Trump isolated after remarks on rally protesters

President Donald Trump abruptly announces Tuesday he is disbanding two business advisory councils after multiple CEOs resigned in protest over his response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend.
US President Donald Trump answers questions about his response to the violence, injuries and deaths at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville as he talks to the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, US Aug 15, 2017.
US President Donald Trump answers questions about his response to the violence, injuries and deaths at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville as he talks to the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, US Aug 15, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

Business, military leaders and even Republicans keep distance

WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump cuts an increasingly isolated figure as he finds himself abandoned by the United States' top business executives, contradicted by military leaders and shunned by Republicans outraged by his defence on Tuesday of white nationalist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The breach with the business community forced Mr Trump to disband his two business advisory councils on Wednesday as chief executive officers staged an exodus.

"Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!" he tweeted.

In an e-mail to Apple staff late on Wednesday, chief executive Tim Cook denounced the deadly violence in Charlottesville, criticised the President's response and pledged to donate US$2 million (S$2.7 million) to organisations battling hate groups.

All five armed services chiefs - of the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, the Marines and the National Guard Bureau - posted statements on social media condemning neo-Nazis and racism in uncompromising terms. They did not mention Mr Trump by name, but their messages were a highly unusual counter to the commander-in-chief.

But the most startling comments came from chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon, who used to run far-right website Breitbart News and is rumoured to be on the way out. "Ethno-nationalism - it's losers. It's a fringe element," he said of the alt-right groups in an interview with a magazine. "These guys are a collection of clowns."

 
 
 

The Charlottesville rally that degenerated into bloody clashes and led to the death of one counter-protester, Ms Heather Heyer, last Saturday was spurred by the planned removal of a statue of a general of the pro-slavery Confederacy, Robert E. Lee. More than 1,500 such statues and symbols of the Confederacy are erected on public land, mostly in the South.

Two of Mr Trump's Republican predecessors - George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush - issued a statement urging Americans to "reject racial bigotry... in all its forms". House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to distance themselves from the President, while Senator Lindsey Graham, who criticised Mr Trump, was denounced as a publicity seeker.

"Publicity-seeking Lindsey Graham falsely stated that I said there is moral equivalency between the KKK (Ku Klux Klan), neo-Nazis and white supremacists and people like Ms Heyer," Mr Trump tweeted yesterday morning. "Such a disgusting lie."

The condemnation descended on the President after he told reporters in a defiant news conference at Trump Tower on Tuesday that "alt-left" demonstrators were just as responsible for the violence in Charlottesville as the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who organised the protests. Ms Heyer, 32, was struck by a car driven by a right-wing activist.

Mr Trump's isolation apparently created a problem for his favoured Fox News network, which struggled to find Republicans who would defend him.

But Vice-President Mike Pence did express support during a news conference in Santiago, Chile.

"The President has been clear on this, and so have I," he said on Wednesday as he referred to his own forceful condemnation issued on Sunday. "I stand with the President, and I stand by those words."

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2017, with the headline 'Trump isolated after remarks on rally protesters'. Print Edition | Subscribe