After racism in Charlottesville, a call to say its name

“What are you thinking about?” NPR’s David Greene asked Slate’s Jamelle Bouie on this morning’s NPR Up First podcast.

“When the president was elected, it felt at the time that there was a sudden validation of white nationalist attitudes, that those people are celebrating, and I think it’s clear now that they were celebrating for a reason,” Bouie said.


There is an undeniable attraction between Donald Trump and the racists who flooded the streets and killed a woman in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend, carrying Confederate flags and shouting Nazi slogans.

This isn’t the first time people have noticed, nor is it at all surprising that the percolating racism in America has led to civil strife and death.

Republicans have been fighting the image of a party attractive to white nationalists for a generation, as evidenced by NPR’s Rachel Martin’s citation this morning of Bob Dole’s speech to the Republican National Convention in 1996 in San Diego.

“If there’s anyone who’s attached themselves to the party in the belief that we are not open to citizens of every race and religion, let me remind you tonight this hall belongs to the party of Lincoln. The exits, which are clearly marked, are for you to walk out of,” Dole said,

There is no longer an if applicable to Dole’s remarks. Despite VP Mike Pence’s inexhaustible willingness to try to put lipstick on whatever rhetorical pig his boss creates, the decision of Trump to hire white nationalists as close advisers invited the criticism, and Trump’s failure to harshly condemn white nationalism on Saturday only confirmed what Dole tried to derail 21 years ago.

How emboldened are the racists now? As Bouie points out in his own article, they didn’t wear hoods this weekend.

More importantly, they revealed the extent to which they hold political influence, such that the president of the United States refused to condemn them outright. The men who gathered under Unite the Right made clear that they saw Trump as an ally to their cause. And if Trump’s equivocation is any indication—if his unwillingness to name and shame the worst kind of racism is any sign—then that feeling is mutual.

In its editorial, the New York Times noted that one voice not heard over the weekend was Steve Bannon’s…

… Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, whose nationalist theories and Breitbart dog whistles helped summon the rage on display in Charlottesville.

On Sunday, the White House issued, anonymously, another weak statement, saying that the president’s words on Saturday “of course” included “white supremacists, KKK, Neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.”

Meanwhile a handful of congressional Republicans have condemned the hate on display in Charlottesville, and in our politics. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado said of white supremacists, “We don’t want them in our base, they shouldn’t be in a base, we shouldn’t call them part of a base.”

But Mr. Trump does, and in his desperation to rescue his failing presidency, he again clung to them.

In its editorial today, the Boston Globe says at least now, the hatred is out in the open, suggesting — inaccurately — that it wasn’t ’til now.

The photos of the marchers in Charlottesville, carrying swastikas and chanting anti-Semitic slogans, should put to rest any doubts about the surge in white hate-group activity that has been reported since the election. Once-marginal groups have been emboldened by Trump’s election and by the racially charged rhetoric His movement used during the campaign.

Long before Trump, his Republican Party has maintained a sick alliance with white racism, courting racist voters with coded appeals to prejudice. Trump’s accomplishment, if you can call it that, is to force that relationship out into the open. The wink-and-nod relationship is no longer tenable. The GOP controls both the White House and Congress as the tide of extremism grows. Responsibility for countering it is theirs. Either Trump and the Republican Congress turn on their supporters now, and fight back against this surge of hate in words, actions, and policies, or they let it engulf their party, and their country.

“There should be no debate on this point: White supremacy is a disease that threatens to weaken an increasingly diverse but divided nation,” the Star Tribune editorial board said. “Hate crimes are on the rise across the country, and that should concern all peace-loving Americans.”

And Jelani Cobb, writing on The New Yorker website, predicted more:

There have been at least thirty attacks carried out by white terrorists since 9/11; the victims of those attacks constitute the majority of people killed on American soil in acts of terrorism. Two years ago, when Dylann Roof murdered nine people, in the sanctuary of Emanuel A.M.E. Church, in Charleston, he described himself as a kind of rageful prophet, one whose actions would awaken white people to the perils they faced from people of color in the United States.

Those forces took Trump as a like-minded figure, and saw in his reluctance to denounce David Duke during the campaign, and his willingness to retweet white-supremacist accounts and parrot their mythical statistics about black crime, a sign that their moment had arrived.

The sickening images that emerged from Charlottesville herald that some moment has arrived. It is a moment of indeterminate morality, one in which the centrifugal forces of contempt, resentment, and racial superiority are pitted against the ideal of common humanity and the possibility of a civic society.

We have entered a new phase of the Trump era. The breach that Trump has courted since he first emerged in public life has become apparent; it is more deadly and its architects more emboldened. What happened in Virginia was not the culminating battle of this conflict. It’s likely a tragic preface to more of the same.

