Presidents George Bush and G.W. Bush issue joint statement condemning racism and anti-Semitism
Former US presidents George HW Bush and George W Bush on Wednesday issued a joint statement that condemned “racial bigotry, antisemitism and hatred” asDonald Trump faced a growing backlash over his defence of those who took part in the far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The father and son did not mention Trump by name, but their rare combined intervention came after Trump’s comments that “there is blame on both sides” for the deadly violence on Saturday.
“America must always reject racial bigotry, antisemitism and hatred in all its forms,” the Bushes said in a statement, going on to cite the one of the nation’s founding fathers, the third president Thomas Jefferson, who lived near Charlottesville.
“As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city’s most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal and endowed by our creator with unalienable rights. We know these truths to be everlasting because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country.”
On Wednesday, Trump was forced to disband two White House business councils disintegrating around him after several resignations from chief executives threatened to cascade. The move was a significant blow to Trump, who ran as a business-friendly president. Unrepentant, he tweeted: “Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council and Strategy and Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!”
Trump’s remarks came moments after two more business leaders resigned and set him at odds with the Republicans, chief executives and White House advisers who earlier this week had pushed him to more forcefully and specifically condemn the Klan members, neo-Nazis and white supremacists who took to the streets of Charlottesville, ostensibly to protest against the planned removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee.
The Republican senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina – a frequent Trump critic – issued the strongest rebuke from his party so far. “Mr President, I encourage you to try to bring us together as a nation after this horrific event in Charlottesville,” he said. “Your words are dividing Americans, not healing them.”
The fallout has again put the White House on the back foot. An official said Hope Hicks, a close Trump aide, would temporarily serve as White House communications director. Hicks will work with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on a White House messaging strategy.
Time and again, Trump’s actions and words have led to questions of whether the Republican party can continue to back him. But his remarks on Tuesday – in which he, in effect, became the first president in generations to defend white nationalists – appeared to set a new moral test.
Republican leaders on Capitol Hill shared the approach of the Bushes, condemning Trump without using his name. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell noted that the groups behind the Charlottesville violence were planning a rally in Lexington, in his home state of Kentucky. McConnell said: “Their messages of hate and bigotry are not welcome in Kentucky and should not be welcome anywhere in America.”
Paul Ryan, the House speaker, declared in a tweet that “white supremacy is repulsive” and there should be “no moral ambiguity”.
But Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, argued that the statements from the Bushes, McConnell and Ryan did not go far enough.
“That’s the problem: everyone is saying we’ve got to call out the thing,” he told the Guardian. “You’ve got to name the thing. I support these statements of condemnation but they need to take the line of Senator Flake, Senator Rubio and others in saying, ‘No, Mr President, this is not appropriate’.
“Generic statements about racism are fine, but the president of the United States, the titular head of the Republican party, has aligned himself with racists and antisemites and the like. I don’t know how else to interpret it.”
Steele, who is African American, added: “This cuts to the bone of America. We have a torrid history, a difficult history, an unsettled history with race. The wound has scabbed over and he is apparently trying to rip the scab off.”
Five of America’s most senior military officials took the unusual step of condemning racism and extremism. General Mark Milley, the chief of staff of the US army, and General Robert Neller, the commandant of the US marine corps, were among those to reject extreme rightwing beliefs.
“The army doesn’t tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks. It’s against our values and everything we’ve stood for since 1775,” Milley tweeted on Wednesday.