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)