Will Biden ever tell the truth about Charlottesville?

In the video that launched his campaign for the presidency, Joe Biden said it.  When he announced that he had selected Sen. Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential running mate, he said it again.  In his speech accepting the Democratic convention’s nomination for president (here), he said it once more.  Whenever he emerges from his basement to deliver a stump speech, he invariably says it.  And now, in what is a “featured post” in the Times of Israel, guess what?  He said it.

“It” is the bald-faced falsehood that, after the 2017 disturbances in Charlottesville, Va., that resulted in a woman’s death and the indictment of a man for her murder, Pres. Trump said that there were “very fine people on both sides” of a fight that pitted white supremacists and neo-Nazis, on the one hand, against people who were opposing racism, on the other.  In other words, “it” is the falsehood that Pres. Trump asserted a moral equivalence between racist neo-Nazis and people protesting racism.

Here is Mr. Biden’s most recent iteration, set forth in his ToI post: “I got into this race after hearing the anti-Semitic bile spewed by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville—and hearing President Trump say that there were ‘very fine people on both sides.’ Those words shocked our conscience and stunned the world.”

The truth is that Pres. Trump never said that there were “very fine people” among racist neo-Nazis, and he never asserted any moral equivalence between racists and those who abhor racism.  But, because that falsehood has been repeated without refutation in so many media outlets by so many different never-Trumpers, it has taken on the patina of truth.

Still, no matter how many times it is repeated, a falsehood remains a falsehood, and a lie remains a lie.

In a post-Charlottesville press conference, Pres. Trump used the now-infamous phrase “very fine people on both sides.”  The video is here.  What follows is a transcript (which begins at 10:45 and runs to 12:19 in the video) of part of that video.  I would ask every fair-minded person to please watch the video and carefully check this transcript for accuracy.  (Three passages are in bold, solely for ease of reference.)

Reporter: The neo-Nazis started this thing; they showed up in Charlottesville to protest….

Trump: Excuse me, excuse me.  They didn’t put themselves down as neo-, and you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.  You had people in that group—excuse me, excuse me—I saw the same pictures as you did.  You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from “Robert E. Lee” to another name.

Reporter: [Unintelligible]

Trump: No, George Washington was a slave-owner.  Was George Washington a slave-owner?  So, will George Washington now lose his status?  Are we going to take down—excuse me—are we going to take down, are we going to take down statues to George Washington?  How about Thomas Jefferson?  What do you think of Thomas Jefferson?  You like him?  Okay, good.  Are we going to take down the statue?  Cause he was a major slave-owner.  Now, are we going to take down his statue?  So, you know what?  It’s fine.  You’re changing history, you’re changing culture, and you had people—and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally—but you had many people in that group, other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, okay, and the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.  Now, in the other group also you had some fine people, but you also had trouble-makers, and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats.  You had a lot of bad, you had a lot of bad people in the other group, too.

Everyone knows that Donald Trump does not speak extemporaneously with perfect clarity.  But here, any fair-minded person would understand that, when he refers to “very fine people on both sides,” Pres. Trump is obviously referring to very fine people on both sides of the issue of whether to remove Robert E. Lee’s name and statue from a public park.

We know that Trump is referring to very fine people on both sides of the controversy around Robert E. Lee’s name and statue because, precisely fifty-two (52) seconds after he refers to “very fine people on both sides,” he explicitly states, “I’m not talking about neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally.”  The only other people (besides neo-Nazis and white nationalists) he mentions were those protesting the removal of Lee’s name and statue.  So, the “very fine people” must be among those latter people.

I don’t believe that protesting the removal of Robert E. Lee’s name and statue from a park makes one a racist or neo-Nazi.  People participating in that protest can be, I think, fine people.  Wouldn’t you agree?

Mr. Biden says he “got into this race” because Pres. Trump’s remark about “very fine people on both sides” shocked everyone’s conscience.  If that was Mr. Biden’s reason for running, then his entire campaign stems from a falsehood.  Moreover, he regularly claims that he wants to unify the nation and heal its wounds.  How can he do that, if he obsessively repeats a falsehood that paints the incumbent president as an admirer of racists and neo-Nazis?  Someday, Mr. Biden ought to read a transcript of Pres. Trump’s remarks and then apologize for broadcasting a divisive narrative grounded on falsity.

About the Author
David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the N.Y. Bar; he also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Michigan (1971). He now lives in Cary, NC. His scholarly papers on U.S. constitutional law can be read on the Social Science Research Network at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=2523973