Charlottesville: What Trump Said By Not Saying Anything

Also published at HuffPost

On August 12th, 2017, an act of domestic terrorism propelled by racists and white nationalists occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia. I’m calling it domestic terrorism propelled by racists and white nationalists (or white supremacists), because it’s time (for white people, in particular) to name this for what it is. And while it may be legal for white supremacists to express their alt-right, morally repugnant views, it is absolutely unacceptable to do so in this day and age. It’s far beyond time for all Americans (but most especially white Americans) to use our privilege, our platforms, and our collective, rhetorical power to denounce racism, and to say that it is absolutely unacceptable for anyone to be a white supremacist, or neo-Nazi, or alt-right member in 2017 America. We cannot afford the normalization of this. 

What originally started with members of the alt-right conducting a “rally to unite the right” and protesting against the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, ended tragically with a driver smashing into a line of cars, causing a chain reaction that killed one person and injured at least nineteen others, who were peacefully counter-protesting the white nationalist gathering.  20-year-old James Alex Fields was the driver, who now stands charged with second degree murder.

Charlottesville - GettyImages_830617844.0

White Supremacists at a rally in Charlottesville: Getty Images

James Alex Fields was also identified in a photograph, standing with and being part of the “blood and soil” white supremacist group, Vanguard America. Their manifesto includes core beliefs like, Our America is to be a nation exclusively for the White American peoples who out of the barren hills, empty plains, and vast mountains forged the most powerful nation to ever have existed. Though they quickly denounced Fields’ actions, and they claim to be pro-law and against criminal activity, they still push alt-right, violence-inciting rhetoric. Another core belief listed in their manifesto reads: The ideal structure of a family is one in which a hard-working father and nurturing mother instill strong values in the children of our nation. This family structure is, and has proven to be, the strongest core foundation for any nation, and thus any assault on the family must be met with swift and decisive action. We realize that equality does not exist in nature, and a government based in the natural law must not cater to the false notions of equality. 

This same type of hard-working, tough guy imagery was often implied and romanticized by Trump throughout his campaign trail, (“The forgotten men of America,” anyone?) and this is precisely the type of rhetoric known to ramp up the blood pressure, and embolden previously dormant violent tendencies of the alt-right racists, and white nationalists in general. It was, after all, during Trump’s announcement of his candidacy for President of The United States that he called Mexicans “rapists,” among other bad things, and it all just continued spiraling downwards from there. Of course, only his base ate this up, but it was harmful to everyone because it further perpetuated the public misconception that crime is correlated to immigration, particularly, illegal immigration.

Of course Trump’s message resounded with this despicable group of vile sub-humans. The blame for Charlottesville lies squarely on Trump’s shoulders. This is his America, whether he wants it or not. This is the monster he created. Anyone who thinks that there’s no correlation between a.) people planning and willingly going to Charlottesville without donning hoods or masks, openly protesting the removal of a confederate statue, and b.) the legacy of Donald Trump’s candidacy for POTUS, is simply exposing their high level of idiocy. 

Just think about what the people who came to Charlottesville to protest were actually protesting: the removal of the statue of a man who led the Confederate Army to defend slavery, who married into the wealthiest slave-owning family in Virginia, and whose ideology was white supremacy. Robert E. Lee was a man who, in a letter to his wife regarding slaves, famously stated, “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.” 

These white supremacy groups in Charlottesville were protesting the taking down of a statue of that man, which coincidentally, was erected in 1924, just as the second resurgence of the KKK was happening. This is significant because in the 1920s, post WWI, white Americans were becoming more and more bitter and resentful over immigration and the idea that immigrants were taking jobs away from them, and they were worried that immigrants and people of color were diluting the (myth of) “racial purity” of American society as a whole. Basically, a bunch of white supremacists had irrational paranoia over losing their power, their status, and their country.

It that sounds familiar, it’s because now, we have the third rising of the KKK (which has been growing steadily, and even more so since the 1960s); only this time, they’re carrying citronella tiki torches into the the night, and they’re emboldened to show their hoodless, maskless faces. The correlation between Donald Trump’s presidency parading in on the coattails of his open, inflammatory, hateful rhetoric like a reality freak show, and the willingness of white supremacists to show their faces in public is no coincidence. 

This rhetoric appeals to people in the same way the NRA does, as well as Breitbart News, Fox News, and right-wing talk radio programs like Rush Limbaugh. This toxic rhetoric is making white people think they are being overpowered and outnumbered by different races and liberals, and further, that their lives are somehow in danger. It’s just time for white people to have a serious conversation and face the fact that their paranoia, and frankly, their insecurities about America being overwhelmed by the likes of immigrants, liberals, muslims, and black people, is simply ridiculous. In 2017, America is still dominated by white people, conservatives, and Christianity. They still dominate government, too, with Republicans controlling The White House, both houses of Congress, The Supreme Court, and most of the country’s governorships. That these white (men, mostly) have the gall to act like a besieged minority is mind-blowing. 

Fields’ mother, appearing somewhat bewildered after hearing the news of her son, said she knew her son was attending a rally. She also said that her son had mentioned “alt-right,” but she didn’t know what that meant. When it was explained to her that the alt-right was composed of white supremacists, she said, “I didn’t know it was white supremacist, I thought it had something to do with Trump.” When she then stated with authority, “Trump’s not a supremacist,” you could almost hear the collective gasps of everyone, everywhere, who has been calling out Trump’s racism, xenophobia, and all the other ‘isms’ and phobias he has failed to condemn since day one.

