Unfortunately, the hatred and bigotry that claimed the national spotlight on Saturday was highly revealing.
President Trump’s tepid condemnation and initial refusal to call out the hateful groups responsible for the violence in Charlottesville called attention to the White House’s deep ties to the “alt-right.” Indeed, Trump has a long history of racism. His parents were members of the KKK. His father taught him the importance of breeding, likening humans to race horses. Early in his business career, Trump Management Corporation was sued by the Department of Justice for refusing to rent to non-whites in violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Later, he ran a full-page ad that many saw as racist. In it, he called for the return of the death penalty for five non-whites accused of raping a woman who was jogging in Central Park. (The men were later cleared of the charges.) And, of course, he was the most prominent leader of the racist “birther” movement, calling Obama an illegitimate president.
Trump began his campaign for president by making racist claims about Mexicans and promising to build a border wall that would be paid for by Mexico. For a campaign slogan, he chose Make America Great Again, which in itself was a clarion call to racists. And the racists responded. The KKK endorsed Trump for president. Numerous other racist groups, such as Vanguard America, were formed as a result of Trump’s campaign. (The alleged driver of the car which killed one and injured at least 19 others in Charlottesville was photographed wearing a Vanguard America uniform and holding a Vanguard America shield.)
An examination of Trump’s voters is more telling. 62 percent of non-college educated white women voted for Trump. 56 percent of college-educated white women voted for Trump. And 63 percent of white men voted for the Donald. As a result, for the first time in generations, we have a white supremacist in the White House. And Trump is not the only one.
His chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is largely responsible for making Breitbart News “the platform for the alt-right” – a virtual megaphone for bigots and neo-Nazis. The White House is also the workplace for at least two other racists. Steven Miller is Trump’s senior adviser for policy and Sebastian Gorka serves as a deputy assistant to Trump. Not coincidentally, both have gone on record denying the threat of domestic terrorist groups.
Want more proof of Trump’s connections to the alt-right?
He appointed Jeff Sessions as US Attorney General, who in 1986 was denied a federal judgeship when his former colleagues testified that Sessions used the n-word and joked about the Ku Klux Klan, saying he thought its members were “okay, until he learned that they smoked marijuana.”
In almost every conceivable way, not the least of which is color, Trump is the polar opposite of his predecessor. He is clueless and classless with no discernible redeeming traits. Indeed, he is the anti-Obama. Obama entered office saying, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America – there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America – there’s the United States of America.” President Obama reached across the political divide to appoint 18 Republicans to his administration. He repeatedly called for unity. By contrast, Trump has done nothing to reach across the divide. In fact, he has deepened the chasm and widened it. He verbally attacks anyone who disagrees with him. And his furor isn’t limited to Democrats and liberals. He has repeatedly assaulted the media and virtually everything his opponents hold dear. He has continued his assault on immigrants, on the environment, on regulations designed to protect citizens, on health care…he has even attacked the law and the Constitution.
Yet Trump has been reluctant to say anything negative about Nazis and racists.
Only when he was backed into a corner did he tepidly denounce the support for his campaign by David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the KKK. And only when there was a near universal outcry following the violence in Charlottesville did he finally, and hesitantly, call out the alt-right groups that fomented the violence. Even the Nazis and white supremacists didn’t believe he was sincere in his denunciation. Indeed, David Duke was quoted as saying, “He has our back.”
By failing to wholeheartedly condemn Nazis and racists, there is reason to wonder if Trump is trying to give the alt-right what it wants – a race war. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to realize that increased violence would give Trump the opportunity to do what the dictators he seems to idolize (Putin, Duterte, Erdogan, et al) have done and declare martial law.
Yet, as Trump has willingly become a symbol of racism in America, a bigger problem is the racists next door who enable him. They are your neighbors and your family members. They are students, laborers, truck drivers, farmers, realtors, lawyers, business executives, police officers, sheriffs, border patrol and many others. Their racism is seldom obvious. They don’t bother to wear sheets and hoods. They rarely gather to burn crosses.
Instead, they gather on websites like Breitbart, the Drudge Report, Fox News, and the Daily Stormer. They listen to hate-filled radio programs hosted by Alex Jones, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham and dozens of others. Like the man in the White House, they choose to bully and threaten from afar. They troll social media like Facebook and Twitter.
More worryingly, they hoard high-powered weaponry and ammunition. Many are members of the NRA. Many belong to militias such as the Oath Keepers and the Border Guard. Others are sovereign citizens who refuse to follow laws or to pay taxes. And they have been placed on alert by Trump with his warnings that his “enemies” are trying to steal his office.
It is the people who support Trump despite his overt bigotry, his birtherism and his dismissal of all Latinos as rapists and “bad hombres” who allow the alt-right to exist. It is the people who cheer Trump’s bluster and verbal attacks against the media and his political opponents who are responsible for the extreme divisiveness we face. It is the people who politely laugh when they hear racist jokes; who are willing to look the other way when they see examples of bigotry who are just as responsible for racial violence.
If we are ever to heal the divisions – racial and political – in this nation, we must be willing to call out violence and bigotry whenever we see it or hear it. We must put humanity, compassion and kindness above self. We must elect politicians who will put an end to policies that have resulted in economic inequities based on color, gender, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. We must encourage everyone to vote and remove from office those who try to suppress minority votes. We must put nation above tribal politics. And we must call out all those who refuse to do so.