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Trump and Charlottesville

Photo by Adrián Martínez | CC BY 2.0

There was a time in the United States when a violent gathering of neo-Nazis and their cohorts would have been condemned from the highest offices in the land. The Ku Klux Klan, white supremacists and others of their ilk would hardly dare to march publically, and if they did, every politician in government would weigh in with criticism, if for no other reason than to get their name in the news.

How times have changed! All it takes is the election of one of their own, for racism to become fashionable again. As a candidate, Donald Trump did nothing to temper his feelings of hostility towards most people who didn’t fit into the white-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant mode. Of course, with a Jewish son-in-law, he did make some exceptions. But for Blacks, Mexicans, Muslims, gays, transgender people, women – the list of those he holds in disdain is endless.

Following the march and rally in Charlottesville, in which one woman was killed by an avowed ‘Hitler lover’, Mr. Trump said this: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives.” Significantly, the President refers to violence “on many sides”, and in no way condemns racism.

It has become an almost accepted belief in the U.S., that if a Black man commits a crime, he is thug or criminal; if a Muslim commits a crime, he is a terrorist, but if a white man, regardless of his religious background, or lack thereof (unless he happens to be a Muslim), commits a crime, he is mentally disturbed.  A Black man who commits a crime is representative of the entire race; a Muslim who does so is said the represent the entire religion of Islam. A white man who commits a crime? He’s a ‘lone wolf’.

Let’s look at some of Mr. Trump’s past comments on violence.

In May of this year, two men were killed in Portland, Oregon, when they were defending a young Muslim woman from attack by white supremacists. It wasn’t until Monday, two days after the crime, that he made any comment about it. Then, ‘tweeting’ on the @POTUS Twitter account, rather than his preferred @RealDonaldTrump account, he said this: “The violent attacks in Portland on Friday are unacceptable. The victims were standing up to hate and intolerance. Our prayers are w/ them.”

Note that there is no mention of white supremacists; just the fact that the victims were standing up to hate and intolerance.

Now, let’s compare this to his comments on the June terror attacks in London, just days later. He began tweeting even before the facts were in: he began by retweeting a headline from the far-right Drudge Report. “Fears of new terror attack after van ‘mows down 20 people’ on London Bridge…”

Were there such fears? Apparently not, if London Mayor Sadiq Khan is to be believed. Shortly after the attacks, he said this: “My message to Londoners and visitors to our great city is to be calm and vigilant today. You will see an increased police presence today, including armed officers and uniformed officers. There is no reason to be alarmed by this. We are the safest global city in the world. You saw last night as a consequence of our planning, our preparation, the rehearsals that take place, the swift response from the emergency services tackling the terrorists and also helping the injured.[i]

Yet Mr. Trump was having none of it. Following Mr. Kahn’s statement, the president tweeted the following: “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack, and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’”

But he didn’t stop there. He used that attack has a bully pulpit for his Muslim ban. Among his other ‘tweets’, he said this: “We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!”

It has dismayed the president no end that judges keep finding his proposed travel ban unconstitutional. And while he denies that it is a ‘Muslim’ ban, it targets mainly Muslim countries. It also is the logical step in keeping a campaign promise, when he said this: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

Let’s look at this reasonably, if there can be anything reasonable in Trump’s U.S.A. Muslims entering the country are to undergo ‘extreme vetting’, but white supremacists already there can do as they please, with no criticism from a presidential ‘tweet’.

It has been said that the police in Charlottesville acted with great restraint to maintain order. Can we picture, for just a horrific moment or two, what would have happened if a group of militant Black Lives Matter activists had marched in Charlottesville?  Or what about Muslims? If a group of Muslims marched, demanding, perhaps, that the travel ban not be implemented, how would the police have reacted? Bodies would have been floating in the blood-flooded streets.

And what of the government’s reaction? One can be quite sure that the ‘Tweets’ coming from the White House would condemn ‘black crime’ and ‘Muslim radicals’. The president would have pulled no punches in naming names.

But not so for white supremacists. Those in Charlottesville were just part of “violence on many sides”. James Alex Fields, Jr., accused of plowing his car into a crowd, killing one person and injuring nineteen others, was not named.

On August 14, two days after the rally in Charlottesville, Mr. Trump, under pressure from almost all quarters, finally said this: “Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

So, two days after the fact, the president throws a bone to justice.

Compare this to his ‘tweeting’ about London, before the facts were even reported.

Yet even at this late date, he didn’t condemn any of it as ‘terrorism’, despite Attorney Generals Sessions’ statement, as follows: the situation in Charlottesville “does meet the definition of domestic terrorism in our statute”.

It is naïve to say that this is an anomaly, that Donald Trump will eke out a single term, and then be replaced by someone with a reasonable grasp of reality. The monster has been loosed from the cage, and getting it back in will not be easy. The latent vices of racism, Islamophobia, misogyny and xenophobia that were restrained, although hardly eliminated, now have a voice in the most powerful office on the globe. Its countless minions are rising up, no longer constrained by common decency, from uttering their hate-fueled statements. A new president – any new president – will only be elected with the support of this newly-empowered element of the voting bloc. And getting elected is what it is all about. The concept of ‘statesmanship’, if it ever existed in the U.S. (one would need to work hard to convince this writer that it ever did), is a thing of the long past.

This is the mighty U.S. today. This is how the current president ‘makes America great again’. This is what politicians from both major parties countenance, with only tepid objections.

It is a sad time to be a U.S. citizen. But then again, when has it ever not been?

Notes.

[i] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/04/trump-berates-london-mayor-sadiq-khan-terror-attacks

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Robert Fantina’s latest book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: a History of US Foreign Policy (Red Pill Press).

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