A defiant President Donald Trump shrugged off a barrage of bipartisan criticism on Thursday and said U.S. culture and history were being “ripped apart” by the removal of Confederate statues.
Trump waded back into the charged racial debate over monuments to the pro-slavery South with a volley of tweets doubling down on his controversial remarks of the past few days.
Trump has come under fire from Republicans and Democrats alike for saying that anti-racism protestors deserved equal blame for violence last weekend at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, held to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. A 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 other people injured when a man suspected of being a white nationalist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.
Moves to remove statues honoring leaders of the Confederacy have gained momentum since the Charlottesville violence with monuments coming down in Baltimore and other cities. Trump, echoing remarks he first made earlier this week, made it clear he opposed the campaign.
“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” Trump said. “You can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!” he said. “Also the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!” he added.
Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson were Confederate generals while George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were among the Founding Fathers of the United States.
Trump critics were quick to point out the difference.
“Dear @realDonaldTrump: Robert Lee and Stonewall Jackson are not the same as Washington and Jefferson. Can’t believe I had to write that sentence,” said Ted Lieu, a Democratic congressman from California.
Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, told The New York Times that he believed the president’s views were shared by many Americans. “President Trump, by asking, ‘Where does this all end’—Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln—connects with the American people about their history, culture and traditions,” Bannon said. “The race-identity politics of the left wants to say it’s all racist,” Bannon said. “Just give me more. Tear down more statues. Say the revolution is coming. I can’t get enough of it.”
Trump on Thursday also lashed out at two leading Republican critics in the Senate and accused the media of distorting his views. “The public is learning [even more so] how dishonest the Fake News is,” he said. “They totally misrepresent what I say about hate, bigotry. etc. Shame!”
On Monday Trump singled out the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis as “repugnant,” but on Tuesday he said counter-protestors in Charlottesville had been “very violent” and equally responsible for the violence. Trump’s weak condemnation of the racist far-right set off a political firestorm across the U.S. political spectrum. World leaders also criticized Trump’s response.
Trump was forced to scrap two White House economic advisory councils on Wednesday as top businessmen began abandoning him to protest his stance on the racial debate. The president took aim at two fellow Republican senators, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona, in a series of tweets.
“Publicity seeking Lindsey Graham falsely stated that I said there is moral equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis & white supremacists… and people like Ms. Heyer,” Trump said.
Heather Heyer, 32, was the woman killed by the suspected white nationalist in Charlottesville.
Graham had said the U.S. president “took a step backward” on Tuesday “by again suggesting there is moral equivalency between the white supremacist neo-Nazis and KKK members who attended the Charlottesville rally” and people like Heyer.
Trump also blasted Flake, one of the few Republicans openly critical of the president, saying he was “WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate.”
“He’s toxic!” Trump tweeted. Flake, who is running for re-election in Arizona, wrote Tuesday: “We can’t accept excuses for white supremacy & acts of domestic terrorism. We must condemn. Period.”