Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
President Donald Trump is a racist and a white supremacist. Even the most progressive media are tiptoeing about that clear and obvious fact, of which his bizarre reaction to the August 13 events in Charlottesville, Virginia is only the latest evidence. There was the launch of his Presidential campaign over two years ago — is it that long that we’ve had to deal with his pestilential presence at the center of American politics? — with his now-infamous speech denouncing immigrants from Mexico as criminals, drug dealers and rapists. There was the pledge to ban all Muslims from coming into the U.S. as soon as he could find a constitutional and legal pretext for doing so.
There was Trump’s bizarre insistence that Americans of color aren’t “real” Americans. He stated that Gonzalo Curiel, the judge in the lawsuits against him by people who were scammed by his so-called “Trump University,” was “Mexican” even though he was born in Indiana, and that meant he couldn’t be a fair judge in a case involving Trump. He said Omar Mateen, the alleged shooter of 49 people at a Gay bar in Orlando, Florida on June 13, 2016, was “an Afghan” even though he was born in Queens, New York — just as Trump himself was. (It got even weirder when Trump said the real people to blame for the Orlando massacre were the federal immigration officials who had let Mateen’s Afghan parents into this country.) And of course he spent over five years, from 2011 to 2016, denouncing then-President Barack Obama as a “Kenyan” and saying he didn’t meet the constitutional requirement that the President be “a native-born citizen.”
Trump’s racism and white supremacism were also evident when he insisted, both before and after the election, that millions of “illegal” voters were casting ballots against him — and his repeated statements that he would have won the popular vote against Hillary Clinton if it weren’t for three to five million “illegal” votes. Trump’s racist attitudes were evident when he set up his Voter Integrity Commission, ostensibly to stamp out “election fraud” but really to validate and extend nationwide the long-term agenda of the Republican Party to keep itself in power indefinitely by preventing people likely to vote against it — young people, poor people and especially people of color — from being able to vote at all.
And Trump’s racism and white supremacism were values he was, in the words of Oscar Hammerstein II’s classic song from the 1949 musical South Pacific, “carefully taught” — in his case, by his father, Fred Trump. In 1927 Fred Trump was one of seven people arrested at a Ku Klux Klan Memorial Day rally in Queens, New York. In 1950 he was called out by name by folksinger Woody Guthrie, who had just moved into a Fred Trump-owned building in New York — and then found himself forced to move out again when he learned the Trump Organization systematically discriminated against Blacks in housing rentals. The Trump Organization was sued by the federal government for housing discrimination at least twice, once when Fred Trump was still in charge and once after he had handed over the reins to his son Donald.
So it should have been no surprise when, immediately after Trump’s election, Richard Spencer, a leader of the so-called “alt-Right” — a movement challenging traditional conservatives precisely over their refusal openly to embrace racism and white supremacism — led a rally in Washington, D.C. in which the attendees shouted, “Hail Trump!” and gave the raised-arm Nazi salute. The rally was part of a conference that drew such “alt-Right” luminaries as Spencer, Jared Taylor (who once said the police were justified in racially profiling African-Americans and law-abiding Blacks should just accept it as the price they paid for having so many criminal brethren), and Peter Brimelow. (The event itself and Brimelow’s participation are documented at http://www.thedailybeast.com/white-nationalists-and-nazi-saluting-tila-tequila-toast-emperor-trump-in-washington-dc.)
Peter Brimelow’s name stuck out to me because I’d encountered him in the 1980’s when he was a contributing editor to the Right-wing magazine National Review — at least before he became too rabidly “alt-Right” even for them. He’d written a series of articles denouncing immigration and calling for drastic cutbacks in documented (so-called “legal”) immigration as well as a hard-line border enforcement policy against undocumented immigrants. In one of his articles, which he later collected into a book called Alien Nation, Brimelow said the U.S. needs to impose severe restrictions on legal immigration to “preserve America’s ethnic mix” — i.e., to keep the U.S. a white-majority country.
Brimelow was one of Trump’s advisors on immigration policy during his Presidential campaign, and on August 2, 2017 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2017/08/02/trump-gop-senators-to-introduce-bill-to-slash-legal-immigration-levels/?utm_term=.964750435c90n) Trump appeared at a media event with U.S. Senators Tom Cotton (R-AK) and David Perdue (R-GA) to announce support for a bill that would drastically reshape America’s immigration policy in ways similar to those Brimelow had called for 30 years earlier.
