Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe on Charlottesville, Racism and Donald Trump

Governor Terry McAuliffe Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post/Getty

Two years after Charlottesville's Unite the Right rally, which led to the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has recounted the events of that day. The story, featured on the latest cover of Newsweek, is an excerpt from McAuliffe's book, Beyond Charlottesville: Taking a Stand Against White Nationalism.

"As bad as Charlottesville was, it woke a lot of people up. Too many people in this country felt we had overcome the issues of racism. We had not. The images that came out of Charlottesville were a wakeup call to get out and do something. Do something that matters," McAuliffe told Newsweek.

In this Q&A, McAuliffe dissects the role of Confederacy, racism and Donald Trump in America today—and whether he'll run for president.

Q. Why write this book?
A. I felt it was important to remind people what had gone on in Charlottesville, including the tragic murder of a peaceful protester, Heather Heyer, and the deaths of Virginia State Police Lieutenant Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke Bates. I wanted to document exactly what happened, why it happened, what steps were taken to prevent violence and what lessons we learned from the event. And most important, we needed to have a broader discussion on racism and what we all need to do to eradicate the scourge of racism that still exists in our country today.

Q. What obstacles did you face when writing it and how did you overcome them?
A. I didn't want to just sound off on my own recollections, I wanted to include a variety of crucial voices. It was painful having a discussion with Heather Heyer's mother, Susan Bro, but after her initial hesitancy to relive that horrible day, she opened up and was an invaluable resource.

Q. There are 378 monuments to the Confederacy in Virginia. Is there a place for any of these in public spaces any longer?
A. Confederate monuments are just plain offensive to the African American community, and those monuments all belong in museums or cemeteries. In Virginia, as in the rest of the South, most of the Confederate monuments were not built in the aftermath of the Civil War, they went up during the Jim Crow era. They were intended as symbols of racism, which is exactly what they are.

Q. You helped put in place precautions at a pro-Confederate rally the following month in Richmond. What were those?
A. The key was taking control of the permitting process so that common-sense safety precautions could be put in place, like banning knives, poles, sticks and masks and condensing the time frame. The "Unite the Right" rally should never have been held in Emancipation Park. It was too small, and there was no way to keep the protesters separated.

Q. Do you see a way to turn down the temperature in the South over these issues? Is it possible to at least get the opposing sides to coexist peacefully?
A. The first step is to take down these symbols of racism. The Civil War was about slavery. The Confederacy was built on slavery. It was 400 years ago this month that the first slaves were brought to Virginia, which began a tragic, dehumanizing and disgraceful chapter in American history. As Governor, I used executive authority to ban the Confederate Flag from any Virginia state license plate. The next step is to give local jurisdictions the authority to move these offensive symbols, which amount to a remembrance of slavery.

Q. You said people "get caught up in things that don't matter...we can never make real progress until a full sense of urgency kicks in." How so?
A. Until we lean in on an unfair criminal justice system and inequities in school and housing, racism continues. Charlottesville reminded everyone that racism is still prevalent in our country. Forget reconciliation commissions, nothing but a bunch of white people talking to each other to make themselves feel better. Go out and do something that's going to make a difference for the African American community.

Q. President Trump, after his initial condemnation, went off script, you said, and he added the "on many sides" comment. Why did he do that?
A. When I spoke to the President that day, he agreed with me that these white supremacists and neo-Nazis had no place in our country and they needed to be condemned in the strongest terms. He delayed his press conference, and my best guess is that Steve Bannon or Stephen Miller or some of his other advisers told him there was no way he was going to condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists, who make up an important part of his base.

He failed as the moral leader of our country that day. He came out of the closet and showed us who he truly is, a racist, plain and simple. I don't say that lightly, but Donald Trump failed America and he failed the world that day, and he will have to live with that.

Q. President Trump was just condemned by the U.S. House for his "racist remarks" about a group of progressive Democratic congresswomen of color. What's your take on these recent tweets?
A. He is baiting us, and we should all stop talking about his racist taunts. Let's get back to healing and fixing our country.

Q. Are you going to run for President?
A. As much as I wanted to run for President and take on Trump, and to talk about the tremendous successes that we've had in Virginia, which I believe are a model for the country, I've decided to spend all my energies this year in Virginia, healing our Commonwealth and bringing people together. This is where I can make the most impact.

READ MORE: Terry McAuliffe on how Donald Trump decided to go soft on white supremacists

Correction (8/9, 10:15 a.m.): This article previously stated the Unite the Right rally occurred three years ago. The rally occurred two years ago on August 12, 2017. This article has been updated and Newsweek regrets the error.