When a President Embraces, and Celebrates Hate

The recent tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia that resulted in the death of one woman and injury to 19 other people, arose from one man’s decision to ram his speeding car into a crowd along a street in that city. The perpetrator of this evil purportedly was in Virginia from his home in Ohio as a member of one of several white supremacist/Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups who had planned two days of events and marches to protest the Charlottesville City Council’s recent unanimous vote to remove a commemorative statute of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a downtown city park. The 700 or so hate group members who convened on Friday night, August 11, undertook a torch-lit parade on the University of Virginia Lawn, replete with chants of anti-Semitic slogans, eerily reminiscent of Nazi events in Germany before and during World II. The next day, these extremists, armed with clubs, shields and automatic weapons, clashed with counter protestors in downtown Charlottesville. During that period, one of their own saw fit to murder Heather Heyer and injure nearly a score of other individuals.

All of this is heartbreaking for what it says about the share of Americans who have learned or elected to revel in hating groups they perceive as different from themselves, and who have absolutized their passions and smallness of mind and character. This nation has always had a minority of such individuals whose numbers have waxed and waned with changing economic, social and political conditions. What we have not always had, however, is a President who embraces these groups, adopts their talking points and de facto, by so doing, encourages them in their vile assault on our nation’s pursuit of freedom and equality for all.

We have that now.

Before saying more about the deeply unsettling press event at which President Donald Trump supported hate, it is useful to recall that Trump has long endorsed monstrous anti-democratic and venal claims. Here is a sample of his willingness to celebrate hate:

  • Trump first rose to national political prominence as the principal spokesperson and proselytizer for the lie that President Barack Obama was not a United States citizen (and therefore an illegitimate chief executive). In the face of all evidence to the contrary, Trump continued to maintain this fiction until September 10, 2016, less than two months before the presidential election, when he publicly, if reluctantly, admitted it was not true. Nevertheless, in a national poll at the start of this year, some 42 percent of self-identified Republican voters said they believed that former President Obama was born in Kenya.[1] Trump’s stance was always a lie, but it signaled those upset that an African American was serving as America’s chief executive that Trump, too, saw the incumbent as illegitimate. Analysts have long labeled this sort of rhetoric “dog whistling” or “race baiting,” as it communicates to those targeted that racist claims are somehow legitimate without overtly saying so, while suggesting that the individual maligned is “less than” or “other” and therefore an appropriate foil.
  • Trump chose throughout his campaign to impugn minorities of virtually every sort with equal viciousness and mendacity. These included attacks on African-Americans as perpetrators of lawlessness, on immigrants as a class as rapists and criminals and amoral beings stealing “American” jobs, on individuals with disabilities as vaguely inhuman, on Jews as puppeteers of international financial connivance, on U.S. Muslim soldiers as members of a terrorist class, even when they had died for the United States, on women as appropriate targets for male groping and assault, since such constituted merely “locker room talk” and on decorated prisoner-of-war veterans as somehow unheroic because they had been captured, even when those individuals endured unspeakable acts of torture for their nation.
  • Trump berated his Republican opponents with playground name calling, and adopted and shared wild falsehoods concerning supposed conspiracies and illegalities committed by his Democratic opponent in the 2016 Presidential race.

This list suggests not only Trump’s preparedness to violate long-standing canons of democratic civil discourse, but his willingness to do so with utter disregard for the truth and with contempt for those with whom he was dealing, including the voters to whom he appealed. And, from all of the evidence now available at least, he apparently did so to feed his own ego; that is, he undertook these actions to feel superior to those he degraded, and to persuade his supporters simultaneously that such empty viciousness was appropriate and necessary, given the posited contemptibility of his opponents. Nevertheless, his rhetoric was neither necessary nor appropriate, and it helped to intensify his devotees’ worst individual and collective impulses to scapegoat and to project their fears onto others and hold those people responsible for concerns that either were imagined or for which those targeted had no responsibility. More, this vacuous “othering” of opponents and groups deeply violated our Constitution’s principles of human dignity and political equality and justice, even as it daily degraded public trust and whipped those inclined into frenzied expressions of their hate of the individuals and groups Trump cast stereotypically as “them.”

One must add another element to this portrait of self-conscious malignancy in the pursuit of power. Trump may have captured the GOP nomination and the presidency with lies and ugly characterizations of his opponents and various minority groups, but he did so following several decades of Republican Party efforts to use race to divide and mobilize voters. As with Trump’s efforts, and dating at least to Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” GOP appeals to law and order and claims concerning “social welfare queens” living in the nation’s cities and taking advantage of hard working white people’s tax payments were explicitly designed to mobilize voters on the basis of race, and to demean an entire share of the country’s residents in so doing. More deeply, they were aimed at falsely dichotomizing the nation’s population and pitting the resulting groups in opposition to one another. What is more, the Republican Party has embraced the lie that voter fraud is rampant in the United States and has sought to make it more difficult for specific groups to vote, including, perhaps not surprisingly, African Americans, a strategy that Trump has also undertaken to “prove” his counterfactual assertion that he won the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election. The GOP has also sought to attack immigrants and immigration and, more generally, to limit the civil rights of members of groups that frighten or otherwise are “othered” by what party leaders see as members of the Republican voter “base,” especially in the South.

All of this set the stage for Trump’s impromptu news conference on August 15, in which he adopted white supremacist rhetoric and arguments to contend that those protesting the neo-Nazi and other hate groups gathered in Charlottesville were morally equivalent to members of those entities. And Trump went further to argue that those confronting members of the Klan and their ilk on the streets were equally responsible for the violence that occurred in the city. Both contentions are categorically false, and taken together, they suggest a President who has no conception of the founding principles of the regime that he nominally serves. America was not created by and for white thugs or conspiracy mongers who believe those of the Jewish faith secretly run the world or that those with brown or black skin are inferior to Caucasians. These beliefs are odious on their face, and yet, Trump has now defended them and de facto encouraged those who believe them to engage in the reprehensible behavior and violence on display in Charlottesville once again.

It is now clear that a tiny minority of Americans elected a man completely unsuited to the office he holds. He cares nothing for this country’s citizens or for his supporters more particularly. Instead, he lives to be idolized by those individuals chanting his lies. Trump is a malevolent demagogue who has repeatedly, and now heartlessly and openly, embraced hatred, and those who daily spew bile and lies concerning the supposed superiority of the members of only one race. Trump has continually demonstrated that he should be removed from his post for which he has shown he is morally and intellectually unfit. This is not, nor should it be construed as a partisan issue, as members of his own party have condemned this most recent, and many of his past moral outrages. But GOP party leaders and elected officials now must go further than rhetorical denunciations followed by a return to the status quo. President Trump has now made it eminently clear he will not honor his oath of office and is an enemy of human dignity and civil and human rights and justice for all. As such, he has shown himself to be no better than the vain, ignorant and pitiable petty tyrants playing Nazi on the University of Virginia Lawn. Republicans and Democrats alike must stop supplying rationalizations for Trump’s narcissistic, depraved and hate-filled behavior. He is intellectually, morally and temperamentally unfit for his post, and Americans, irrespective of their partisanship or ideology, who care about their nation and its governing ideals, should take steps to marginalize and remove him from office.

 

Notes

[1] Zorn, Eric. “Polls Reveal Sobering Extent of Nation’s Fact Crisis,” The Chicago Tribune, January 5, 2017, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/zorn/ct-polling-ignorance-facts-trump-zorn-perspec-0106-md-20170105-column.html, Accessed August 16, 2017.