Donald Trump has deleted a tweet he sent featuring video of a Trump supporter shouting, “White power! White power!” after an outpouring of grief and outrage at racist language flowing directly from the White House once again.
The tweet was deleted after it drew fierce criticism from across the political spectrum, including from Tim Scott of South Carolina, the sole African American Republican in the Senate.
“There’s no question that he should not have retweeted it and he should just take it down,” Scott told CNN’s “State of the Union” program.
“It was so profanity laced, the entire thing was offensive. Certainly, the comment about the white power was offensive. It’s indefensible. We should take it down.”
Trump had left the tweet, featuring video of arguments among residents of The Villages, a predominantly white and conservative retirement community in Florida, posted on his Twitter feed for nearly four hours.
“Thank you to the great people of The Villages,” Trump tweeted about the footage, which begins with a white man driving a golf cart with a “Trump 2020” sign spouting racist rhetoric at white anti-Trump protesters.
White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere claimed that Trump had not heard the man screaming “white power” at the start of the video he tweeted.
“President Trump is a big fan of The Villages,” Deere said in the statement. “He did not hear the one statement made on the video.”
Cody Keenan, a former speechwriter for Barack Obama, said the tweet was part of Trump’s re-election strategy.
“How ‘bout we just skip past the kabuki where White House staff emails reporters anonymously to say they had nothing to do with it, every [Republican] senator pretends they haven’t seen it, and just accept that they’re all part of the Trump 2020 white power Covid rally ‘til the end,” Keenan tweeted.
Trump sent the tweet as he faces a difficult re-election bid, which in part involves a struggle to shore up support among his base of white and evangelical Christian voters. Polls indicate that a majority of that demographic has supported protests over the killing last month of George Floyd, an African American man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The Floyd protests have launched what could be a moment of reckoning for racial justice, on issues ranging from unaccountable police killings to Confederate monuments to criminal justice reforms to the legacy of slavery to reparations.
Yet Trump has leaned into his opposition to the protests, threatening to deploy the US military in American cities, promising stiff penalties for defacing statues, tweeting “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” – a phrase famously used in the 1960s by a Miami police chief long accused of bigotry – and declaring himself the president of “law and order”.
On Sunday, Trump, who is also facing a growing scandal over his handling of the coronavirus crisis, and intelligence indicating a Russian plot against American soldiers in Afghanistan, once again sought to stoke racial tensions.
Following his retweet of footage from The Villages, Trump sent a tweet in all caps that said, “the vast silent majority is alive and well!!” The phrase “silent majority” is associated with Richard Nixon’s political strategy to inflame racial anxiety to win votes.
In a separate appearance on CBS New’s Face the Nation, vice-president Mike Pence refused to use the phrase “Black Lives Matter”.
“So you won’t say ‘black lives matter?’” host John Dickerson asked Pence.
Challenged on Trump’s rhetoric Sunday morning in a separate CNN appearance, health secretary Alex Azar said he had not seen the most recent tweet – but asserted that Trump is not supportive of white supremacy.
“I’ve not seen that video or that tweet, but obviously 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,” Azar said. “[O]bviously, the president and I and his whole administration would stand against any acts of white supremacy.”
But many critics of the president see him as one of the most powerful proponents of white supremacy in the country’s history.
Andrew Stroehlein, European media director of Human Rights Watch, said Trump’s tweet was “not surprising for a man who’s called neo-Nazis “very fine people” and hired white nationalists to work in the White House, but still, immensely dangerous.
“With his poll numbers falling, he wants a race war,” Stroehlein tweeted.
“Our racist president, who retweeted a ‘white power’ video today, got caught covering up that Putin, who got him elected, was paying bounties for murdering American soldiers,” wrote Walter Shaub, former director of the office of government ethics, on Twitter. “His response is to lie, attack the press, and take no action against Putin. Trump is at war with America.”