In addition to shrinking the total number of green cards issued each year from 1 million to 500,000, the Trump-Cotton-Perdue-Brimelow immigration plan would shift from an immigration policy based on family unification to a so-called “merit-based” one in which prospective immigrants would be allotted preferences based on education levels, career skills and ability to speak English. It would also cap the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. at 50,000 and also eliminate a “visa lottery” that awarded 50,000 green cards per year, mostly to Africans.
Though events move so quickly during the Trump administration that that immigration policy announcement has been virtually forgotten, it’s significant as one of the most obvious ways in which Trump and his alt-Right brethren have sought to put their ideas into practice as public policy. Though alt-Rightists like Spencer and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke have carefully avoided claiming Trump as one of their own — for one thing, Spencer said after Charlottesville, Trump does not believe in “identitarianism,” the loony-tunes belief of the so-called “Christian Identity” churches that Jesus Christ was Aryan and the Aryans, not the Jews, are God’s chosen people — they have hailed him as an “American nationalist” and a leader who will bring new publicity and new adherents to their ideas.
Spencer’s Latest Hatestock
It was Richard Spencer, mastermind of the neo-Nazi rally celebrating Trump’s election back in November 2016, who also was the principal organizer of the Hatestock in Charlottesville. He issued the call under the name “Unite the Right,” obviously hoping that more traditional conservatives could be lured to march with him and accept his Darth Vader-like invitation to move over to the Dark Side of the Right. The ostensible purpose of his rally was to protest the decision by the Charlottesville city government to take down a statue of General Robert E. Lee, commander in chief of the Confederate armies during the Civil War and thereby the leader of the military campaign to preserve slavery, from a city park and remove Lee’s name from the park, renaming it “Emancipation Park.”
The Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally drew the typical sorts of people who show up for these things, a batch of young and some not-so-young white men (if there were any women involved I haven’t seen them in the TV clips, but then America’s neo-Nazis reproduce the original Nazis’ sexism as faithfully as they reproduce their racism). Some of them looked robust and reasonably attractive, but most were such twerps that I suspect if Leni Riefenstahl, director of the original Nazis’ infamous propaganda film Triumph of the Will, had seen them, she’d have thrown up her hands in despair and said, “I’m supposed to make them look like a master race?”
Later President Trump would say that most of the people who showed up for the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville weren’t neo-Nazis or racists but simply people defending the statue of Robert E. Lee against historical revisionism. But anyone who showed up for the event with that relatively benign an idea of its agenda should have been disabused quickly. In addition to a smattering of U.S. flags, the participants carried Confederate flags, Nazi German flags and banners containing the “Vanguard” logo and other insignia of American neo-Nazi and skinhead groups. They marched with cheap tiki torches in a pathetic D.I.Y. attempt to mimic the dramatic torchlight processions of the original Nazis Riefenstahl had so powerfully filmed in Triumph of the Will. What’s more, the attitude of the participants in “Unite the Right” wasn’t that of a bunch of peaceful protesters out merely to petition their city government to keep Robert Lee’s statue and name in that park. Many of them came armed, and it’s clear from the video footage that even those who didn’t were spoiling for a fight, anxious to draw out Left-wing counter-protesters whom they could bully and assault.
And, tragically, progressives, Leftists and just plain decent Americans took their bait. If there’s one lesson I hope the Left comes away with from Charlottesville, it’s that we need to rethink the ways in which we respond to and confront the hate-filled calls of Richard Spencer and other alt-Rightists. Next time Spencer calls one of his Hatestocks, I’d like the Left either to ignore him completely — let his event drown in an under-attended wake of idiots spouting rhetoric whose insanity is equaled only by its inanity — or organize, not a counter-demonstration at the site of the alt-Right action, but an event of our own at a different venue in the same community. The energies of progressives and Leftists in Charlottesville would better have been spent organizing a giant teach-in with speakers hailing the virtues of racial equality and diversity, and offering some badly needed history lessons in what the Civil War was really about and why Robert E. Lee is not a fit person to be honored anywhere in the U.S. in 2017.
Instead, the Left took to the streets and gave Spencer’s alt-Rightists exactly what they wanted — an enemy they could confront, yell at, swing blunt instruments at and, in one tragic incident, run down and kill with a car. A 20-year-old “Unite the Right” participant named James Alex Fields, Jr. is accused of turning his car into a crowd of anti-Right protesters in Charlottesville, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. The alleged assailant was driving a Dodge Challenger — itself an iconic car for U.S. Confederate sympathizers thanks to its appearance on the 1980’s TV series The Dukes of Hazzard, whose lead characters not only drove a Dodge Challenger but painted it in Confederate colors and actually called it the “General Lee”!
