Day: August 16, 2017
You have to hand it to Donald Trump: he will not be scripted for long. Yesterday’s outburst in favor of his initial statement on the Charlottesville demonstrations clearly reflected his true personal feelings: Confederate statues should not come down, demonstrators on the left were as responsible for violence as demonstrators on the right, and alt-right guru Steve Bannon is a good man who gets a bad break from the fake news media.
The alt-right is celebrating. The President of the United States has given them more than they could have imagined: not only a hearing, but sympathy at the highest level. Why would he do that?
It’s certainly not for the relatively few votes that the alt-right mobilizes. The shift away from Trump by independents is now a stampede that dwarfs their political support. Nor is it because the alt-right were early Trump enthusiasts. Since when has Trump been loyal to someone just because they’ve been around a long time? He is notorious for ditching business partners, colleagues, and friends at the first sign of advantage for himself.
The only explanation that stands up to scrutiny is that Trump is himself alt-right: a white nationalist (that’s the polite term these days for a white supremacist). His political programs are all things the alt-right supports. He is trying to limit non-white immigration, non-white access to college, non-white access to health care, and non-white access to government anti-poverty programs. He has done nothing to fulfill his promises to help inner cities or to improve the lot of minorities. What evidence is there that Trump is not a white nationalist?
Where does this alt-right sentiment come from? Trump is the son of a real estate magnate who marched with the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. He worked in his father’s firm when it was refusing to rent to blacks. He launched his political career claiming that the first black president was not legitimate, falsely claiming he was not a natural born US citizen. He ran a campaign in which he described a Mexican American judge as unqualified because he was Mexican American and asked “where’s my black guy?” What would you expect a person with this background to be?
Trump may be correct that there were also perpetrators of violence on the leftist side of the Charlottesville demonstrations. Certainly some of the footage that MSNBC has been running shows counter-demonstrators fighting with the alt-right people. I deplore that behavior, which some “antifa” people advocate. Non-violence is a strategic choice in a situation like this, one that helps to de-legitimize those who use violence.
I also think the Nazis and alt-right should be able to march and speak, so long as they are peaceful. Shutting them up won’t help. Much as I am offended by Confederate monuments, I understand that there are those who remain attached to the world of white supremacy and segregation that they symbolize. No privilege is easy to give up, least of all privilege rooted in your own physiognomy that entitles you to mistreat others. It would be surprising if racists didn’t try to protect their remaining unearned advantages.
Trump is one of them. Firing Bannon, which he may well do, will change little. Did the firing of Manafort, Flynn, Spicer, or Scaramucci change Trump? The problem is at the top. Things won’t change until the president does.