A prominent former Maine Republican lawmaker on Thursday called President Donald Trump a “nationalist” for white people for his resistance to removing monuments to former Confederate leaders and his decision to hold a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on the Juneteenth holiday.
William Cohen, the CEO of international consulting and lobbying firm The Cohen Group, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Thursday that Trump’s decision to hold a rally in Tulsa next Friday was probably “nefarious” and that organizers intended to “really put the knife in and twist it.”
He then went on to say while he hopes the president’s speech will be one of reconciliation, he was doubtful.
“I think the president has indicated he is a nationalist, but I think that nationalism is confined to a specific group of people and that’s white people,” Cohen said.
A nationalist is generally defined as a person who believes their country is superior, often advocating for its interests even at the expense of others. Trump declared himself a nationalist in 2018 during a Houston, Texas rally in a move that immediately drew criticism from opponents and political leaders.
Tulsa was the site of a massacre on June 1, 1921 that destroyed the Greenwood District, known as “Black Wall Street” for its hundreds of black-owned businesses. Hundreds of black people are believed to have been killed by white rioters, according to the Tulsa Historical Society.
Juneteeth is a national holiday recognizing the end of slavery in the United States.
The timing of the rally has been called a “slap in the face” to black Americans by lawmakers and black community leaders.
Cohen paired that criticism with Trump’s resistance to an effort to rename U.S. Army installations named after Confederate leaders and removing their Confederate symbols. He said Trump should be “willing to rethink” that stance, adding that it honored “losers and traitors.”
Calls to remove such monuments have increased in recent years but have been renewed as protests against police brutality and systematic racism in the United States have continued for over two weeks. The most recent round of protests sparked after the deaths of three black individuals — Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky — began to capture national attention.
Cohen was one of seven Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee who voted to impeach Richard Nixon while serving his first term after the Watergate scandal came before the committee in 1974. He went to serve as a U.S. senator for almost 20 years and then as the Secretary of Defense under Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001.
Cohen has been vocally critical of Trump since before he took office. He argued in September that the president was attempting to obtain information on political opponent Joe Biden from Ukraine while withholding military aid from the country — a key accusation on which Democrats based their attempt to impeach Trump.
Cohen doubled down the next month, calling Trump a “dictator” with no regard for the rule of law.
Trump was ultimately acquitted on two articles of impeachment by the Senate earlier this year.