Despite a lot of persiflage to the contrary, Donald Trump is sometimes a remarkably cautious man. Yesterday he was able to see many sides to the controversy down in Charlottesville, and was strikingly careful about inflaming any of them. The President instead memorably decried the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides—on many sides”, and scrupulously refrained from using words like white nationalist, white supremacist, racist or anti-semitic, despite some provocation to the contrary—not just from a mob shouting racist and other abuse, but from a surprising number of others. Senator Cory Gardner, Republican from Colorado, tweeted “Mr. President—we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.” Mike Huckabee also rushed to judgment: “‘White supremacy’ crap is worst kind of racism-it’s EVIL and perversion of God’s truth to ever think our Creator values some above others.” Orrin G. Hatch tweeted: “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.” Marco Rubio stuck his oar in pretty early, and asked Trump to use the words “white supremacy”. John McCain opined that “White supremacists and neo-Nazis are, by definition, opposed to American patriotism and the ideals that define us as a people and make our nation special.”
Even Jeff Sessions got into the act. This morning’s NYT reported that “The Department of Justice announced late Saturday that it was opening a civil-rights investigation into “the circumstances of the deadly vehicular incident,” to be conducted by the F.B.I., the United States attorney for the Western District of Virginia, and the department’s Civil Rights Division. Sessions is reported as saying “The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice…When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated.” Others also perhaps hastily condemned the President’s judiciousness—David Duke, for example. The NYT reported that “Mr. Duke was among the few Trump critics who thought the president had gone too far. ‘I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists,’ shortly after the president spoke.” A very few were more open-minded, and gave the President the benefit of the doubt, with WaPo reporting one striking case: “’Did Trump just denounce antifa?’ wondered Richard Spencer.” Mr. Spencer is a white nationalist whose supporters have a weakness for chanting Sieg Heil.
While the President has been attacked for saying too little, the police have been criticized for doing too little, but in the middle of a WaPo story describing their protracted passivity the reporter noted an interesting consideration: “Complicating the dynamics was the fact that several dozen groups of armed militias—men in full camouflage toting assault-style weapons—were in the middle of the crowds. Some claimed that they were there to keep the peace, although none appeared to try to stop the skirmishes.”
Open carry laws mean that the probable allies of white nationalist rioters now carry automatic weapons in easy range of police forces charged with maintaining order, which may mean the police attempting to do their job with billy clubs and pistols while people who appear to be those rioters’ very heavily armed political allies decide whether to use those semi-automatic rifles. What the police can prudently do to minimize the risk of being slaughtered while they enforce the law is unclear. But since everyone is today quoting Republicans, here’s a thought from another one: Lincoln memorably asked, when suspending Habeas Corpus, “Are all the laws but one to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?”