A little coda to the post I put up on Friday on this topic.
In that post, I argued that Trump shouldn’t sign the joint resolution on Charlottseville forwarded by Congress, because the federal government has no business condemning the people’s constitutionally protected speech. Even if the speech is heinous – as the political speech of Nazis and white supremacists undoubtedly is – the job of government isn’t to condemn our speech.
The government’s job is to uphold the high standards of our American political philosophy, which is based on positive beliefs about our fellow men, and which is about equality before the law and the rule of law.
White supremacists may caterwaul all they want. But they will never corrupt the government’s treatment of anyone in America. And if their actions infringe on the safety and peace that all the rest of us have the right to live in, they’ll encounter the iron fist of the law, fast and hard.
The same goes for anyone – like Antifa – who wants to prance around in public wearing disguises, carrying weapons, shouting ugly slogans at others, and harassing whoever gets within arm’s reach.
Most headlines yesterday about Trump and the congressional resolution stated only that Trump signed it.
But USA Today expanded on the story – and its writer is clearly upset with what Trump actually did. As Gregory Korte puts it, Trump chose a third option.
The president didn’t just sign the resolution. Nor did he refuse to sign it. He issued a signing statement with it. And in the signing statement, he framed what he meant to convey – by signing the resolution – in his own terms.
Korte points out how unusual this is in such a situation:
The presidential signing statement has long been a controversial presidential tool that allows presidents to sign bills even as they attempt to reinterpret them. But Trump’s use of a signing statement on a non-binding sense-of-Congress resolution may break new ground, experts say.
“This is extraordinary,” said Christopher Kelley, a Miami University political scientist who has studied presidential signing statements. “It is one of the weirdest, rarest uses of a signing statement that I know of.”
I wouldn’t have handled it this way myself. I would have declined to sign the non-binding resolution, and issued a presidential statement on the matter outlining what I believe America stands for and believes, and how America’s executive branch will behave on my watch.
But I grow weary of editing Trump on everything he does. In this case, he did the right thing by not accepting the way Congress wanted to box him in.
Trump has been right all along: there is more than one party to condemn over the violence in Charlottesville. And although he didn’t put it eloquently, he is also correct that there are peaceful, non-extremist protesters on both political sides who shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush as either the Nazis/white supremacists, or the Antifa/communist goons.
Sure: people who just want to preserve Confederate memorials should know better than to demonstrate in the company of torch-carrying Nazis shouting Jew-hating slogans.
But people who just want to make peaceful points about “social justice” should know better themselves than to demonstrate in the company of masked thugs using chains, pepper spray, and urine-filled balloons against the police, and shouting “No border, no wall, no USA at all!”
There are, objectively, culpable bad guys on both sides of this traveling riot circus. And President Trump is 100% right to call both sides out, and refuse to put all the blame on one side, or seem to justify suspending the proper limitations of government because of one side’s excesses.
Enforce the law; don’t come down on the side of one protest group or another.
Only nine years ago, our ears would have been better attuned to that obvious truth about how our government should comport itself. But the Obama administration conditioned us to seeing government take sides. At the same time, a whole generation of young people has been indoctrinated to believe that taking sides with “protesters” is what government is supposed to do.
Trump disappointed the USA Today writer by not doing that.
Trump signed the resolution late Thursday. His signing statement said that Americans “oppose hatred, bigotry, and racism in all forms.”
“No matter the color of our skin or our ethnic heritage, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God,” Trump said. “We are nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal.”
But just as his initial statements on Charlottesville blamed “all sides” for the violence, Trump’s signing statement didn’t condemn any specific group.
“It is ironic that this bill is in response to Trump’s tone-deaf comments about ‘all sides’ and then when he signs this statement, he repeats the very thing that sparked the controversy in the first place,” Kelley said.
Good for Trump. Refusing to take actions that undermine the rule of law is in no way tantamount to endorsing bad guys like white supremacists and the KKK.
Trump has nothing to prove. But Congress was setting us up for a gross abuse of state power, and Trump has at least put down a marker that he isn’t going to participate.