On NBC’s Today Show this morning, attorney general Jeff Sessions gave every indication the administration still doesn’t quite grasp the power of presidential words, declaring that people have read too much into President Trump’s comments.


On Twitter today, the president said he’s on his way to Washington “to work on trade and the military.”

From the archive: John Doar: The ‘one of us’ who changed America (MPR NewsCut)

  • Chris

    Trump ran an explicitly racist campaign from the day he road down the golden escalator. None of this is a surprise. He made a devils bargain to win and we are now paying the price. Question is will any republicans condemn trump in public.

  • Mike

    The Republican Party has been making appeals to racists ever since the days of Nixon, if not before. This didn’t start with Trump; he has just been explicit about it. Only now – when the beast that Republicans have so carefully fed and tended for decades is threatening to burst free from their control – have they suddenly decided they’re scared of it.

    This is the inevitable result of a type of politics that seeks to divide people by race, ethnicity, and religion, and it all comes from Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” to demolish the New Deal coalition. That has been the Republican playbook since 1968, and we’re only now seeing its maturation.

    That, combined with the neoliberal economics espoused by both parties in recent decades, have led to the current sad state of affairs.

  • jon

    From the people who brought you the idea of a mass incantation of the words “radical islamic terror” in the oval office as a secret plan to defeat isis… we now have condemnation of the “many sides” organization…

    Political correctness to the point that the president of the united states isn’t even allowed to condemn those who wave swastikas and chant hate against minorities… Nazi’s are protected by our political correctness… nice job GOP.

    The hypocrisy runs so deep here it’s that should some one fall into the chasm they would not hit the bottom for days.

  • I finally took the time to visit the WWI exhibit at the MN History Center and one of the things that stuck with me was that many of the things that were a problem 100 years ago, are STILL a problem today (race relations being one of these issues).

    100 years, two world wars, and we STILL haven’t advanced.

    /Now I’ll just sit back and wait for the Fascist/Nazi/KKK apologists to arrive.

    • I’m going to put visiting that exhibit on my to-do list. Thanks!

    • Veronica

      The suffragette part of that exhibit also hit me pretty hard for the same reason–yes we can vote, but there are still a lot of forces that treat us as people who don’t deserve full autonomy.

  • I know people who voted for Trump and have to question their motive in still supporting him, given this latest display of the company they are keeping. One doesn’t want to think of friends as bigots, but how can it be otherwise if they are okay with this?

    • crystals

      Because 1) HER EMAILS AND BENGHAZI, 2) abortion and the Supreme Court, 3) “economic insecurity,” 4) whatever else they tell themselves at night to justify it. At least that’s what it is said to be among my family. It’s getting to the point where I am struggling to reconcile whatever reasons they claim with what is actually happening under this person in the White House.

      It’s hard for me to fathom that Neil Gorsuch is worth all of this, yet I know it is for a lot of people and that makes me deeply sad. I just cannot value the lives of theoretical humans more heavily than the lives of living black and brown and female and LGTBQ ones.

      • Veronica

        You know how smug McConnell was all of last year, refusing to hold a hearing on Garland? Given the timeline of meetings people had with Russian operatives last year, I wouldn’t be surprised if we find out he knew what was going to happen.

        There’s so much rotten in the state of Denmark. All of it.

  • Rob

    T.Rump is essentially the nation’s Grand Imperial Wizard, running the Fully Visible Empire of the Kronyist Kleptocratic Kakistocracy. His dad is surely smiling from down below.

  • AL287

    “Despite VP Mike Pence’s inexhaustible willingness to try to put lipstick on whatever rhetorical pig his boss creates,”

    I find it rather sad that Mike Pence is frequently forced to “interpret” what his boss says in his ridiculous, incendiary off-the-cuff remarks. Pence has the presidential bearing and aplomb that Trump clearly lacks.

    Trump is a bigoted drag on our government. His paternalistic authoritarian style of leadership has no place in 21st century America. He doesn’t get it. We don’t want a dictator and as time passes he looks more and more like a dictator and less like a democratic leader of a country that defined the saying “Liberte, egalite, fraternite,” for the last 240 years.

    The reason Trump is not meeting with our South American allies is because they dislike his dictatorial style. Only Trump would suggest a military intervention in Venezuela. We have tried that before and it produced the Iran-Contra scandal.

    We have never sent troops to dislodge dictators in South America. Chavez, Pinochet and Peron were notorious dictators but we didn’t resort to military intervention to dislodge them. To suggest such an intervention proves that Trump is not listening to his “advisers” and is doing and saying whatever he thinks will make him look good.

    Being a bully in business negotiations might have worked for him in the past but it is failing him miserably as president. You cannot micro-manage the United States government which is what he is trying to do.

    He’s not condemning the white supremacists because they are the very people who put him in office.

