Does President Trump’s Charlottesville response drive national division?
HARI SREENIVASAN: And now we continue our conversation on the national reaction to the violence in Charlottesville and the president's multiple responses to the events there.
John Yang is back with that.
JOHN YANG: Thanks, Hari.
To get two different perspectives on all of this, we're joined by Karine Jean-Pierre, a senior adviser to MoveOn.org and a veteran of the Obama administration, and from Phoenix, Chris Buskirk, editor of the conservative blog AmericanGreatness.org, and a radio talk host out in Phoenix.
Thank you both for joining us.
Karine, let me start with you.
Since Saturday, there has been a lot going on and it seems like a big moment. What does this tell us about who we are as Americans in 2017 and where we are as a nation?
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, MoveOn.org: Right, there's clearly no secret that this country has struggled with racism for many, many decades, right?
It is a dark, troubling history of ours. And so the difference is that most presidents have been, on both sides of the aisle, when it comes to a scenario like this, they would have tried really hard to bring the country together.
Now, I have not agreed with both sides of the aisle, either Democratic or Republican presidents, on how they have dealt with race, but they come from a place, usually, where they feel like the country needs to come together, we have to do all that we can.
What we have seen in the last four days is the complete opposite of that. We have seen a president who has been on the side of Nazis, white supremacists, white nationalists, and not on the side of everybody else, essentially, who have been fighting and standing up against that.
JOHN YANG: Chris, she says — Karine says that the president is not bringing us together. What do you say?
CHRIS BUSKIRK, Editor, American Greatness: Yes.
No, I don't think that's right. I think the president has done what he thinks he could in order to speak clearly to the American people. In the speech, he said very clearly racism is evil. He talked about the neo-Nazis, white supremacists as being evil and thugs. He was very clear about that.
I'm not sure everybody wants to hear that. The problem that I think that we have come to, going back to your earlier question, where are we as people, is that we have become altogether too comfortable with a level of political violence that's just intolerable.
We have seen this — we saw this in Charlottesville, and it was tragic. It was terrible. We have what are basically racial provocateurs, these neo-Nazis who go out trying to stir up trouble. And there are people who are willing to engage them.
And I think that that is troubling, because the rhetoric has heated up to such a point that people think that not only do they have a right to go out and commit violence in the name of violence, but they have some type of an imperative to do it. And that's something that we need to address as a people, as a culture.
And the president certainly can take a lead on that.
JOHN YANG: Karine, the president was heavily criticized for his first response. And the people in the White House that I talk to say he saw this as a law and order issue, not as an ideological issue. What would you say about that?
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: I would say this.
When it comes to Nazis, white supremacists and white nationalists, there are no two sides. There are no many sides. It's just — I can't believe what he's saying. He continues to divide this country.
He heard people, he watched people say Jews will not replace us, blood and soil, white lives matter, and he says, those are good, fine people? How is that? He went out of his way to criticize people who were standing up to them.
That is incredibly troubling. And not only that, we saw one Donald Trump Monday, which was like a teleprompter Donald Trump. His staff wrote a script and he stuck to the script. That's right, he did condemn the violence.
But off-script, he was a completely different person. We saw exactly who he was. And it was this Donald Trump that incites violence, that agrees with violence. And he did that for two years during the campaign.
JOHN YANG: Chris, what's your take on the difference between the president's statement on Monday and than what he said yesterday in the press conference?
CHRIS BUSKIRK: Well, I'll tell you, I think Karine makes one point that I wholeheartedly agree with, which is that, of course, there's not two sides when it comes to Nazis or neo-Nazis or any of this. There's one side on that, at least in this country. And we can be thankful, we can be very thankful for that.
But I think that's it's not an issue, at least from the president's perspective, from a lot of people's perspective, it's not just a race issue or law and order issue. It can be both. And people are trying to divide what — the president's statements and parse them as though it's an either/or choice.
It's both. He came down clearly and said there is a racial issue here in terms of the neo-Nazis, the white supremacists, and that's unacceptable, it's wrong, and it's something that can't be tolerated.
On the other hand, he said that political violence — this is what he was talking about yesterday — we cannot have different — we cannot have mobs of people from different political parties or viewpoints battling it out in the streets.
And this is where I think that the police in Charlottesville made an issue where there didn't have to be one. They were not present. And they needed to keep these two parties or these two groups of people apart.
We wouldn't be talking about this today if they had been in there and not let this situation spiral out of control.
JOHN YANG: I think the police role is a big issue.
Chris, let me stay with you for a second. These advisory councils and sort of the fallout from all this, you had CEOs trying to distance themselves, trying to leave those advisory councils.
This is a president who ran on being business friendly, who has touted his closeness to CEOs. Is this a sign of political trouble for the president?
CHRIS BUSKIRK: Yes, it's hard to tell on the political front.
I think it is a sign, though, that people like to talk about courage and about coming together a lot more than they like to do it, because it would take some courage for these CEOs to actually lead by example and come together and work on the things they were brought together for, which are the kitchen table issues that matter to mainstream America.
They need to be working on the things that they were there for. How do we increase the number of jobs in this country, the number of good-paying jobs, increase wages? That's why they were there. And yet at the first moment they could make a political statement, they chose to cut and run.
I think they should have led by an example and stuck together to their knitting and work together to work on those projects.
JOHN YANG: Karine.
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I think the first few CEOs that did leave very clearly on did show a profile in courage.
The last ones, it was the public pressure that they received. And rightly so, they dropped out. But I think the lesson here to learn is that when you work for Donald Trump, you are either going to be humiliated or burned.
And this really also applies to Republicans who are on the Senate, Republican governors, White House staff who work with him. If you work for this president, and he's done it over and over again, he will drag you in the mud and make you look bad.
JOHN YANG: Chris, we have also heard a lot of critics talk about whether or not the president's lost sort of the moral authority by equating the two sides in this. How do you respond to that? And what's your take on that?
CHRIS BUSKIRK: I think that that remains to be seen.
And, of course, the answer is going to — the answer you get is going to depend on who you ask, of course, but the president needs to show leadership on this front. I think that's absolutely right.
And we're going to see what happens over the days and weeks to come. I will tell you, I'm more optimistic than I think — than Karine is, because I think that the president understands this as an issue that is important for the country and is important in racial terms, but it's also important in law and order terms.
We need to get to a place where we can have political differences with each other that don't break out in violence on the streets.
JOHN YANG: Karine, we have less than 30 seconds left.
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: I don't think the president has shown any type of moral standing or leadership on this.
And we are at an inflection point in our country. On one side, we're closer to war with North Korea than we have ever been in decades, and on the other side we have — we have, you know, Nazis and white supremacists and white nationalists who feel emboldened and are in the streets without hoods.
JOHN YANG: Well, we're going to have to leave it there.
Karine Jean-Pierre, Chris Buskirk, thanks so much for joining us.
CHRIS BUSKIRK: Thank you.
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you.