Anderson Cooper, whom I consider one of the most fair-minded, even-tempered journalists on TV today, began his show, “Anderson Cooper 360,” on CNN Tuesday night with this remarkable introduction:
“We normally start off the broadcast saying good evening. But tonight, there doesn’t seem to be much that is good about this evening, because a few hours ago, the president of the United States revealed so clearly who and what he really is.
“Today, the president of the United States ripped open wounds that have barely begun healing in Charlottesville on a subject, race, that has tormented this country from the beginning and nearly torn it apart more than once. He ripped open these wounds so he could show the world that he did not make a mistake on Saturday when he spoke words that were ill-considered, untrue and insensitive.
“In the remarks he made today, the president revealed what he truly thinks about race in America. He revealed what he thinks about fundamental fairness, about a president’s role in binding up the nation’s wounds and appealing to the better angels of our nature, to quote another former president. He revealed whether he can ever be a president for all people or just for white ones, a president for people of all beliefs or just the alt-right.
“Today, President Trump showed the world exactly how little he knows or cares about U.S. history. He showed the world how much a mother’s loss matters to him when weighted against whether or not she praised him. He showed the world how far he’ll go to avoid admitting he’s ever made a mistake.
“So, before we continue, we just want to be real tonight. This was a Unite the Right rally. It was clear from the beginning exactly what kind of people would be attending — white nationalists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, members of the KKK. They showed up with clubs and shields and some with long rifles. Speakers were announced in advance.
“Yet, on Saturday, the president merely said there was violence on both sides, on many sides. He returned to that discredited line today.”
After a clip from Trump’s raucous press conference at Trump Tower in New York, Cooper continued:
“Both sides had some bad apples, is what the president is saying, both sides were violent. But today, the president seemed to go out of his way to whitewash the nature of what was after all an explicitly white power rally.”
After another clip Cooper said: “Now, he went on to claim that the people there to protest particularly on Friday night, the day before the main rally, those people were simply protesting, as he just said, the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee. The president makes them sound like history buffs, or preservationists, fine people just quietly protesting.”
Yet a third clip followed, and then Cooper added: “So he’s singling out Friday night, pointing to the groups that were there protesting the statue. I just want to show you a video from Friday night.
“And when you look at this video, it’s about a minute and a half, but we think it’s worth you seeing the entire thing. Ask yourself, do the people in this video who were chanting ‘Jews will not replace us,’ and chanting ‘blood and soil,’ an old Nazi slogan, do they seem to be quiet fans of the history of Robert E. Lee?”
The footage that follows is of thugs marching and shouting, “You will not replace us. You will not replace us. Jews will not replace us. Jews will not replace us. Jews will not replace us,” and, “Blood and soil. Blood and soil. Blood and soil. Blood and soil. Blood and soil. Blood and soil,” and, “Whose streets? Our streets. Whose streets? Our streets. Whose streets? Our streets. Whose streets? Our streets. Whose streets? Our streets.”
Cooper’s commentary on Trump’s press conference was spot on. What happened in Charlottesville was was not a case where one looks at what happened and says, “a pox on both your houses.”
There is no moral equivalence between white nationalists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, members of the KKK and those who oppose their beliefs.
One of the great persons of the 20th century was the late Elie Wiesel, who died in July of last year at age 87. A Holocaust survivor, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. Here is an excerpt from the speech he gave when he accepted the prize:
“It is with a profound sense of humility that I accept the honor you have chosen to bestow upon me. I know: Your choice transcends me. This both frightens and pleases me.
“It frightens me because I wonder: Do I have the right to represent the multitudes who have perished? Do I have the right to accept this great honor on their behalf? … I do not. That would be presumptuous. No one may speak for the dead, no one may interpret their mutilated dreams and visions.
“It pleases me because I may say that this honor belongs to all the survivors and their children, and through us, to the Jewish people with whose destiny I have always identified.
“I remember: It happened yesterday or eternities ago. A young Jewish boy discovered the kingdom of night. I remember his bewilderment, I remember his anguish. It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed.
“I remember: He asked his father: ‘Can this be true?’ This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?
“And now the boy is turning to me: ‘Tell me,’ he asks. ‘What have you done with my future? What have you done with your life?’
“And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.
“And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.”
My final comment is to paraphrase the late great TV newsman Edward R. Murrow, who was speaking not of Trump, but of another demagogue, Senator Joe McCarthy. But his words about McCarthy fit Trump as well:
The words of our president “have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it — and rather successfully. Cassius was right. ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.’”