Peter Beinart: Unlike his rivals, Biden sees Trump as an aberration
Biden decided to frame his campaign launch around a case against Trump. That’s somewhat in contrast to many other Democratic presidential candidates who, while not downplaying their moral revulsion to Trump, have tended to situate it as just one of a few issues. To sum up his case that Trump represents a “threat to this nation … unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime,” Biden seized on Charlottesville, which occasioned one of his first major interventions in the national debate after the 2016 election. He reportedly planned a visit to Charlottesville at the start of his campaign, and he structured his announcement video around the march and words by Charlottesville’s most famous resident, Thomas Jefferson.
It didn’t go as smoothly as Biden must have imagined. Charlottesvillians, resentful at having their town turned into a symbol for white supremacy or a political prop, bridled at the plan. The video went forward, but without a visit, and Biden was criticized for not speaking with Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, before he released it. (Bro told The New York Times that she was not “traumatized” by the video.)
Despite the bruising reaction to Trump’s comments in August 2017, he didn’t shy away from discussing the issue on Friday, when reporters asked him about Biden’s announcement:
Reporter: Mr. President, do you still think there were “very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville?
Trump: Oh, I’ve answered that question. And if you look at what I said, you will see that that question was answered perfectly. And I was talking about people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general. Whether you like it or not, he was one of the great generals.
I have spoken to many generals here, right at the White House, and many people thought—of the generals, they think that he was maybe their favorite general. People were there protesting the taking down of the monument of Robert E. Lee. Everybody knows that.
There’s a lot of nonsense in this answer. There is not a statue of Lee in downtown Charlottesville because of the cleverness of his military maneuvers, nor was there an effort to take the statue down because anyone was angry about his tactical choices at Gettysburg. Lee is controversial because he was a brutal slaveholder and the military leader of a treasonous rebellion against the United States government for the purpose of preserving black slavery.
Stanley A. McChrystal: At 63, I threw away my prized portrait of Robert E. Lee
An attempt by the Charlottesville city government to remove the statue was the excuse for white supremacists to march there in August 2017, but there’s not a direct connection between, say, supporting the preservation of historical monuments (to accept the most innocent explanation for opposing the statue’s removal) and anti-Semitism. Trump is, ironically, engaging in revisionist history: The backlash to his remarks came not because he supported leaving the statue of Lee intact; it was provoked by his inability to condemn the “Jews will not replace us” crowd without resorting to both-sidesism, complaining of an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.”