The understanding held by polite American society, after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. at least, was that moral ambivalence towards explicit racist tendencies was for lack of a better description, the characteristic of a corrupt mind and soul.
The overt racists were thus kept at a pole’s length and even when presidents seemed to dally with racial animus, they left enough in the way of propriety: “the Klu Klux Klan is bad, period!”.
However, since 2015, and more so with the election of Donald Trump to the White House, the aforementioned purposive attitude of community has been challenged and the challengers have been buoyed by the non-existent or sometimes weak and ambiguous condemnation by the president himself.
Trump has been for modern white supremacist groups, the spokesperson they never thought was possible. As many times as Republicans and others with rose-tinted spectacles say he abhors white supremacists, Trump himself has struggled to embody those defensive sentiments.
On Tuesday night in Ohio, at the first presidential debate between the president and the Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden, another episode of “Why The Racists Are Emboldened” was aired. When asked by moderator Chris Wallace to condemn the Proud Boys, a white-men only fascist organization known to foment trouble, the president chose incoherent whataboutism.
“Who would you like me to condemn? Proud Boys — stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what…somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem(.)”, said the president of the United States.
If there was any doubt as to how the Proud Boys received the admonition from Trump, the group’s current chairman, Cuban-America Enrique Tarrio, took to Parler, a favorite social media platform for conservatives to clarify. Tarrio said he was “extremely PROUD of my Presidents performance tonight”.
Tarrio also defended Trump’s refusal to condemn the Proud Boys adding that the president “did an excellent job and was asked a VERY pointed question. The question was in reference to WHITE SUPREMACY…which we are not.”
The perception the Proud Boys hold about themselves is actually quite different than what Christopher Wray, director of the FBI, thinks. While the Boys say theirs is a “Western chauvinist” organization, the FBI thinks they are an extremist group with ties to white nationalism.
Wray is also of the opinion that Antifa (Antifascism) is “an ideology or a movement than an organization”. However, groups that entertain white nationalism are the ones that posed a real domestic threat to American stability.
The tactic of equivalence – Antifascists are just as bad as white supremacists – has been the preferred conversation avoider when Republicans have been pushed to the wall on how white supremacists find room under the conservative tent. One finds it hard to see the logical end game of the tactic – is it perhaps to encourage collective burying of heads in the sand?
Right or left, either political ideology contains the most extreme categories of ideologues whose pursuance of goals cannot be inhibited by presumptively universal moral concerns. Left-wingers have continued to answer questions about Stalinism and maniacal eco-terrorists.
That is, in many ways, the background against which people have been critical of Western right-wingers. Why do the white supremacists find a room in your house?
Whether by shrewdness or an intrinsic moral navigator, the last few former Republican presidents have excelled in the easiest parts of not coming across as racist. Even George Bush Jr. arguably managed to keep the loud part quiet when he oversaw a paradigmatic shift of focus in American domestic intelligence.
But why can’t Trump do the same, at least for the gesture-hungry crowd that seeks the moral symbolism of a president who does not look like a racist? Why can he not seem and stand as vehemently anti-white supremacy as possible? Why does he always have to leave us with the lingering feeling?
It appears the man knows his people and will not forsake them, insofar as their votes can be counted.
Of course, there is also the legitimate question of whether Trump views racists and white supremacists as useful idiots or whether he is very much a dye in the wool believer in white power. Unfortunately, that would require a much longer piece.