On Tuesday, Trump, speaking to a crowd of supporters in Phoenix, Ariz., offered an unabashed defense of his response to the violence in Charlottesville. At one stage, he read out his previous statements on the violence but omitted the “many sides” remark that had set off fierce criticism of his response.
WATCH: Trump blames news media backlash he got after Charlottesville remarks
“I spoke out forcefully against hatred, bigotry, and violence, and strongly condemned the neo-Nazis, the white supremacists, and the KKK,” Trump said.”The only people giving a platform to these hate groups is the media itself and the fake news.”
The remarks drew swift and stern reproach from CNN anchor Don Lemon.
“What we’ve witnessed is a total eclipse of the facts — someone who came out on stage and lied directly to the American people and left things out that he said in an attempt to rewrite history,” Lemon seethed.
“This is who we elected president … a man who’s so petty he has to go after people who he deems to be his enemies like an imaginary friend of a six-year-old.”
Wayne Petrozzi, a professor of political science at Ryerson University, sheds light on what he calls Trump’s “untruths” by recollecting a Seinfeld episode, in which George tells Jerry that, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”
“He was onto something,” Petrozzi said. “I don’t think there’s some sophisticated Machiavellian mind at work here … Trump’s belief that hyperbole is a substitute for fact predates his political career by decades.”
In the immediate aftermath of the violence, Trump responded by vaguely condemning the clashes, while stopping short of calling out white nationalists and neo-Nazis, one of whom stands accused of ramming his car into counter-protesters, killing activist Heather Heyer and injuring dozens.
Instead, he chose to condemn what he termed “violence on many sides,” repeating the phrase “on many sides” for emphasis.
WATCH: Trump’s condemnation of white supremacists delayed due to lack of facts
Those comments were deemed inappropriate and inadequate by Trump’s 2016 presidential election rival, Hillary Clinton, his own former communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, and Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer, among others.
But Trump’s comments are merely a more crudely worded representation of long-held Republican ideals, Petrozzi told Global News.
“It’s a culmination of a strategy that the Republican Party launched over 50 years ago that, rather than address the reality of America’s history of discrimination and racism, attempted to resist that by embracing certain policies that became code for their supporters,” Petrozzi says, citing terms like “law and order” and “war on drugs” as political code language for cracking down on African Americans and other minorities.
“Trump is just the most obnoxious and noxious manifestation of this approach … now there’s no attempt to hide it.”
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The day after Trump’s remarks, the White House scrambled together a statement saying that Trump’s condemnation of violence “of course” extended to white supremacists and Ku Klux Klan sympathizers.
Then on Aug. 14, two days after the violence, Trump issued a more conventional statement in which he forcefully denounced hate groups.
“Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” he said.
WATCH: Trump calls white supremacists ‘repugnant’ after public outcry
Petrozzi says there’s nothing to read into damage-control statements like these. “It’s nothing profound, it doesn’t indicate or hint at a real change in direction or a reconsideration,” he says.
Indeed, the very next day, Trump reverted to laying blame for the violence on both sides, during a rowdy press conference at Trump Tower in Manhattan.
Asked about the alt-right movement’s influence on the violent events, Trump countered by slamming “alt-left” counter-protesters. “What about the alt-left that came charging at the alt-right, do they have any semblance of guilt?” he questioned. “You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent.”
He also insisted that there were “fine people” on both sides, and defended far-right protesters’ desire to keep the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee intact in a public park in Charlottesville (the rally was originally organized to protest the impending removal of the statue).
“So, this week it’s Robert E. Lee,” Trump said. “I wonder, is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?”
Those comments drew high praise from noted white nationalist figures, including former KKK Imperial Wizard David Duke and alt-right activist Richard Spencer.
Petrozzi says Trump’s comments playing to the white nationalist gallery need to be understood in the context of the United States’ shifting demographics.
“There may be three general elections left in which white Americans will be the majority of electors,” he says. “So you’re going to have to really hold onto what you’ve got and what drives it, that’s why it’s become more explicit.”
Petrozzi points out that 67 per cent of white men and 63 per cent of white women voted for Trump.
On Wednesday, the United Nations’ top body on racial discrimination took the unusual step of encouraging the U.S. government to “unequivocally and unconditionally” condemn events in Charlottesville.
In a statement, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed alarm at “racist demonstrations,” and while it stopped short of naming Trump by name, urged “high-level politicians” to ensure that free speech isn’t conflated with hate speech.
WATCH: Trump supporters and opponents protest at rally in Phoenix, Arizona
For his part, Trump levelled another barb at the media, once again accusing them of misrepresenting his response.
Petrozzi says Trump will continue to blame the media, the left and his political opponents, as he doesn’t truly intend to work towards unifying warring cultural factions in the U.S.
“They intend to ratchet this up, they don’t intend to back off, calm down or adjust their policies,” Petrozzi said. “They think they’re just fine.”