Donald Trump has vilified just about every group under the sun. As president, he referred to Mexicans as “drug dealers and rapists, Central American migrants as “criminals,” Haiti and African countries as “shithole countries”, and the media as the “enemy of the people,” to name just a few of his unfair and damaging generalizations.
The one group he seems unwilling to demonize, or even condemn, are white supremacists.
The question I keep wondering is, why?
The more important question is: Has our President actually emboldened the most dangerous white supremacist, hate groups in the United States ?
Based on the facts on the ground today, I believe the answer is clearly, yes.
Four years ago I wrote a piece to my not-yet-born son, warning him (and you all) about this renaissance of racism in U.S. presidential politics. For the first time in my lifetime, while Trump was running in 2016, I heard blatant racist dog whistles in his rhetoric and saw overtly anti-semitic tropes being used as campaign symbols. When I read that former KKK grandmaster David Duke endorsed Trump, I was mortified that this man could become President of the United States. I tried to describe to my child why the idea of white supremacy is so abhorrent to me as a Jew, and a human being. I feared the numerous ways a potential Trump presidency could impact us as citizens of the United States.
As a candidate, Trump welcomed white supremacists back into the Republican tent. I hoped that he would do a 180-degree turn as President.
But instead, Trump looked Americans in the eye, and told the white supremacists to “stand by.”
His dog whistling as a candidate turned into full blown hate speech as President.
As a result, President Donald Trump emboldened the greatest terrorist threat to our nation, far-right white supremacist groups.
Trump’s constant spouting of vitriol against minorities, countries, and religions has been a central motif of his Presidency. The goal of his propaganda is to vilify non-white people and con Americans into thinking that non-White, non-Christian people are groups that we should fear. His typical tactics are drawing false associations, re-tweeting racist content, and supporting insular policies that target certain non-white groups to further demonize them in the name of faux security.
Trump even utilized the most foundational principle of Nazi and Apartheid ideology, eugenics, to spread white supremacy. Eugenics is a set of beliefs that one race, or set of genes, is superior to others. Just listen to this recent speech he gave in Bemidji, Minnesota, on September 18, 2020 in which he praised the mostly white crowd, for simply being white.
“You have good genes, you know that, right?” Trump said. “You have good genes. A lot of it is about the genes, isn’t it, don’t you believe? The racehorse theory. You think we’re so different? You have good genes in Minnesota.”
That language would have made Joseph Mengele proud.
Trump went on to smear Somali refugees, including Somali-American Congresswomen Ilhan Omar, baselessly associating them with “Jihadi Islamic terrorists”.
There are so many other examples of Trump’s racist rhetoric and acts as President. You can read a collection of his lowest hits in this actual Top 15 Donald Trump Racism List published by Newsweek.
Some didn’t catch our attention, like when he-retweeted anti-Muslim videos put out by a far-right group in the U.K.
Others are emblazoned in our national psyche.
When a neo-Nazi mob got together for a “Unite the Right” rally, walking down the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia clutching Home Depot tiki torches while chanting “Jews will not replace us,” Trump did not find any discernible moral difference between the neo-Nazis and those who opposed them.
One of the neo-Nazis drove a car into the crowd of protesters, murdering an innocent, unarmed 32 year old woman named Heather Heyer. Still, our President, declared there to be “fine people on both sides.” One of those “fine people,” Heather’s murderer, is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder. At his trial, it was revealed that he had a long history of anti-Semitism, acting like a “kid in Disney World” while visiting a concentration camp.
Real “fine people.”
Another fine person, David Duke, announced he is wholeheartedly endorsing Trump yet again in 2020.
In an October 23, 2020 Trump campaign speech in a retirement community in Florida, one of is supporters is clearly shown in the background, flashing a hand gesture that looks like the “OK” symbol but for racists is code for, “white power.”
Trump’s failure to condemn violent hate groups does not just attract America’s most despicable bigots to his political tent.
It has far more dangerous implications. Donald Trump’s racism has been a ray of sunlight for the feeble, fertile minds of racists, conspiracy theorists, and quacks across this country. He has given them the comfort to move from the dark corners of the internet to the political mainstream. As a result, we’ve seen an explosion of hate speech both online and in physical spaces. Some of that hate speech is directly associated with Trump’s own campaign, which has led Twitch to suspend his account. Reddit shut down an unofficial forum of Trump supporters for violating it’s hate speech policy. We can only imagine what was said there.
