CP photo by Ryan Deto
On Aug. 15, President Donald Trump backtracked on earlier statements solely condemning white supremacists
and neo-Nazis for violence in the aftermath of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
Trump's initial statement on Aug. 12 blamed "many sides" for the violence. Then on Aug. 14, Trump 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 we hold dear as Americans.”
But, during the Aug. 15 press event at Trump Tower in New York City, where the president was scheduled to discuss infrastructure, Trump instead attacked the “alt-left” and assigned just as much, if not more, blame to the counter-protesters.
“What about the alt-left that came charging at, as you so say, the alt-right. Do they have any semblance of guilt? … You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” said Trump.
In response to Trump’s latest comments, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Scranton) condemned Trump
for trying to compare the actions of hate groups to the actions of counter-protesters. Casey
was in Pittsburgh on Aug. 16 to discuss trade at the Steelworkers Building Downtown and spoke with reporters about Trump’s comments.
“I don’t care who you are, what party you are in, what part of America you are in, when you have the kind of activity that went on in Charlotteville, Nazi-related, or KKK, or any hate group that is preaching hate … all of that should be condemned categorically, not with any qualifiers, and not with any false equivalency that the president demonstrated,” said Casey.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Lehigh) criticized the assertion of a false equivalency between neo-Nazis and those who oppose them. “There is no moral equivalency between neo-Nazis, bigots, and white supremacists, and those who oppose them,” wrote Toomey in a statement sent to Pittsburgh City Paper
. “Our country has no room for corrupt ideology or violent acts.”
Casey additionally called Trump’s comments “deeply offensive” and said the president is supposed to be on the front line of condemning hate, not giving it excuses. He said Trump’s comments could also lead to more hate groups feeling emboldened to enter the public sphere.
“You are going to continue to see folks across the country, protesting this kind of hateful speech and activity,” said Casey. “If the president and the presidency doesn’t stand against extremist behavior, I think you are going to see even more clashes. The president needs to lead here, and he needs to make it clear where American stands.”
Even though Trump's comments have caused consternation to Pennsylvania's senators, Casey said he has been encouraged by many Republicans who have issued strong statements condemning racism. "I think we need to hear more of it from more of them," said Casey. "But what we have heard from leaders has been encouraging."
And some current Republican legislators in the state have been taking heat for not coming out and condemning the president's comments, as well as movements like white nationalism in general. State Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York), who is currently running for governor, said in the York Dispatch
that he didn't want to get involved in a national debate, and he doesn't intend to issue any statement related to Charlottesville on his social-media profiles. Sinceré Harris, executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said in a statement that Wagner's "silence is an endorsement of these kinds of abhorrent actions and beliefs and is completely unacceptable.”
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Cranberry), and two-time CP Shit List
designee, also drew ire from Pennsylvania Democrats for failing to comment on Charlottesville. Metcalfe refused to comment in a recent City & State
news website story highlighting his past connection to white nationalist
Casey added that the controversy surrounding Trump’s comments is also holding back progress in areas that are unrelated to Charlottesville. Casey was in Pittsburgh to talk about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (something Casey and Trump agree on), as well as a need to raise wages. Casey said that in the 25 years following WWII, wages rose 91 percent. In the last 40 years, raises have only gone up 11 percent.
“His comments yesterday were in the midst of a discussion about infrastructure,” said Casey. “But instead of leading the country in the right direction in something as fundamental as combating hate, Nazism, antisemitism, and trying to get a consensus on infrastructure, he [instead] is taking us down the wrong path.”