Heather Heyer became one of those people you’ve never heard of until after their death but who seems so nice, warm, loving and committed to noble ideals you wish you’d have had the chance to meet her. Her mother appeared on TV with a grief-ridden statement so moving even President Trump found words to praise it, saying essentially that the last thing Heather would have wanted was for her death to bring more hate into the world, and calling on the people of America to sow love where there is hate and honor her daughter by healing and bridging the gaps between races.
The [N]ever-Changing Trump
And what did President Donald Trump have to say about Charlottesville? Therein hangs a tale. He first spoke about it on August 13, when the bodies were almost literally still warm. He read from a prepared text and said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence.” So far, so good, you might say — but then Trump went off script and added, “On many sides — on many sides,” seemingly equating the neo-Nazis and neo-Confederates who had taken to the streets in Charlottesville to spew racial hatred, bigotry and white supremacy with the courageous, if arguably ill-advised, progressive, Leftists and decent Americans who had put their own lives on the line (and, in one case, lost hers) to stand against them.
Trump’s odd remarks drew a firestorm of criticism not only from the people you’d expect — Democratic Congressmembers and leaders of civil-liberties and civil-rights organizations — but from some you wouldn’t. Perhaps the most moving denunciation of Trump came from Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who tweeted, “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”
Lindsey Graham, another Republican Senator — and one from the birthplace of the Confederacy, South Carolina — said, “These [‘alt-Right’] groups seem to believe they have a friend in Donald Trump in the White House. I don’t know why they believe that, but they don’t see me as a friend in the Senate, and I would urge the president to dissuade these groups that he’s their friend.”
Two days after his initial comments, on Monday, August 15, Trump appeared to backtrack from his initial statement blaming “many sides” for the violence in Charlottesville. “Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists,” he said that time. But he read it off a Teleprompter and said it in such a flat, affect-less way a lot of Americans wondered if he really meant it. Actor Bryan Cranston joked that Trump looked like he was “making a hostage tape” in that video — i.e., reading a statement he didn’t believe in because he was being held captive and forced to do so under the threat of torture.
Just one day later, on Tuesday, August 16, Trump gave a wild and woolly press conference outside his Trump Tower building in New York City in which he made clear he didn’t believe the hostage tape he’d made the day before. In addition to lashing out again and again at some of his favorite targets, including the “fake news” media and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) — who had had to make actual hostage tapes during his 5 ½ years in captivity as a prisoner of war in North Viet Nam (and who famously blinked his eyes in Morse Code to let the world know what he really believed as opposed to what his captors were making him say) — he backtracked on his backtrack and once again let the world see his racist, white supremacist id.
Trump began his August 16 press conference by saying he hadn’t made a full statement about Charlottesville until the previous day because he was still trying to make sure what the facts were so his statement would be accurate. That in itself was pretty hilarious given how free-wheeling he’s been with accusations against his real or perceived political enemies. As Stephen Colbert joked that night on his talk show, “‘I wait for the facts,’ okay? Just ask the millions of illegal voters who refused to look for Obama's birth certificate during my record-breaking inauguration, okay? It's all on the Obama wiretaps.”
Then it got worse. Trump wouldn’t refer to the murder of Heather Heyer as an act of terrorism, even though he’d been scathing during his campaign against Obama and Hillary Clinton for refusing to call attacks committed by Muslims “radical Islamic terrorism.” He insisted that the anti-Right protesters in Charlottesville had included people he called “alt-Left,” anarchist “Black Bloc” members who, Trump said, actually started the violence. “What about the fact they came charging, that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs?” Trump said. “Do they have any problem? I think they do. … [Y]ou had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. You had a group on the other side that came charging in, without a permit, and they were very, very violent.”
Frankly, as a progressive American committed to values of economic and social equality, civil liberties and racial justice, I’ve long wished the “Black Bloc” would just go away. I’ve had long conversations with thoughtful anarchists who on occasion have gone in “Black Bloc” drag and participated in demonstrations, but done so responsibly and non-violently. But I have nothing but contempt for the “Black Bloc” activists in Berkeley and elsewhere who have raised chants like, “No free speech for racists!” and threatened violence at such intense levels that Right-wing speakers like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos have been prevented from speaking. Not only is this morally wrong — the way to answer hate speech is with just speech, not to shut down the hate speakers — it’s also politically dumb. It allows the Right to portray themselves as innocent victims being shouted down by all those big, bad, horrible Leftists.
