Donald Trump says US is ‘being ripped apart’ as statues removed

US President Donald Trump has said the country is "being ripped apart". Picture: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump has said the country is "being ripped apart". Picture: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
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US President Donald Trump has decried the rising movement to pull down monuments to leading Confederate figures, declaring that the nation is seeing “the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart”.

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Mr Trump’s remarks came as the White House tried to manage his increasing isolation and the continued fallout from his combative comments on last weekend’s racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

He also tore into fellow Republicans who have criticised his statements on race and politics, fanning the controversy towards a fully fledged national conflagration.

Pressured by advisers, the president had taken a step back from the dispute on Monday, two days after he had enraged many by declining to single out the white supremacists and neo-Nazis whose demonstration against the removal of a Robert E Lee statute had led to violence and the death of a counter-protester in Charlottesville.

He returned to his combative stance on Wednesday - insisting anew that “both sides” were to blame.

And then in a burst of tweets on Thursday he renewed his criticism of efforts to remove memorials and tributes to the Civil War Confederacy.

“You can’t change history, but you can learn from it,” he tweeted. “Robert E. Lee. Stonewall Jackson - who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish. ...

“Also the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”

He was not talking about beauty in earlier tweets, lashing out at Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake.

He accused “publicity-seeking” Mr Graham of falsely stating his position on the demonstrators, called Mr Flake “toxic” and praised a Flake primary election opponent.

Mr Graham said on Wednesday that Mr Trump “took a step backward by again suggesting there is moral equivalency” between the marching white supremacists and the people who had been demonstrating against them.

Mr Flake has been increasingly critical of Mr Trump in recent weeks.

Other Republicans, including the most powerful in Congress, have been making strong statements on Charlottesville and racism, but few have been mentioning Mr Trump himself.

The Senate’s top Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, condemned “hate and bigotry”.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said that “white supremacy is repulsive”.

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But neither criticised the president’s insistence that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the violent weekend clash in Virginia.

The nuanced statements reflect the party establishment’s delicate dance.

Few top Republican officeholders want to defend the president in the midst of an escalating political crisis, yet they are unwilling to declare all-out opposition to him and risk alienating his loyalists.

In another major sign of discontent within the Republican Party, Mr Trump abruptly abolished two of his White House business councils on Wednesday as corporate chiefs began resigning in protest over his racial statements.

“Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!” Mr Trump tweeted from New York.

His action came after one of the panels had already agreed to disband earlier in the day.

The White House is trying to deal with the repercussions from Mr Trump’s defiant remarks on the Virginia tragedy.

Advisers hunkered down, offering no public defence while privately expressing frustration with his comments.

But Mr Trump himself, staying at his golf club in New Jersey, was increasing rather than slowing his tweet-a-thon.

On Wednesday, he had told associates he was pleased with how his combative press conference had gone a day earlier, saying he believed he had effectively stood up to the media, according to three people familiar with the conversations.

Business leaders felt differently.

Denise Morrison, chief executive of Campbell Soup, declared she was leaving Mr Trump’s manufacturing council, saying “the president should have been - and still needs to be - unambiguous” in denouncing white supremacists.

Chief executives had begun tendering their resignations from White House panels after Mr Trump’s initial comments following the Saturday violence.

The first to step down, Kenneth Frazier of Merck, drew a Twitter tongue-lashing from the president.

Later, Mr Trump called those who were leaving “grandstanders” and insisted many others were eager to take their places.

Members of the strategy and policy group, led by Blackstone chief executive Stephen Schwarzman, concluded after a 45-minute conference call in the morning that they would end the council and announce their decision in a statement, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

In a subsequent call with Mr Trump, the president agreed it was the right course of action.

He tweeted before they could announce the decision they had reached - making it appear it was his choice.

Publicly criticising the president and resigning from his councils is a significant step for big-name corporate leaders.

Though the policy influence of such advisory groups is sometimes questionable, simply meeting with Mr Trump with TV cameras going is valuable face-time for the executives - and for the president.

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