President Donald Trump stood by his heavily criticized defense of monuments commemorating the Confederacy in a series of tweets Thursday morning.
Trump said that removing the statues of Confederate generals meant removing “beauty” — that would “never able to be comparably replaced” — from American cities. As he did in a Tuesday press conference, he also attempted to equate some Confederate generals with some of the Founding Fathers.
Strung together, the tweets read:
“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson - who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish! 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!” [ellipses removed for clarity]
The tweets come after days of the president whipsawing back and forth on his response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va., that led to the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer after a man drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.
Shortly after that incident, Trump condemned both the white nationalist protesters and the counterprotesters, saying there was an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”
After Democrats and Republicans alike castigated him for those remarks, the president came out more forcefully against racist groups, declaring that “racism is evil” and characterizing members of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis as “criminals and thugs.”
But Trump’s impromptu remarks at a Tuesday press conference — originally intended to focus on infrastructure — represented a strong swing back to his original position, which suggested equivalency between white supremacist group and the alt-right, on the one hand, and the groups who opposed them like Black Lives Matter and leftist antifa protesters, on the other hand.
Around half of Americans — 52 percent — believe the president’s response to the violence in Charlottesville was “not strong enough,” according to an NPR/Marist poll released Wednesday. Only 27 percent said it was strong enough (the remainder were unsure).
However, those views shift heavily by party — a majority of Republicans, 59 percent, say the president’s response was strong enough (compared to 10 percent of Democrats). Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of Democrats — 79 percent — believe the response was not strong enough (compared to 19 percent of Republicans).
Debate over removal of Confederate memorials has spread nationwide in recent years. While defenders say that such memorials simply represent a part of the nation’s history, the monuments and statues are for many Americans a reminder of the nation’s painful history of slavery and the people who fought to defend it.
In a widely circulated May speech on his city’s removal of four statues commemorating the Confederacy, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, a Democrat, explained why he believed that removing the memorials was necessary.
“There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it,” he said. He later added, “These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.”