The US had a historic week amid the coronavirus pandemic, hitting a record high of new cases every day beginning Wednesday. President Donald Trump, however, spent his Sunday morning retweeting a video of a supporter saying “white power,” attacking presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s intelligence, and claiming he didn’t know anything about a reported Russian bounty on US troops in Afghanistan.
Early Sunday morning, Trump retweeted a video of members of The Villages, a Florida retirement community, both rallying for and protesting against him. One man driving a golf cart with Trump 2020 signs can be heard in the first seconds of the video chanting “white power” in response to heckling from residents protesting Trump.
“Thank you to the great people of The Villages,” Trump wrote. “The Radical Left Do Nothing Democrats will Fall in the Fall. Corrupt Joe is shot. See you soon!!!”
The video brought swift condemnation across the political spectrum. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), speaking on CNN’s State of the Union, said there’s “no question” the president shouldn’t have retweeted it and added, “He should take it down … it’s indefensible.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, also on State of the Union, condemned racism in general Sunday morning, but would not say whether it was a mistake to tweet the video. “Neither the president, his administration, nor I would do anything to be supportive of white supremacy or anything that would support discrimination of any kind,” he said.
Shortly after Scott’s appearance on CNN, and ahead of an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation during which he repeated his belief the video should be removed, the tweet was deleted. The president did not comment further on the video Sunday morning, before traveling to his golf club in Sterling, Virginia. Judd Deere, a spokesperson for the White House, told Reuters, “President Trump is a big fan of The Villages. He did not hear the one statement made on the video. What he did see was tremendous enthusiasm from his many supporters.”
Trump has made racist comments himself in the past, including referring to the coronavirus as the “kung flu” and telling congresswomen of color who oppose him to “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came.” And as Vox’s German Lopez notes, he has enjoyed the support of white supremacists since announcing his candidacy. The president has been dismissive of accusations of racism in the past, and he has downplayed his support among white nationalists. For instance, when asked about the pushback he received following the tweets about the congresswomen, he said, “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me.”
It is certainly possible Trump retweeted the video without watching it, but it is worth noting the “white power” chant began within the first 10 seconds. And given that the president has repeatedly made — and seemed to endorse — racist statements, it begins to appear, as Lopez wrote, “that bigotry is not just political opportunism on Trump’s part but a real element of his personality, character, and career.”
Trump also insulted Biden and claimed he knew nothing of a Russian bounty scheme in Afghanistan
In addition to retweeting a white supremacist chant, Trump’s Sunday morning Twitter feed featured full-throated defenses of his administration’s relationship with Russia and a tweet calling “Sleepy Joe [Biden]” a “Low IQ person.”
The New York Times reported Friday that the Russian military secretly offered to pay Taliban fighters to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan. US officials learned of the scheme months ago and briefed the president in March, according to the report.
Officials reportedly offered Trump a number of options for reprimanding Russia, including escalating sanctions or issuing diplomatic complaints. But Trump didn’t choose to retaliate at all, instead apparently ignoring what intelligence suggested was an unprecedented Russian attack on US troops — and a significant escalation of the country’s support for the Taliban.
Trump denied knowing about the intelligence and attacked the Times on Twitter, writing that “everybody is denying [the report] & there have not been many attacks on us. Nobody’s been tougher on Russia than the Trump Administration.”
As the Times reported, 20 Americans were killed in Afghanistan in 2019 — although it’s unclear which killings may be connected to the Russian plot.
Trump went on to allege that the Times’s sources don’t exist, calling on the paper to reveal its sources.
Democrats have spent the weekend criticizing Trump over the report; Biden, for instance, derided Trump at a campaign event for not punishing Russia.
“His entire presidency has been a gift to Putin, but this is beyond the pale,” Biden said during a virtual town hall Saturday. “It’s a betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation, to protect and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way.”
Trump took issue with this assessment, tweeting Sunday morning that Biden’s statements were “written by his handlers” and that “Russia ate his and Obama’s lunch during their time in office.”
These tweets — and others on the same themes — came as the coronavirus crisis is accelerating across the US.
Coronavirus cases hit their highest daily number yet on Thursday, and average weekly cases have been rising for the last two weeks. Governors across the country remain largely on their own when it comes to deciding how and when to restrict people’s movement, or put other public health measures in place.
The White House coronavirus task force has called for increased vigilance against the virus as cases rise, especially across the South and Western US. Nevertheless, Vice President Mike Pence assured the public Friday that the country is “in a much better place” than it had been, and said Americans can choose to exercise their free speech by attending rallies like the ones recently hosted by Trump, as long as they keep official guidelines in mind. And Trump has repeatedly made the incorrect argument that, “Cases up only because of our big number testing.”
It’s not clear whether states will heed public health experts’ warnings that recent economic reopenings mostly happened too soon and are contributing to the disease’s spread. But they are certainly getting mixed messages from the White House — and that is when the president addresses the issue at all.
Support Vox’s explanatory journalism
Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.