On Tuesday night, President Donald Trump squared off against Joe Biden for what pretty much everyone agreed was an exceedingly unpleasant evening. Trump’s belligerent attitude and refusal to let Biden get a word in edgewise grated his opponent, moderator Chris Wallace and even many of his supporters. George Stephanopoulos called it the worst debate he’d ever seen. “The American people lost tonight,” Jake Tapper agreed. “Because that was horrific.” Even Hillsong Church expressed exasperation, via a mistakenly posted (and quickly deleted) tweet.
Lows abounded but one stuck out: Trump refused, once again, to unequivocally condemn white supremacy. Wallace put it to Trump directly: “Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say they need to stand down?”
Trump shrugged. “Sure, I’m willing to do that,” he said. And he could have done so then and there but instead, he went on: “But I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing. I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.”
So Wallace pushed: “Well, then, do it, sir.”
“What do you want to call them?” Trump asked. “Give me a name, give me a name.”
Wallace told him “white supremacists.” Biden chimed in with “Proud Boys” — the aggressively misogynistic far-right group accused of inciting violence at rallies.
“Proud Boys, stand back, and stand by,” Trump said. (The Proud Boys got the message loud and clear.)
Watch: When asked if he would condemn white supremacy, the President of the United States looked into the camera, and said: “proud boys, stand back and standby…”
— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) September 30, 2020
This is not a flub or even, as Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler characterized it, a “failed opportunity.” It is part of a long and well-documented pattern of Trump hemming and hawing over his white supremacists supporters. It’s not like Trump is bashful about denouncing others. But whether referring to “fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville or feigning ignorance around the KKK’s endorsement of his candidacy, Trump’s permissive attitude towards white supremacists has been a defining marker of his time in the political arena.
While many white evangelical leaders have continued to support Trump throughout all this, many Christians took to Twitter to condemn Trump’s words.
I plead with White Evangelical leaders to make it clear today(even if you plan to vote for President Trump), please make it clear that you denounce White Supremacy & your support for Trump in no wise connected to his unwillingness to denounce White Supremacy. Please, my brethren! https://t.co/TaplsbhIOc
— Dwight McKissic (@pastordmack) September 30, 2020
However you feel about the President, his policies, and his intentions, his staunch refusal to clearly denounce white supremacy is deeply disturbing.
His words last night made my family and many others less safe today.
— Mika Edmondson (@mika_edmondson) September 30, 2020
White Christians (evangelicals and Catholics) cannot Bible their way out of this. You just can't. It's not simply a "difference of opinion."
Trump is pro-racism, pro-white supremacy… What does "pro-life" mean if his ultimate value is on White life?
— Nicola A. Menzie (@namenzie) September 30, 2020
Let's not overcomplicate this or obfuscate the issue: Clearly and explicitly condemning white supremacy and white racial terrorism is *the* least a president can do. The fact that 45 is currently POTUS and is running again is a dangerous embarrassment.#Debate2020
— Jemar Tisby (@JemarTisby) September 30, 2020
Everyone should be able to condemn racism and white supremacy without any "but."
— Trillia Newbell (@trillianewbell) September 30, 2020
Not surprised. President Trump could not condemn white supremacists outright, without deflection.
— Thabiti Anyabwile (@ThabitiAnyabwil) September 30, 2020
Y’all have absolutely no idea what it feels like to watch your president tell white supremacists to “stand back & stand by.” Y’all have no idea how terrifying that is, especially in this time. https://t.co/2o2vhKDFbi
— Kyle J. Howard (@KyleJamesHoward) September 30, 2020