Like a petulant bully forced to apologize by his parents, Donald Trump belatedly, with feet dragging, singled out white supremacists for the appalling acts of racist terrorism and murder in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend. Trump’s initial tightrope walk of false equivalence was calculated to please neither establishment Republicans nor Democrats, but his true base:
And pleased they were. Trump’s later appeasement of critics within his own party and the press was PR, an action meant to stymie further rebukes after the intended damage had been done.
If you’ve ever been the recipient of a non-apology apology, you know not to accept what he said as sincere. Trump has without fail dithered when presented the initial opportunity to distance himself from white supremacy in his political career, from “I don’t know who David Duke is” to present day. It’s only when the outcry becomes deafening that that the president pretends to distance himself from nazis (and if you’re considering citing Godwin’s law, Mike Godwin calls them nazis too).
For some, Charlottesville gave what communities of color and the greater antifascist movement have been saying all along palpability. Perhaps it took the murder of a white woman to shock the “decent” elements of white America – there’s a long and tiresome history of an assault on white femininity being the bridge too far. Or perhaps seeing Trump’s clear discomfort with calling out nazis made the label of “fascist” fit more snugly on his person.
For others, it drew the focus away from the palace intrigue, the daily embarrassments, the ongoing Mueller investigation and yes, the absurdist comedy to what is happening in our country. White supremacists were emboldened by the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump’s election and every public signal in our culture that implicitly if not explicitly endorses their worldview. If the last few years have shown us anything, it’s that they’re getting bolder. As Jamelle Bouie noted, this is a white power movement showing its strength.
It seems reasonable to counter that the death toll from racially-motivated murders is relatively small. As Jeff Sessions might say if he was sure he wasn’t being recorded, so what? The number of gun-related homicides in Chicago in a month effortlessly eclipses the Hitler Squad’s body count in a year. While true, the numbers aren’t the point. Racial terrorism is. The racially-motivated murders committed by white supremacists are political murders. Their intent is instill fear in non-white and visibly Other Americans, to send the message that they’re not safe, that there’s no equal place for them in society. It’s a chilling message that if they or their white, straight or cis allies stand up for them, they will be dealt with like traitors.
Charlottesville wasn’t the end. It’s the latest signpost on a road that leads to a very dark place.
(Year Zero/Day Two Hundred and Seven)