Trump really cared, would be to do something about the fascists.
That DHS report doesn’t even mention antifa. Politico wrote at the time:
None of the drafts POLITICO reviewed referred to a threat from Antifa, the loose cohort of militant left-leaning agitators who senior Trump administration officials have described as domestic terrorists. Two of the drafts refer to extremists trying to exploit the “social grievances” driving lawful protests.
Trump continues to be obsessed with taking down “antifa”—which, as he sees it, seems to encompass all protesters and even just all people who express opposition to him—while refusing to see or recognize the very real threat of white supremacist domestic terrorists. I’m not sure why some people continue to feign confusion over his motivations here. It seems pretty obvious.
Brian Kilmeade: “Donald Trump ruined the biggest layup in the history of debates by not condemning white supremists. I don’t know if he didn’t hear it, but he’s gotta clarify that right away. … Why the president didn’t just knock it out of the park, I’m not sure.” pic.twitter.com/Qo52jBDTPl
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) September 30, 2020
Yes, why wouldn’t Trump condemn white supremacy, which like Brian Kilmeade there says, is like being asked “Are you against evil?” Unless, you know, he just isn’t.
(image: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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