National Press Club

Former Va. Gov. blames Trump's rhetoric for 'splitting this country apart'

August 7, 2019 | By Chris Teale |

Former Va. Gov.Terry McAuliffe

Former Va. Gov.Terry McAuliffe

Photo/Image: Alan Kotok

President Donald Trump is a "white nationalist and a racist" who is "splitting this country apart," former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said at a book event at the National Press Club on Tuesday night.

McAuliffe said that the white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017, which led to the deaths of counter protester Heather Heyer and two state troopers, were inspired by Trump's rhetoric. He should do far more to condemn that ideology as there have been more incidents since, McAuliffe said.

McAuliffe spoke to promote his book "Beyond Charlottesville: Taking a Stand Against White Nationalism," which is his recollection of the events that weekend and a call to action to deal with the racist undercurrents that have continued to dog the United States throughout its history.

"Every president has addressed our nation in a major crisis, this is the first time that a president has gone to address the nation on a national crisis where he is culpable, where is actually part of the problem that he's talking about," McAuliffe said. "That is so unique."

The white nationalist ideology has come into sharper focus after recent mass shootings and other incidents of domestic terrorism such as those in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas. McAuliffe said those incidents and the people behind them have been inspired in part by Trump's rhetoric.

McAuliffe also called out Trump's speeches on the subject, both after Charlottesville and other incidents, which he said "did not move me" and show a lack of understanding about the seriousness of the issue. In a press conference after Charlottesville, Trump said there were "fine people on both sides."

"There were people for hatred, and there were people against hatred," McAuliffe said. "That is not too difficult to speak about as President of the United States of America."

To counter that ideology, McAuliffe called for dramatic reforms to a number of areas of American life, including criminal justice and sentencing. But McAuliffe, who touted his record as Governor of Virginia from 2014 until 2018 when he left office because he was barred from seeking a second consecutive term by state law, said there is plenty of work to do.

"Until we deal with the inequities in our education system, we're going to be in this place," McAuliffe said. "Until we deal with inequities in healthcare, affordable housing, we're still going to have racist issues out there."

But, McAuliffe said, some good things to come out of Charlottesville were that the white nationalist movement lost momentum, and that people around the country woke up and realized that there are still systemic issues around race that have not been resolved.

"As bad as Charlottesville was, the one benefit was it ripped the scab off of racism in the country," McAuliffe said. "I think for far too long, people felt we had dealt with the issues of racism, people felt that the issues had gone away."