    The only way to put an end to all this is to remove him from office and the only people who can get that ball rolling are the Republicans.

    It looks like enough of them are sufficiently alarmed about the latest atrocities in Virginia and Trump’s response to challenge his authority.

    It’s long overdue.

    • TGB

      “only Trump”, then “we’ve tried that before”. Trump has condomned white hate groups throughout his life.

      • jon

        He also donated to the democratic party throughout his life…

        And yet here we are.

        • AL287

          Trump donated to whatever party would grant him a favorable climate for his many questionable business deals. It had nothing to do with his political beliefs.

          He’s neither a Democrat or a Republican. He’s not even an Independent. He does whatever is necessary to give him a power advantage over his competitors. The only country he cares about is Trump country.

          He’s a sorry excuse for an American.

      • Jerry

        Was that before or after he was trying to get the Central Park 5 executed?

        • RBHolb

          I think it was after his organization settled “without admitting guilt” housing discrimination claims.

          He condemned white hate groups even though he said he didn’t know what the KKK was.

      • KTN

        Except this time right.

      • KTFoley

        Not when it matters, and not when it might jeopardize support from people who’ve written checks to bind the presidency to their own racist priorities.

      • Rob

        Do you mean condoned?

  • Veronica

    Trump has always been a racist. Always. From the days he and his dad Systematically engaged in housing segregation, nothing has changed. Nothing.

    Our president won because he and Bannon spent the previous 8 years fanning the flames of anti-minority, anti-women rhetoric. Pence is part and parcel of that exact same movement. Google Purvi Patel–Pence had her jailed for a YEAR for a miscarriage.

    None of this is surprising. His supporters endorsed a presidential ticket that has such a
    Long history of bigotry, misogyny, sexual violence, fraud, and hate that it’s impossible, in my mind, to pardon any of their supporters.

    Oh, and I’m glad they didn’t wear hoods. The jerks are being identified and facing very real consequences that may ruin their lives.

  • TGB

    Lincoln wanted all blacks shipped back to Africa, is that what Dole was getting at? Steve Bannon, from want I can tell, is not a racist. Ask Ben Shapiro.
    Do words still have meaning, or are feelings more important?

    • Jerry

      Lincoln was one of those weird politicians who admitted to changing his views as time went on, so people can quote him to mean anything.

    • Barton

      I always love Lincoln discussions with people. “Lincoln freed the slaves!” “Well, in any territory/state that was actually in rebellion at the time and therefore he had zero control over, yes….”

  • 212944

    Reagan?! Please.

    This is the candidate who – after announcing his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the ’80 Presidential election – picked the Neshoba County Fair (ironically only seven miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi) to kick off the campaign with a speech about “States’ Rights.”

    Even as a high school sophomore in the midwest at the time, I knew what happened in Philadelphia, Mississippi. And I knew what “States’ Rights” really meant.

  • KTN

    Also over at Slate – Dahlia Lithwick has a wonderfully written piece on her home town of Charlottsville. Very much worth the read.

  • Dan

    Message received. Equivocating in the aftermath of a murderous Nazi’s rampage is indefensible.

    One group loved Trump’s remarks about Charlottesville: White supremacists

    Less than a half-hour after Trump’s live remarks, the Daily Stormer had declared the president’s words as a signal of tacit support for their side:

    Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us.

    He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate … on both sides!

    So he implied the antifa are haters.

    There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all.

    He said he loves us all.

    • jon

      David Duke (the klan guy) has condemned trump’s remarks as an attack on racists and white nationalists, and whatever the nazis are calling themselves.

      It’s a side effect of saying effectively nothing, some people see it as approval, some people see it as condemnation, and some people only want nazis to be around when harrison ford is punching them in their faces (or letting them stand in the path of airplane props….. but not fighting monkeys in south america… that movie was terrible) Or perhaps when the blues brothers are arranging for them to fall off a bridge (at 20,000 ft) in chicago and land (catastrophically) downtown.

      • Dan

        I think you generally seem to agree with me, but just to emphasize my original point, since you linked to an article about Duke’s comments.

        A statement in response to a Nazi’s murderous rampage should not be a Rorschach test to racists. It should leave no reasonable “he’s with us” case for them to make. I can’t emphasize this enough — it’s an extremely low degree-of-difficulty task. It should be an unequivocal, explicit rejection of Nazis, white-supremacist racism by any other euphemism, and groups organized around those principles. It wasn’t. That’s indefensible.

  • Tim o’Bedlam

    The Republicans have sown this wind, and now they’re reaping the whirlwind. This goes back decades, at least as far as Ronald Reagan saying “I believe in states’ rights” in the same county where 3 civil rights workers were murdered. Forgive me if I am unmoved by crocodile tears coming from the likes of Jeff Sessions.