Why President Trump’s 'both sides' argument has merit

Why President Trump’s 'both sides' argument has merit
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While aboard Air Force One on Thursday, returning from a visit to hurricane-ravaged Florida, President TrumpDonald John TrumpBroward County official Brenda Snipes submits resignation after criticism Retired lieutenant general tears into Trump over attacks against Navy SEAL: 'Disgusting' Senate barrels toward showdown over Trump's court picks MORE met with the press gaggle accompanying him aboard the presidential aircraft and raised a few eyebrows with some of his comments.

Much has been made over the fact that the president clearly double downed on his widely panned response in the wake of a Charlottesville rally of neo-Nazis and white supremacists that left an innocent counterprotester, Heather Heyer, murdered in its wake. But is the criticism justified or, as with much of the partisan #Resistance howling about Trump, just so much “tempest in a teapot.”

Well, I’ll argue that an honest observer should give an open-minded evaluation of Donald Trump’s “both sides” comments and the incendiary assignation of blame to some in the left’s counter-protester midst, namely Antifa.


Following a Wednesday meeting with African-American Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottSenators introduce Trump-backed criminal justice bill Time to pass the First Step Act Debbie Stabenow reelected to a fourth Senate term in Michigan MORE (R-SC) at the White House, it appeared that a chastened president gave a fair hearing to Scott, who met with him about the recent events in Charlottesville. The president, by all accounts, appeared willing to listen to a member of his own party who cautioned him about the negative perception many in the country had of the president’s clumsy and delayed response to the bigots and racists who descended upon Charlottesville on August 12.

It’s called optics. And in politics, optics matter.

But the day following his meeting with Scott, in yet another unscripted moment aboard his plane, Trump reiterated that “there’s some very bad people on the other side also.” This, a clear reference to members of Antifa who confronted the white nationalists in Virginia, and have recently attacked peaceful right-wing protesters at Berkeley, Calif., and have clashed with police officers in Portland, Ore.

Antifa has branded itself as a militant anti-fascist movement. On its face, that definition certainly engenders praise. But some of their loathsome tactics have recently come under scrutiny. They’re spoiling for a fight with “fascists.” But, does their penchant for violence and reckless selection of targets meet muster for designation as an honorable association?

Attacking neo-Nazis in Charlottesville has earned them sympathy and favorable press following Trump’s original “both sides” violence condemnation in the wake of Charlottesville. It also resulted in some self-righteous indignation from supporters who claimed that criticism of Antifa was fear mongering, as the group was the antithesis of the racists/bigots they sought to confront.

But as Josh Meyer astutely pointed out in a Politico, confidential Department of Homeland Security (DHS) documents show that the agency has been concerned about Antifa’s propensity for political violence for some time now. This concern is exactly why the DHS collaborated with the FBI in a joint intelligence document drafted in April of 2016 which classified the anarchist extremists’ actions as “domestic terrorist violence.”  

Speaking in defense of Donald Trump these days, can certainly earn you some detractors. But let’s be fair here. Back in March, it was determined that some 91 percent of all campaign coverage of Donald Trump was negative. And that the coverage emanated from a media class that gave 96 percent of its campaign contributions to Trump’s general election candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton. So it makes sense to assume that Trump’s double down on the “both sides” analysis would receive harsh critique from the mainstream media.

And a closer examination of the stated intentions and actions of the anarchist group often nebulously and benignly referred to as “counterprotesters,” include some quite despicable approved tactics. Unless of course, you see nothing disgraceful about urine, rocks and bottles being hurled at cops. Or, are comfortable employing violence and fascist tactics against those whose violence and adherence to fascism you decry.

Some intellectually dishonest folks will label this examination of Antifa’s deplorable tactics as tacit condoning of the reprehensible racist ideologies all sane folks oppose. But that’s not the case. When the United States, throughout its history, has come under arms to confront murderous and genocidal fascist regimes, would we tolerate the commission of war crimes in the quest to bring to justice those committing war crimes? Slaughter of innocents is acceptable, as long as we are staunchly opposed to the ideological positions or actions of a despot or dictator?

Let’s expand this seemingly acceptable modern moral equivalency. How about if we condone police brutality and suggest that frontier justice or vigilantism is appropriate? We know this criminal just brutally raped and murdered an innocent victim, therefore, we are justified in the commission of equally brutal and despicable treatment of the accused.

No, extrajudicial punishment is never appropriate. And hatred and violence as a counter to hatred and violence doesn’t conform to a higher moral standing. Free speech protections are in place in America not to protect the speech we agree with, but, instead, to protect the vile speech we abhor.

So let’s be clear here: The actions of Antifa have fairly designated them a repugnant alternative to the repugnance they united to counter. And let’s give the president’s remarks some careful consideration. We can acknowledge that Donald Trump may not be the most erudite and articulate placeholder for the office of the presidency. His speech, at times, can be clumsy and lack nuance. This certainly contributes to his critics’ arsenal of recriminations.

A more carefully articulated condemnation of all those who adhere to the immoral and perverse ideologies of the “white nationalists” and neo-Nazis, period, full stop, would’ve resulted in a more favorable review of his response in Charlottesville’s wake.

The president could then have separately condemned the violence permeating from the anarchist extremists, as well. He could have criticized their actions, but drawn a distinction between the good and decent “counter-protesters” who didn’t participate in Antifa’s thuggery. Bravely standing up to goons espousing evil ideologies should be venerated and emulated. Doing so while armed with bats and clubs and human waste products make you a goon, as well, and deserved of our ire.

As we rightly call out the bigots and the racists in our midst, let’s also be fierce in our acknowledgment that some on the “other side” are equally culpable in their attempts to divide us. Stating that shouldn’t be cause to fear a backlash of hatred and vitriol. It’s called being woke.  

James A. Gagliano is a CNN law enforcement analyst and retired FBI supervisory special agent. He also serves as an adjunct assistant professor at St. John's University and is a leadership consultant at the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG) at his alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point. Follow him on Twitter @JamesAGagliano.