In the first 2020 debate with Joe Biden, he had another chance to condemn white supremacists in front of 70m viewers — — but he didn’t take it. Instead he spoke directly to a group that glorifies violence and has direct ties to the neo-nazis who marched in Charlottesville. the Proud Boys, and told them to “stand by.”
Now, according to the Proud Boys’ chairman, thanks to our President, recruitment for this particular white supremacist group is “through the roof.”
Not surprisingly, race motivated violence in the United States is also going through the roof.
According to the FBI, personal attacks motivated by bias or prejudice reached a 16 year high in 2018.
During Trump’s presidency, we witnessed the worst terrorist attack against Jews in the history of the United States. After years of anti semitic rants online, Robert Gregory Bowers took his guns to the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue and opened fire, murdering 11 worshippers in cold blood. It turns out that Bowers had, like our President, expressed support for the Proud Boys.
How could it be that this raging anti semite, a monster in human form, shares this affinity with our President ?
It’s hard, of course, to point a direct line from Trump’s inability to repudiate white supremacists to any single historical attack.
But it should be very clear based on Trump’s own public words and actions, that he does endorse white supremacist groups and their core ideology — which in extreme cases manifests into the worst kind of violence.
The Tree of Life murderer Robert Bowers had a particular hatred towards the HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), a Jewish non-profit that provides assistance and support to refugees and immigrants. Many people fail to understand the ideological kinship between radical anti-immigrant positions and anti-semitism in the deluded mind of a white supremacist. This is why the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville stated, “Jews will not replace us.” They believe Jews are secretly plotting for the take over of America by immigrants. This idea is what so frightened Bowers, and what ultimately motivated him to storm the synagogue.
Did Trump’s nasty and false rhetoric about Central American migrants push Bowers over the edge ? We’ll never know for certain. But we can assume that Bowers won’t be the last white supremacist terrorist to commit some heinous crime in the name of “protecting” America from immigrants and Jews.
According to a new report from the independent think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, white supremacist groups were responsible for the majority of the terrorist attacks in the United States this year. Roughly 2 out of every 3 (41 out of 61), “terrorist plots and attacks” in the first eight months of this year were from white supremacist groups. There is also a strong and frightening connection between these groups and guns. According to the gun safety advocacy group, Everytown, one of 3 of the deadliest gun shootings in the past decade in the US were motivated by white supremacy. The Department of Homeland Security has recently declared white supremacy the greatest terrorist threat facing our nation.
How absurd is it that we have a sitting U.S. president emboldening the very groups his own Department of Homeland Security deem to be our greatest terrorist threat ?
Imagine Obama telling a violent, Islamic fundamentalist group to “Stand by”?
Would Republicans be calling him a traitor ?
It goes beyond that.
Trump is also intentionally sabotaging efforts to defeat white supremacist terror by blocking resources and firing experts in his own government. In late 2018, Trump cut off funding for programs to combat white supremacist terror, including $10 million authorized by President Obama for the Countering Violent Extremism Grant Program.
Trump is treating white supremacist terrorism like the Pandemic. Ignore experts, don’t talk about it and it’ll just go away.
And like the Pandemic, white supremacist terror has the potential to kill many thousands of Americans.
Instead of taking the actual terrorist threat seriously, Trump cons Americans into believing the greatest threat to our nation are a group of mainly peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors or a ragtag group of impoverished, unarmed Central American immigrants. He pulls money away from an FBI fighting white supremacists in order to build his wall to “protect” us from innocent people desperately fleeing a land of nightmares in order to chase the American dream.
Why isn’t Donald Trump listening to his own government experts and taking the actual threat of white terrorism seriously ?
Could it be that he views these groups as political allies, and that’s why he’s giving them a pass ?
If that’s true, is that really the kind of President we want?
Could Trump be a white supremacist himself ?
Many apologists for Trump claim that he can’t be a white supremacist himself because of his Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, or Trump’s Jewish grandkids.
