On Monday, Donald Trump delivered a televised address from the White House on last weekend’s tragic mass shootings. With all the sincerity and affect of a forced hostage statement Trump mouthed words that expressed shock at the “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” that were reflected in the “manifesto” of the El Paso murderer.
The news analysis of the past few days and the comments of innumerable politicians---Republicans and Democrats---have been focused on the state of mind of the president, whether or not he is a racist—what is and was the president’s state of mind as he opined on numerous topics related to race and minorities over the past three years.
Most of these analyses miss the point---Trump’s personal views are unknowable---he, his God and his confessor know what he believes in his heart. Pundits, advisors, politicians, and his “off-the-record” friends can debate his attitudes from now until Doomsday, it gets us nowhere; what is critical is what he says and does and, no matter his inner most thoughts, is what he should be judged on.
He can monotonously read a condemnation of “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” but his track record over the past three and half years belies the hackneyed phrases. He has encouraged, through word and deed, bigotry.
He has stereotyped groups (whether Muslims or Mexicans) and has scapegoated them for ailments of society that have myriad and complex roots (drugs, immigration law violations, violence in cities, “American carnage”), he has ignored data and reasoned argumentation, he has consorted with and apologized for avowed extremists and bigots (Alex Jones and Charlottesville among others) and amplified their conspiratorial theories, he has avoided condemning open bigots (disingenuously denying knowledge of Klan leader David Duke) he has encouraged attendees at his rallies to take out their anger at visible dissenters, and he has suffused his speeches with inflammatory rhetoric and undeniably racist dog whistles.
At no point has he shown remorse for what he has done or said or what he seems to have unleashed. His statement on Monday is the closest he has come to repudiating his prior conduct, “Now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside — so destructive — and find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion, and love. Our future is in our control. America will rise to the challenge. “
This seems particularly opportunistic and out of character coming from a man who, just three months ago "asked a Florida audience how to stop migrants from crossing into the United States. 'How do you stop these people? You can’t, there’s —' Trump said, cutting himself off as a rally attendee yelled back, “Shoot them.” Trump paused and smirked, before responding, 'That’s only in the Panhandle can you get away with that statement.' The crowd cheered for nearly 10 seconds before Trump continued."
This is not a drunk patron in a bar nodding at another customer’s threat of violence, this is the president of the United States “smiling” as a supporter of his called for migrants to be shot for immigrating to our country. No outrage, no denunciation of the call for violence, no admonition that “that’s not how we act…” ---a wry smile that visibly acquiesces to the hate.
Is Trump a racist? Who cares---he does what a racist does, he encourages conduct that a racist would encourage, he tolerates views that only a racist would tolerate. He smiles and gloats as his audiences seethe with anger and hate and then denies responsibility for what results.
He is the antithesis of what a nation like ours needs----and it is unprecedented in modern American history. No president in memory has done what he does on a weekly, if not daily, basis. He alienates whole groups of Americans, he delights in creating dissension, chaos and tension and smiles all the while.
As someone who has worked in the civil rights arena for over forty five years, I have learned---as extremist groups ebbed and flowed over the decades---that we took for granted, that bigots and racists would find no support among national leaders or the media. That seeming verity was of immeasurable importance. The conservative Ronald Reagan administration was as vigorous in pursuing the Ku Klux Klan and the Fort Smith extremists as the liberal Carter regime. George W. Bush went to great lengths to not stereotype and condemn Muslims (both at home and abroad) after 9/11 and every president in recent memory has condemned raw, un-distilled bigotry at every opportunity with the exception of the current occupant of the White House.
Those were the rules of the game pre-Trump. It was the assurance that bigots, if exposed, would be ostracized by the vast majority of Americans and by our political leadership. That guided the direction and intensity of the civil rights work of the past half century. We didn’t have to educate political leadership about the dangers of bigots and extremists—it was the public that was our target.
My how times have changed---our president is morally rudderless, his supporters are accepting his hate and bigots find an excuser-in-chief in the Oval Office. Where once extremists desperately sought allies and wider support than other unhinged outsiders, today, they need look no further than the nightly reports of the president’s tweets. They find succor in him and for him they have become useful political tools. He fills arenas, he appeals to an entire cohort of disaffected voters who had written off the system before he appeared on the scene.
Trump’s words on Monday are simply more empty verbiage that starkly contrast with his value-less presidency.