As his popularity continues to shrink and investigations into collusion with Russians and other ethical improprieties grow, President Donald Trump found a way to change the focus.

For the first time since Appomatox, a United States President defended people who attribute human value primarily to skin color.

Trump has wavered in consistently expressing his thoughts on what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend. The alt-right rally — composed of those heritage loving Confederate flag wavers, assault weapon carrying neo-Nazis and other assorted racists — was in response to the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in the city.

When a counter-protest developed, one of the men drove his car at a high rate of speed into the crowd of protesters, killing one woman and injuring many more.

The act was very similar to the method espoused by white nationalist websites and even FOX News — before they eventually recognized weeks later that the video was encouraging killing and injuring innocent protesters by ramming them with a vehicle. What a surprise that this is exactly what happened on Saturday.

Trump’s initial response on Saturday was slow to emerge and tepid at best. Some outlets have reported that the more specific and condemning speech he delivered 48 hours later on Monday was actually the same one he was supposed to deliver Saturday, but he decided to freelance his comments and took out much of the rhetoric against hate groups.

When it was realized that his comments actually emboldened the hate groups including the KKK, neo-Nazis and other white nationalists like Richard Spencer and David Duke, Trump finally had his hand forced and delivered the more direct condemnation of the groups on Monday.

However, by Tuesday, that direct condemnation was gone with the 24-hour news cycle. Trump was back to blaming “both sides” for the violence and even tried to conflate Thomas Jefferson and George Washington’s slave ownership with the failed Confederate fight to preserve the institution of slavery more than 50 years later.

Both Washington and Jefferson spoke out against slavery although Washington didn’t free his slaves until he died. Neither founder has a great record on slavery. History reveals that.

However, in their day, even their hollow words against the evil institution were rare. They were men of their time — perhaps slightly ahead of their time by mental ascription to an ideal that they didn’t live up to when it came to slavery.

Fast forward three generations to the Civil War Era. The times had changed. Those who seceded from the Union to fight to preserve the slave-based southern economy did so against the normalized moral code of the day.

The slaveholders lost their fight to continue the horrible practice and President Abraham Lincoln took his place in American history as the “Great Emancipator.”

Honoring those he conquered rarely has to do with pride in leadership or military prowess. Those monuments most often are tributes to how those who erect them wish things had turned out.

This isn’t a leap in logic. The young angry men in Charlottesville carried Confederate flags and wore swastika armbands for a reason. They haven’t surrendered those racist beliefs.

As a man who is raising a black child, I find the existence of these beliefs reprehensible. I find a president winking at these deplorable people even more so.

The man elected to lead the free world literally said there were good, fine men in the crowd of racists and Nazis. His son-in-law and daughter belong to the Jewish faith. How can this man not be outraged by those who celebrate a culture that would have killed members of his own family because they weren’t part of their master race?

I thought I had a negative opinion of Trump before.

The fact that he can console and support those people and their backward beliefs over his own daughter destroyed any positive feelings I may have still harbored.

Confederate monuments and honors make no sense in post Civil War, post Jim Crow, post Civil Rights Movement America.

This is a country founded on freedom. Those freedoms have evolved and grown with every generation.

To celebrate men who — even coincidentally — fought to limit freedoms of an entire race of people for their own economic gain does not align with who we are — or should be — as a country.

— Kent Bush is publisher of Shawnee (Oklahoma) News-Star and can be reached at kent.bush@news-star.com.