By MOHAMED HAMALUDIN
Donald Trump was not elected to the White House because of support from racist Americans known as “white supremacists.” Such groups, emboldened by Trump’s rhetoric, did flex their muscles during the presidential campaign but the vast number of whites who propelled him into office are not racists.
Poor whites in places such as Appalachia have been shamefully neglected by both the Republican and the Democratic parties. They are among the poorest Americans, struggle with unemployment and suffer from a wide variety of ailments, including, more recently, opioid addiction.
But whites are not the only ones who have been excluded from economic prosperity. African Americans have had to endure the politics of exclusion and discrimination from even before the founding of the Republic.
That should make for common cause for blacks and whites but has not. Politicians have helped divide ordinary citizens, particularly on the basis of race, and exploited those divisions to gain or maintain power. This has emboldened white supremacists to claim they are the vanguard of the white poor and the president has not tried to dissuade them from that belief.
Trump did not rise from campaign rhetoric to statesmanship in his early comments on the violence which white supremacists unleashed Saturday during their “take back America” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The president merely criticized bigotry “on many sides,” much to the delight of the racists. The neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer welcomed Trump’s remarks. “He didn’t attack us. He just said that the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us,” the website’s founder, Andrew Anglin, wrote. “No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”
Former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, commenting on the rally, said, “We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump. Because we said he’s going to take our country back. That’s what we gotta do.”
It was not until Monday that Trump forcefully denounced as “repugnant” the sundry groups of white supremacists who staged the Charlottesville rally and promised to crack down on “racist violence.”
By then, his daughter Ivanka, one of his senior advisers, had already condemned the rally and its violence, asserting “there should be no place in society for racism.”
His National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster dubbed the violence at the rally “a form of terrorism.”
His Attorney General Jeff Sessions, himself accused of racism earlier in his career, also denounced the violence. His department has launched a civil rights probe into Char lottesville.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, no friend of civil rights, called the groups “repulsive and evil,” adding that “all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, bigotry, anti-Semitism and hatred that they propagate.”
Kenneth Frazier, the black Chief Executive Officer of the pharmaceuticals giant Merck & Co. Inc., resigned from the president’s American Manufacturing Council in protest at Trump’s tepid response.
“America’s leaders must honor our fundamental views by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that ‘all people are created equal’,” Frazier said in his resignation letter.
So did Kevin A. Plank, founder and CEO of the athletics wear company Under Armour.
In the aftermath of the violence, police charged James Alex Fields, a 20-year-old admirer of Adolf Hitler, with murder, saying he drove his car into a crowd of peaceful counter-demonstrators at the rally, killing one person and injuring at least 19 others.
In a sharp counterpoint to the hatred that must have been palpable among the racists at the rally, the victim, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, a white American, symbolized what is good about America.
Heyer’s boss, Alfred Wilson, said the young woman was so distraught over social injustice, “There have been times that I’ve walked back to her office and she had tears in her eyes,” such as a time she wept at the anti-Muslim hatred online.
There is wide bipartisan condemnation of the rally, its violence and the hatred which it spewed, from Members of Congress, civil rights organizations and other Americans. One family has disowned a son who attended and a company has fired an employee who did so.
It will take such actions to make it clear to the racists that their current sense of euphoria is purely delusional. Still, far from being contrite, they are planning more rallies to promote their grand cause: an all-white America. Trump is now facing a choice. He can revert to pre-Charlottesville and resume giving comfort to the nearly 1,000 hate groups in the country. Or, though it may seem far fetched, he can make a clean break with bigotry and anti-Americanism and get down to the business of running the country.