This morning, the Economist published an editorial on President Donald Trump’s reaction to white supremacist rallies that asserts: “Mr. Trump is not a white supremacist.”
In a common media conceit, the editorial based its assertion on the fact that Trump, in the aftermath of a deadly march on Charlottesville, Virginia, belatedly read a scripted statement decrying racism and hatred. Never mind that the statement was made for entirely political reasons and because of a growing uproar over Trump’s original comments. Never mind that the statement came well after he first failed to condemn the Nazi march in Charlottesville and before he said that some were “very fine people” and asserted a moral equivalency between white nationalists and those, including clergy and residents of the city, who protested them. That the unscripted moment is reflective of who Mr. Trump really is in deed and in word is underscored by the fact that, as the New York Times reported, he had long expressed views sympathetic to white nationalists in private.
The Economist‘s assertion is not unusual. Over the past several weeks and increasingly in the aftermath of Charlottesville, television anchors and pundits have been discussing the Trump administration and asking the question: Is Donald Trump a racist? Is he a white supremacist? Is he a white nationalist? The answer to all of these from those being interviewed is invariably dissembling… “I can’t say that,” or “I don’t think he is,” or “I can’t know what’s in his heart.”
I have to ask: Why are we afraid to call this what it is and Mr. Trump who he is? If someone in power—here the president of the United States, otherwise considered the most powerful man in the world—consistently and persistently promotes and upholds the values of white supremacy and white nationalism, and both cultivates and depends on maintaining his power through these ideologies, why do we stop short of naming what it is?
In my opinion, Mr. Trump has shown us who he is and we have consistently refused to believe him. By upholding the systems of white supremacy that continue to at best disenfranchise and at worst kill people of color, Trump is in fact aligned with the white supremacist movement.
I say this using my personal yardstick (or bullshit meter if you prefer) that it’s not what you say, it’s what you do. And in Trump’s case, it is both what he says and what he does.
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Throughout his life, throughout the past ten years, and especially during his campaign, Donald Trump has done everything one would imagine a white supremacist could do. And in the first months of his presidency, he has outright encouraged white supremacy: Every policy he is putting in place reinforces white supremacy and many of his cabinet picks have deeply racist backgrounds and positions.
By avoiding the reality of what we are facing right now, the culmination of years of racist “dog-whistling” and howling wolves, we allow ourselves to dismiss what white supremacy is, and how not only Trump but all of us are complicit in it. Worst of all, we prevent ourselves from moving forward. You cannot change a thing you refuse to name or to face.
White supremacy is not just about a Nazi chanting with a tiki torch on the streets of Charlottesville. It’s not just about Richard Spencer convening a group that shouts “Heil” at the end of a meeting. It’s not just about hoods or burning crosses or nooses. It’s not just about David Duke and Roy Moore and people who clearly have no compunction about stating who they are.
White supremacy is about everyday life in the United States.
White supremacy is a system of laws, policies, and economic barriers.
It is voter disenfranchisement and outright false and disproven claims of voter fraud by people of color and undocumented immigrants, all meant to intimidate specific groups of people and keep them from the polls. White supremacy is inherent in every voter suppression law ever passed and most especially the deluge of such laws being passed throughout the country. White supremacy is the Supreme Court deciding to gut the Voting Rights Act and the encouragement by a presidential candidate that white vigilante groups “go to certain areas” to monitor who votes. White supremacy is the establishment of a “voter fraud” commission run by Kris Kobach and Mike Pence, both of whom have been instrumental in voter suppression.
White supremacy is erecting statues and flags to people who revere the legacy of slavery. White supremacy is saying that maybe Black people had it better under slavery. White supremacy is using legal, religious, and economic justifications to subjugate people and then keep them down. White supremacy is redlining, job discrimination, and lack of reparations. It’s the economic segregation of neighborhoods and schools, and the underfunding of schools for children of color. White supremacy is claiming that we need “affirmative action” for white students and undermining access to higher education by the poor and people of color.
White supremacy is Willie Horton ads and “playing to your base.” White supremacy is “welfare queens,” and drug testing and claiming that people who are too ill or disabled or otherwise unable to work are “lazy.” White supremacy is never investing in a community and then writing them off as “carnage.” White supremacy is “stop and frisk” and the filling of private prisons with people of color for “crimes” for which white people never pay.
White supremacy is making Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who was denied a federal judgeship due to allegations of racism, the United States Attorney General, and using the United States Department of Homeland Security to deport individuals for traffic tickets while warmongers, bank presidents, and wealthy people steal in broad daylight and get away with it. Every day.
White supremacy is having white nationalists like Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, and Sebastian Gorka in the White House.
White supremacy is riling up hatred against immigrants, people of color, the poor, LGBTQ persons, and women (though it’s important to note that white women have espoused and benefitted from white supremacy). It’s calling groups like Black Lives Matter—which fights for equality and against police brutality—”terrorist groups.” White supremacy is questioning former President Barack Obama’s birthplace. It is defining an entire religion, Islam, as the enemy, and blaming Muslims for the act of every radical, while deflecting attention from U.S. domestic terrorists and the role played by white fundamentalist religious groups in condoning such acts.
White supremacy is calling white nationalists who come to intimidate a city “nice people.” It is calling those who come prepared to defend protesters “terrorists,” but encouraging white militias to carry guns wherever they please.
White supremacy is rampant in this country. And even many of us who think we have no role in that system, do. We need to call this what it is. We need to recognize our role in it. And we need to deal with it.
Only by acknowledging and dealing with our white supremacy past and present, and only by seeing this president for who he is and what he is doing can we move forward. Anything less than that is not enough.