But that’s not what happened in Charlottesville. It was the Right who came spoiling for a confrontation. It was the Right who came armed, not with clubs but with guns. It was the Right who drew blood. And they did so not in the name of a reasoned ideology — not even in the name of the modern-day American Republican Party’s platform of lassiez-faire Libertarianism in the economy and a Big Brother-ish government micro-managing people’s social lives in general and their sex lives in particular — but under banners originally raised in defense of slavery and genocide.
And once again, America’s mainstream Right joined its progressive Left in protest against Trump’s seeming endorsement of “alt-Rightists” and their cause. “To understand the significance of Trump’s words, you have to understand a bit about the alt-Right,” said National Review contributor David French. “While its members certainly march with Nazis and make common cause with neo-Confederates, it views itself as something different. They’re the ‘intellectual’ adherents to white identity politics. They believe their movement is substantially different and more serious than the Klansmen of days past. When Trump carves them away from the Nazis and distinguishes them from the neo-Confederates, he’s doing exactly what they want. He’s making them respectable. He’s making them different. But ‘very fine people’ don’t march with tiki torches chanting ‘blood and soil’ or ‘Jews will not replace us.’”
In 1964, when the Ku Klux Klan offered Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater their endorsement, largely because of his vote as a U.S. Senator against the landmark Civil Rights Act that year, Goldwater forthrightly and angrily said that he wanted no part of the Klan or their support. By contrast, when former Klan Grand Wizard David Duke endorsed Trump in 2016, Trump gave at best a tepid criticism of him and continued to nudge-nudge, wink-wink towards him and the rest of the racist, white-supremacist Right the way he did on August 15 with his most recent remarks on Charlottesville. And Duke repaid Trump’s tacit support with active praise, sending out a tweet which read, “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.” [BLM stands for “Black Lives Matter” and “Antifa” is a loose-knit coalition of Left-wing anarchists who stage demonstrations against Right-wing groups and events they consider fascist.]
Being Trump Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry
One of the most eternally fascinating things about Donald Trump is his utter unwillingness ever to admit he has been wrong or even made a mistake about anything. In the July 25, 2016 issue of The New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/25/donald-trumps-ghostwriter-tells-all), Tony Schwartz, ghost writer of Trump’s best-selling “autobiography” The Art of the Deal, said of Trump, “Lying is second nature to him. More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least to be true.”
That’s why absolutely none of the attempts by people who had Trump’s ear — or thought they did — to restrain him, to counter his worst impulses, to turn the energy and drive that are his most obvious positive qualities towards good things for the nation, or even good things for the Republican Party and the economic Libertarian/social conservative agenda for which it stands, have failed, The Washington Post just reported (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-lack-of-discipline-leaves-new-chief-of-staff-frustrated-and-dismayed/2017/08/16/9aec8e16-82b8-11e7-82a4-920da1aeb507_story.html?utm_term=.75a0388e8261) that retired General John Kelly, who just moved over from being Secretary of Homeland Security to chief of Trump’s White House staff, has become the latest appointee frustrated by his inability to corral Trump and steer him away from his worst impulses.
According to Post reporters Ashley Parker and Robert Costa, Trump’s moral equivocation about Charlottesville “left Kelly deeply frustrated and dismayed just over two weeks into his job, said people familiar with his thinking. The episode also underscored the difficult challenges that even a four-star general faces in instilling a sense of order around Trump, whose first instinct when cornered is to lash out, even self-destructively.”
But John Kelly is still working for President Trump. So is Gary Cohn, Trump’s economic adviser, who had to listen to Trump’s tirade on Charlottesville up close on August 16 and, as a Jew, felt incredibly uncomfortable with his boss’s tacit endorsement of neo-Nazis. “Those close to Cohn described him as ‘disgusted’ and ‘frantically unhappy,’ although he did not threaten to resign,” Post reporters Parker and Costa wrote in the above-cited article. “But Trump felt vindicated after the remarks, said people familiar with his thinking. He believes that his base agrees with his assertion that both sides are guilty of violence and that the nation risks sliding into a cauldron of political correctness.”
