ALMOST EVERYTHING Donald Trump says and does is so utterly loathsome to me that I fear I’ve lost all sense of objectivity about the man. And that is clearly what has happened with the major mainstream media as well.
In the wake of the abhorrent racist terror in Charlottesville, Trump has shown himself incapable of saying the right thing at the right time. Sometimes I think he actually means well, at least during fleeting moments, but has no idea of how to go about showing it and saying it.
There are kernels of logic buried deep in his objectionable rhetoric about Charlottesville. He rightfully, though belatedly, has condemned neo-Nazis and white supremacists, including the KKK. But then he insisted on placing that condemnation in the context of both “sides” — left and right — needing to shoulder some of the blame for the violence and the death of social justice activist Heather Heyer when she was struck by a car driven by a white supremacist.
Before even discussing Trump’s misdirected rhetoric, we should ask ourselves three things:
Is it possible that there are good people and bad people within every cause?
Is it possible that both sides in the Charlottesville riot must share some blame for the violence?
Is it possible that debate over the removal of historic-figure statues is legitimate?
Then look at what Trump has said.
He says there were both good and bad people within the ranks of what we’ll call the ultra or alt right (white supremacists) and the left (counter-protesters that included social justice activists) at the riot.
He says both sides must share the blame.
He opposes the removal of statues of civil war generals like Robert E. Lee and wonders out loud whether statues of slave owners George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are next.
On the first count, it’s possible there is some good even in racists and white supremacists, but to define anyone with such beliefs as “good” doesn’t compute. Criticizing him on that point is justified.
It’s not a stretch, however, to suggest there were bad people on both sides of the riot.
If you watch enough Charlottesville video, and read enough eye-witness accounts, you’ll see that both left and right were armed, both left and right taunted and provoked, each physically assaulted the other.
On the third point, questioning the removal of statues and the renaming of public places in the name of social justice is fair ball in the debate over what some call the effective rewriting of history to satisfy present-day political morality.
So he began with a semblance of fact and took it downhill from there. He called the riot “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence – on many sides.”
The insertion of the word “bigotry” immediately drew objections because the violence was caused by a clash between racial bigots and opponents of bigotry. Equating the two is just not on. This was not a peaceful protest and many of those involved never intended it to be. The right to protest the removal of a statue was overshadowed by the messages of hate and racism that went along with it.
And when one of the white supremacists got in his car and mowed down a bunch of protesters from the other side, killing Heather Heyer, the nuances of who was and who wasn’t to blame for the riot became of secondary importance.
A white supremacist murdered a social-justice advocate in an act of terror. The “left,” regardless of their role in the clash of ideologies that took place in Charlottesville, share no part of the blame for that.
That’s what should have been at the top of the president’s mind. The statue argument and the details of who pushed who first are important, but they needed to be left for another day.
The death of Heather Heyer, as a tragic example of the need to reject bigotry and to heal as a nation, should have been the core of his message.
But Trump, true to form, got it all wrong. Instead of staying on point, condemning the neo-Nazis, KKK and other white supremacist groups that were present that day, mourning the death of Heather Heyer, and calling for a restoration of calm, tolerance and reasoned public discourse, he got angry.
Donald Trump is always angry. His anger confuses his brain, which stops functioning in a coherent manner. He doesn’t know when to stop talking.
And so, the network media have chosen those pieces of the story that serve their purpose in condemning Trump’s messed-up message. Reporters have become commentators. There is a rightful place for indignation on the opinion pages — the sham of his claim that he’ll unite America needs to be exposed because he’s doing the opposite. The stupidity of his words needs to be analyzed. Bigotry needs to be called out.
Trump is rightfully being condemned from all quarters. But the craft (that’s what journalists like to call what they do — not just a job, but not quite a profession either) in which I toiled proudly for so many years has thrown objective reporting out the window and has joined full force within its news space in the collective disgust at Trump’s unfitness for the presidency.
Trump bothers me. A lot. But so does the abandonment of the line between opinion and good old-fashioned objective reporting.
Donald Trump has succeeded in one thing. All by himself, he’s made his own claims of the loss of objectivity in journalism come true.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops, former school board chair, former editor of The Kamloops Daily News, and a current director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He was awarded the Jack Webster Foundation’s lifetime achievement award in 2011. His editorials are published regularly on CFJC Today and he appears Wednesdays on the CFJC-TV evening news with his Armchair Mayor commentary. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.