TORONTO — As Donald Trump continues to face backlash for blaming “both sides” at a deadly protest in Charlottesville, Va., celebrated author Salman Rushdie says he’s not surprised by embattled U.S. president’s behaviour.
“If you’ve lived in New York as I now have the last almost 20 years, we in New York, we’ve seen Trump,” Rushdie said in an interview Wednesday for his novel The Golden House, which is set against the backdrop of the past eight years of U.S. politics.
“He’s been around, and people in New York got his number a long time ago. Everybody knew who he was, and it’s as if America is now discovering what New Yorkers have known for a long time. So, it’s no surprise Trump would behave like this.”
In a news conference Tuesday, Trump appeared to equate the actions of white supremacist groups and those protesting them.
Violence broke out Saturday in Charlottesville after a loosely connected mix of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists assembled to protest the city’s decision to remove a towering statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Heather Heyer was killed when a man plowed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Heyer’s memorial was held Wednesday.
Trump’s remarks were met with swift condemnation, including by those within his own party. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham issued a statement saying the president’s words were “dividing Americans, not healing them.”
“He seems to have a great difficulty in condemning neo-Nazis. It seems to actually be physically difficult for him to do so,” said Rushdie. “As a result, he goes into these bizarre rants where he makes false moral equivalencies between the extreme right and the left.
“If he weren’t the president, it would seem like the ranting of an idiot. But since he’s the most powerful man in the world it’s deeply alarming to see him issuing a series of dog whistles which are… picked up quite clearly by the extreme right even to the point to which (former Ku Klux Klan leader) David Duke texts or tweets his thanks to Trump during the press conference. …
“The destruction that has been wrought in these six months is impossible to overstate,” he added.
When asked if Trump would serve out his full term, Rushdie said he was “bad at forecasting the future,” but seemed less than thrilled by the other potential contenders for the office.
“Like anybody else, I’m watching the (Robert) Mueller investigation with great interest,” he said of the FBI probe into Russian interference in the U.S. election.
“If we lose Trump we get (U.S. Vice-President Mike) Pence and if we lose Pence we get (House Speaker Paul) Ryan. If we get Ryan, we get Orrin Hatch. It’s not particularly an optimistic forecast.”