One of my hopes that Trump’s Presidency wouldn’t be as bad as he’d made it sound like it was going to be during his campaign was the belief that somehow or other, fellow members of America’s ultra-rich elite would be able to talk sense into him. Surely, I thought, when Trump tried to do anything particularly damaging to the economy, some of his fellow 0.01-percenters would reach out to him and say, “You realize how much money this is going to cost us? You realize how much money this is going to cost you?” But so far it hasn’t worked out that way; despite the consensus among quite a few American CEO’s — even those running fossil-fuel companies — that America should stay in the Paris climate agreement, Trump pulled us out of it with a grandiose pseudo-populist statement that he was elected “to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
The latest failure of Trump’s corporate brethren to corral him started on Tuesday when Ken Frazier, CEO of Merck, abruptly stepped down from one of the advisory groups Trump had set up to get CEO’s involved in his administration. Though one of the groups hadn’t met at all and the other had been little more than an opportunity for photo ops, Frazier, who is Black, announced he could no longer serve on Trump’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative after Trump’s Charlottesville comments. Trump lashed out at Frazier, saying that the CEO of Merck should be working harder at lowering drug prices than criticizing him. Significantly, he did not similarly attack the next two CEO’s who got off the Initiative, those from Intel and Under Armour, who happened to be white.
Within the next two days, CEO’s on the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative and Trump’s other business advisory group, the Strategic and Policy Forum, were conference-calling each other debating whether they should all resign from those groups en masse or go even further and call for the groups to be disbanded. Somehow, Trump got word of this and responded by sending out a tweet unilaterally abolishing both groups himself. “Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both,” Trump tweeted. “Thank you all!” The President of the United States sounded for all the world like a grade-school kid who, not liking the way the other children were playing with his football, decided to take it and go home.
The message is coming through loud and clear: Donald Trump doesn’t care what you think of him. Donald Trump doesn’t care what anybody thinks of him. As long as he can count on a hard core of support in the South and the Rust Belt — the core that elected him President in the first place even though he lost the popular vote — he is convinced he can win re-election in 2020 as a minority president just as he got elected in 2016 as a minority president. And even though Trump’s actual policies, including a health care bill that would have eviscerated Medicaid, slashed funding for substance-abuse treatment and thrown between 16 and 32 millions of Americans out of access to health insurance, and a so-called “tax reform” likely to benefit only the rich, hurt his base voters, they nonetheless are staying with him.
They’re staying with him less because of anything he does than the attitude he projects. Donald Trump has won the undying affection of a great swath of American voters by standing up for the attitude that America is, always was and always will be a nation run of, by and for white, straight, cisgender males who own guns, eat meat and get their energy from “manly” digging or drilling for fossil fuels, not from “feminine” sources like solar or wind. To Trump’s voters, the ideas that whites are superior to people of color, men superior to women, straights superior to Queers, and Transgender people are “confused” and therefore don’t belong in the military are utter, unimpeachable truths, beyond debate and questioned only by malevolent losers who want to ruin America.
The United States is facing the same crossroads Russia faced in 1917 (and again in 2000), Italy in 1922, Germany in 1933, China in 1949, Cuba in 1959 and Venezuela in 1999. A dictatorial leader with a fanatical minority following has taken over this country and is running it basically the way he pleases, essentially ruling by decree and ignoring the prerogatives of an elected legislature and a supposedly independent judiciary. The tide that swept him into office has largely nullified the constitutional checks and balances that were supposed to keep the leader from amassing personal power and using it however he sees fit. He is keeping himself in power largely by assuring the continued loyalty and fanaticism of his base, which he does basically by telling them over and over again that they are “winners” and everyone who opposes him is a “loser” and therefore not worth bothering with.
Donald Trump has the potential to destroy American democracy. A United States firmly under his one-man rule (which, thank goodness, it isn’t yet!) would be one in which elections would still happen — as they did in the Soviet Union throughout its existence — but their outcomes would be predetermined, and therefore meaningless. A Trump dictatorship would be one like Stalin’s, in which even his closest associates would continually have to watch their backs to make sure they were flattering the boss enough to reassure him of their “loyalty” — one of Trump’s favorite words, though in his definition a one-way street in which he is supposed to receive loyalty but is under no obligation to give it.
It is not foreordained that the United States of America will remain under Donald Trump’s one-man rule forever, or at least until he croaks and his designated successor takes over. (One wonders how his friends in the neo-Nazi movement feel about the rather obvious fact that Trump’s designated successor, at least as far as we can deduce by the wide range of responsibilities he has already given him, is his Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner.) What is clear is that the forces, if any, that will derail Trump’s ambitions do not yet exist, and a very careful strategy involving both electoral involvements and mobilizations outside the system will be needed to bring a successful anti-Trump resistance into being.