That is an utterly bogus argument. There were plenty of Jews, including relatives of Jews, who collaborated with the Nazis during WWII. The fact that Trump has a Jewish son-in-law and relatives does not make his neo-Nazi pandering any less real, or dangerous. While we’re on the subject of Trump’s personal views, it’s interesting to note that he has an extremely long record of racist comments and actions. He is also on the record making blatantly anti-semitic comments, like when he referred to Jews in real estate as “brutal killers” and “not nice people at all.”
The truth is that I couldn’t care less what his private views are. Whether he is the most — or least — racist person on earth in private, does not matter nearly as much as what he says in public. As President, he is the leader of our nation. When a US President can’t figure out — and clearly call out — the difference between Nazis and anti-Nazis, there is a good chance that many others will follow suit.
It is in this fashion that the President of the United States has emboldened the biggest racists in this country and put every person of color, every Black person, every Jew, every Muslim, in more emotional and physical danger than they were before.
His failure to listen to the experts at Homeland Security, while cutting off resources meant to combat white supremacist terror, will make him culpable for future attacks that may have otherwise been prevented.
Just after the Tree of Life murders, more than 70,000 people signed a letter to prevent Trump from visiting Pittsburgh until he fully denounced white supremacy.
He did not denounce white supremacy. He ignored the petition, visited the synagogue and got his photo-op.
As the Former Tree of Life synagogue president Lynette Lederman said in her opposition to Trump’s visit, “We have people who stand by us who believe in values, not just Jewish values, but believe in values, and those are not the values of this president, and I do not welcome him to Pittsburgh.”
The values she is referring to are the values that make America truly great. Diversity, respect for human life, and the concept of E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One).
After four years, Trump has made it abundantly clear that these values are meaningless to him.
As I wrote in 2016, Make America Great Again is code for something else entirely.
I still do not know “why” Trump refuses to condemn white supremacy.
It is a mystery we can only speculate about.
What I do know is that this is not what America needs in a President.
At the very least, America needs an unequivocal anti-racist as a President.
One who can not only find the moral clarity and conviction to condemn the racists walking among us, but also teach us it’s wretched history.
We need to learn why it’s wrong, and anti-American.
We need someone wise, sensitive, and moral as President.
A peacemaker, not a warmonger.
Someone who can help us navigate through all these really hard, racially-infused policy questions we so desperately need to tackle as a society.
What do we do about caravans of migrants emanating from Central America ?
Should we remove the statues of slaveowners in Black majority cities?
How do we improve policing in the black neighborhoods of the United States ?
These are hard problems. I don’t expect a President to solve every one of them, but I do expect a President to provide a framework for thinking about them in a way that can lead to resolution.
Instead of settling these tough issues, helping our society mend, and move forward, Trump is taking extreme positions and deliberately fanning the flames of a cultural war that is spiraling more and more out of control.
Instead of leading us forward to a post-racial United States, he is sending us backwards to the race wars of the 1960’s.
The thing that I keep coming back to is the irony of Trump’s false and shameful smear of these poor Central American migrants.
The majority were not “criminals”, but rather men, women and children coming to this country for a better life, fleeing horrific levels of violence in their home countries. They were not criminals themselves, but were fleeing from criminals.
The storyline was not so different to what happened off the coast of Miami in 1939.
Remember the MS St Louis? The ship that was full of Jews who were fleeing Nazi controlled Europe after Kristalnacht. After being denied entry into Canada, Cuba, and the United States, the ship returned back into the waiting hands of Adolf Hitler, where an estimated 254 passengers would perish.
“We were not wanted,” St. Louis survivor Susan Schleger told a Miami Herald reporter in 1989. “Abandoned by the world.”
Trump, in 2018, like Roosevelt in 1939, made it clear that refugees seeking political asylum are not welcome in the U.S. Unlike Roosevelt, Trump added insult to injury.
We can only wonder what happened to those migrants who went back to the gang-infested streets of Honduras and Guatemala.
I hope they fared better than the Jews of the St. Louis.
Meanwhile, the “fine people” who marched in Charlottesville and their cronies, the latest iteration of the Nazis, who eat cheeseburgers and speak with American accents, make new murderous plots as our President still cannot find the courage to call them what they are.
We should all feel abandoned.