In the wake of the Christchurch Massacre last week, it is growing more and more difficult—even for those who would like to un-disingenuously and legitimately give him the benefit of the doubt—not to see US President Donald Trump as a blatant white nationalist. While it may be scary enough to have a white supremacist in the White House, the most frightening part of this assessment is that, for a large part of his far-right following, this very likely comes as good news.
From the outset of his current term in office and during the campaign leading up to it, Trump has tended to cater to the paranoid sensibilities of American xenophobes and to those of a segment of the white population that sees the possibility of its eventually becoming a minority as a threat to what it has come to believe should be the “established order” in the United States of America. The positive idea of diversity that sees the United States as a melting pot of nationalities, religions, ethnicities and races is anathema to this group, and apparently to the president as well, since he encourages the notion among his predominately white Christian base that they are what a “true American” looks like and that he is governing for them and them alone.
The president’s white-nationalist leanings come as no surprise to most unabashed liberals. This is especially true, for instance, after the president’s dogged defense in 2017 of neo-Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, who clashed with counter-demonstrators, one of whom, Heather Heyer, was murdered.
While Trump called the killing a horrible thing, he refused to distance himself from the white supremacists who triggered the violence, equating them seamlessly with the counter-demonstrators, saying that there were “many fine people” on both sides of the clash and that one side was as guilty as the other of prompting the incidents. He made the point that, indeed, the white supremacists had a permit to demonstrate while counter-demonstrators didn’t, thus seeking to legitimize the nature of the neo-Nazi demonstration while laying more blame for the violence at the door of the racially diverse counter-protesters.
|"Some fine people on both sides"|
Whatever medium the president was perusing to reach such a conclusion apparently wasn’t any of the ones other Americans were viewing when they saw white-nationalist demonstrators descending on the quiet college town wearing Confederate flags and swastikas, some packing weapons and holding shields, chanting phrases such as “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” before engaging counter-protesters in fist and club fights that quickly turned into a violent general riot.
So appeasing was the president’s defense of the neo-Nazis that it prompted a tweet from former Ku Klux Klan “grand wizard” David Duke thanking Trump for his “honesty and courage” in “condemning the leftist terrorists” who opposed the white nationalists in Charlottesville. The outrage that Trump’s statements caused back then spilled over from liberal Democrats into the Republican political community as well. For example, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Ohio Republican Steve Stivers, tweeted, “I don't understand what's so hard about this. White supremacists and Neo-Nazis are evil and shouldn't be defended.” Still, even following this incident, many independents and “undecideds” have often been willing to write off the president’s most outrageous pronouncements with the “oh-that’s-just-how-he-talks” defense.
|New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, empathy above all|
Last weekend, after the horrific attacks on two Islamic mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, Trump ignored a plea from New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Friday for him to offer “his nation’s sympathy and love for all Muslim communities.” The New Zealand leader had made the request when Trump called to ask her what the United States could do for her country, in the face of an attack on two mosques by a single white nationalist armed with assault weapons, in which 50 people were killed and many others injured.
Trump’s tepid and belated condolences to New Zealand, for what was the worst terror attack in that country’s history, were followed by his almost immediate minimization of the white supremacist threat. Asked by a reporter at the White House, where he was meeting with “the Trump of the tropics”, Brazilian far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro, whether he thought white-nationalist terrorism was a growing threat, Trump responded, “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess.”
In order to separate fact from presidential fiction, one only needs to consult a February report from the respected Southern Poverty Law Center. Its research shows that there are currently over a thousand far-right nationalist hate groups across the United States. This total, the report indicates, is at an all-time high and the think-tank notes that, in 2018 alone, there was an increase in the death toll tied to the radical right, with white supremacists in the United States and Canada having killed at least 40 people. And this reading of the trend is backed up by US Department of Justice and FBI indicators as well.
These reactions are part and parcel of President Trump’s—for him subtle—pattern of behavior that tends to reveal his preferences in responding to acts of Islamic extremism and white-nationalist attacks. Hate crimes carried out by Muslims elicit an immediate and definitive presidential response. Attacks that target Muslims, however, receive belated and/or tepid reactions from Trump, to such an extent that his sincerity is seriously brought into question.
His timing seems often either mindlessly insensitive or intentionally prejudiced. Amid shocked world reactions to the New Zealand Massacre, Trump was tweeting his support for Fox News commentator Jeanine Pirro, whom the infotainment network suspended last Saturday for making an anti-Muslim reference to Congresswoman Ilha Omar of Minnesota.
In the lengthy white-supremacist rant that the New Zealand shooter wrote before carrying out his mass slaughter, he mentioned Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” Showing sincere sympathy for all Muslim communities would have gone a long way toward separating Trump from the ideology behind such attacks. Instead, his collaborators in the West Wing, like Mick Mulvaney and Kellyanne Conway had to scramble to do damage control, suggesting that it was ridiculous to describe the president as a white nationalist or to make any connection between the New Zealand mass murderer’s manifesto and Trump’s embracing of a far-right nationalist philosophy, while the president chose to take to Twitter and attack everyone and everything from union workers to France, and even late senator and Vietnam war hero John McCain and McCain’s daughter.
There was little enough evidence already to lend any kind of credibility to Mulvaney and Kellyanne’s ardent defense of the president’s lack of prejudice on this topic. There is, in fact, ample proof to the contrary. From his campaign through the first couple of years of his presidency Trump has, among other things, threatened to surveil or close mosques in the US and bar Muslim immigration, suggested throwing all Syrians out of the country (“they could be ISIS, I don’t know”) and creating a Muslim database to keep an eye on all people of Islamic faith, said that “Muslims hate us” with ‘us’ apparently meaning white Christians, and falsely claimed to have seen thousands of Muslims cheering in the street when the Twin Trade Towers collapsed after Islamist terrorists from Saudi Arabia hijacked American planes and flew them into the iconic New York buildings, killing thousands of people. And these are only a few of the occasions on which the president has sought to stir up indiscriminately anti-Muslim sentiment.
The truth is that in every opportunity that the US president takes to refer to neo-Nazis as “fine people”, to consider Muslims as a whole somehow suspect, or to refer to immigrants as “an invasion” or as an “infestation”, he is contributing, wittingly or unwittingly to the further radicalization of already extremist white-power and ultra-nationalist segments of society.
Going from being a melting-pot nation, built by immigrants and founded by pilgrims fleeing persecution in their native lands, to being a bastion of closed society philosophy and of racial and religious hatred flies in the face of long-held American principles. As do proposals for barring certain peoples as a whole, or creating walled citadels along the country’s border to punctuate the radical autism of xenophobic policies.
The main question to ask is, what’s so hard about unequivocally condemning violent white-supremacist movements? Unless you agree with them.