I am fascinated by political rhetoric. And while I have been talking a lot about how Trump’s rhetoric breaks the bounds of normal US presidential rhetoric, I’m also interested in the ways in which he pushes the normal to its logical conclusion. To wit, the White House statement Monday on the wave of bomb threats against Jewish institutions:
Hatred and hate-motivated violence of any kind have no place in a country founded on the promise of individual freedom. The President has made it abundantly clear that these actions are unacceptable.
A typical reaction was that of CNN:
The White House on Monday denounced a spate of threats made against Jewish Community Centers around the country.
For context, this comes after the president explicitly refused to comment last week, and instead attacked the reporter for raising the question. Given that pressure has been placed on the president precisely because he has not made the position of his administration clear, this statement seems less a forthright condemnation of the threats than an explicit refusal to make the president’s position any more “abundantly clear” than he already has.
This is a common political trope, and I’m never sure how to interpret it. I guess it’s supposed to put to rest accusations that one has not yet denounced whatever one was supposed to denounce, while not thereby accepting the accusation that one has failed to denounce it in the past.
But it can come off seeming like another refusal, still giving comfort to those who were supposed to be denounced. That’s especially true in this case, where the statement also fails to say anything about the particulars of these incidents: It condemns violence — in fairly anodyne terms, it must be said — but not threats, which are the particular issue here, and once again refuses to explicitly mention Jews.