As MSNBC host Al Sharpton appeared as a guest on MSNBC Live with Alex Witt on Saturday afternoon to discuss President Donald Trump’s recent defense of his Charlottesville comments from 2017, Sharpton and fill-in host Phillip Menas both hinted that President Trump only recently made up the issue of demonstrators having legitimate concerns about statues of General Robert E. Lee even though video proves that the President previously discussed the issue of General Lee and other historical statues being targeted for removal.
At 12:18 p.m. Eastern, a clip was shown of President Trump recalling: “I was talking about people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee — a great general, whether you like it or not.”
Menas recalled that the President was responding to a video released by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden that referenced President Trump’s reaction to the Charlottesville white nationalist violence from August 2017 in which he referred to some of the people who showed up as “very fine people.”
As if it were the first time he had heard the President discuss General Lee with regard to Charlottesville, Sharpton declared that Trump’s recent praise of the Confederate historical figure was even “more offensive” than the President’s original comments, even though those were, in fact, roughly contained in the President’s original comments. Sharpton:
I think that as offended as many of us including myself was two years ago, he even was more offensive, what he said yesterday. To say that Robert E. Lee — who was the general of the Confederate army that fought to keep blacks enslaved — keep blacks as property — was a great general — and if you continue hearing his comment that generals have told this White House that they admired him — you admired a man that led an attempted coup against the United States government?
He’s the President of the United States praising the man who tried to overthrow the government of the United States and defend slavery. That is as offensive or more than when he said there were kind people or good people on both sides, referring to some that were marching for that statue to honor this man because we’re talking about a man that tried to overthrow the government to keep slavery in.
Instead of consulting the videotape to find out what President Trump discussed in August 2017, Sharpton and Menas then suggested that Trump had only just made up this issue. Menas commented: “He did, and I don’t remember him mentioning anything about Robert E. Lee the first time around when that happened.”
No, he didn’t. He did not mention Robert E. Lee, in my memory, the first time. He talked about good people on both sides, which is atrocious because you have people marching the night before talking about “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil,” which is a Nazi slogan. But now he comes back and doubles down with a Confederate general.
In fact, video of Trump’s statements from August 2017 clearly shows that he brought up people who supported keeping General Lee’s statue in place, suggesting that some were “very fine people,” as he also condemned Nazis and explicitly asserted that that praise was not intended to be aimed at Nazis and white nationalists.
It also happens that polling suggests most Americans oppose the removal of Confederate monuments by a 2-1 margin while even a plurality of blacks opposed statue removal (44 percent against, 40 percent in favor).