Fields’ mother also explained that she didn’t get involved with her son’s politics, specifically, that she tried to “stay out of his political views.” And that’s where we have a huge, reoccurring problem: She didn’t know. She either didn’t know, didn’t care to know, or pretended not to know that her son was a Trump fan, and an alt-right fan. While many Trump voters surprised us by being Trump voters, their votes still may have come from good intentions, however misguided. But the divide between human beings with moral decency, and those who are alt-right is not subtle. Furthermore, stances taken by the alt-right (and by association he has yet to condemn, Trump) are not even about politics in the first place – they’re about whether one embraces the collective moving forward of society towards a common honorable goal, or the moving backwards of society to a romanticized past that never actually existed. Forwards, or backwards. Progressive, or regressive. Decent human beings, or the alt-right. It really is that cut and dry.

The fact that James Alex Fields’ mother didn’t know leads directly to this point: White families actually need to have the difficult conversations nobody wants to have. White people need to come to the kitchen table and discuss hard topics like systemic racism, the many faces and intersections of privilege, the unfair stigma of mental illness, the problems with reinforcing a cisgender, heteronormative culture while not teaching diversity, and even stuff as seemingly trivial as the ever-shifting, evolving cultural language our teenage youth are adopting.

White families, who by skin color are automatically endowed with white privilege, regardless of class, need to shift out of their comfort zones and honestly discuss their values and ideals. They need to admit and confront their fears and insecurities, their non-negotiables, and even (and especially) their political views, if for no other reason than that anyone’s child could be the next James Alex Fields, and any parent could remorsefully claim, “I just didn’t know.”

As this news of white supremacists, alt-right, and racism apparently sunk in some time later, Fields’ mother on-camera said, “I mean, he had an African-American friend! I mean, so…” and then trailed off with a somewhat uncomfortable, disbelieving kind of chuckle. Laughable, because in her mind surely her son wasn’t associated with racists or white supremacists – look, he has a black friend; that proves he’s not racist!

That type of reasoning is exactly on par with someone saying, “I’m not homophobic, I have gay friends,” or “I’m not transphobic” but then using transphobic language such as “sex change,” “transvestite,” or “transgendered” (which is no more a real word than “gayed,” or “straighted”). So her argument, implying that her son couldn’t possibly be racist or white supremacist because he had “an African American friend,” is the perfect case in point for the statement: Just because you have black friends doesn’t automatically mean you’re not racist. In fact, it’s a terrible excuse for racism. 

This was the first major episode of deadly domestic terrorism to occur under the reign of President Trump. From the beginning of his campaign, Donald Trump has chosen not to deal with the topic of racism head-on, if at all, though he was more than happy to chide and even taunt former President Obama in ways like starting the (very racist, very untrue) “birther” conspiracy theory. In fact, it’s very telling that it took people like former President Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton, who didn’t win the presidency, to denounce this act of racism on social media long before the sitting President did – a man who, on a normal day, sends out tweets like dandelion seeds in a gust of wind. 

Trump’s very late response to the events that unfolded in Charlottesville seemed forced; He appeared before TV cameras begrudgingly, emotionless, eyes not leaving the prepared script, much like the way a ten year old child might read a written, forced apology for kicking their 5th grade nemesis on the playground. That is, until Trump got to the part where he said bigotry was being seen “on many sides, on many sides.” For that part, he looked up and returned to his usual tone of voice. That part seemed to be a last minute ad lib, to sort of defiantly go rogue and throw in a promise to his base (with a wink and a nod) that he was still with them. After that, basically everyone not in his base tuned out and disregarded the rest of that ill-penned, pitiful and vague speech. 

It was a huge missed opportunity and a complete failure on the President’s part. And yet, it seems like this is all unfolding perfectly, according to Trump’s plan. That during this pitiful speech he got to tout the phrase, “What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives,” sounded less like denouncing white supremacy, and more like a rallying cry for Americans to get behind this insinuated “need” for us to extend manpower and militarize the police in our streets. Trump has already made sweeping attempts to take away the freedom of the press, and freedom of speech. Perhaps removing freedom of assembly is the next constitutional right he’ll chip away at.

These are all things many believe to be part of Trump’s ultimate endgame – which as many people have noted, is frighteningly the exact same thing Hitler did. Hitler posed as a “traditional values” man, a champion of law and order. The Nazi police liked to take preventative action, making arrests based on suspicion or whim, beating people into submission with no oversight from the courts, etc. When Hitler and the Nazi party gained traction, they were easily able to take away basic human rights that had already been granted, including freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly, for starters. What Trump is doing is nothing new. 

After that pitiful speech on Saturday, many were vocal over the fact that he didn’t name the attack for what it was – an act of domestic terrorism propelled by racists and white nationalists. All over the news and social media, people were calling for Trump to denounce it immediately. But he never did. In addition to his pathetic speech which actually said more with its silence than with its words, Trump can now add, “shows moral cowardice in the face of domestic terrorism” to his report card.

But why would we expect anything different? This is who he is. This is who he was all over the campaign trail. We are merely reaping the consequences now of electing a white supremacist. We are reaping the consequences of his actions, like surrounding himself in the White House with influential figures like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, who are known white supremacists. We see their white nationalist influence on Trump when we see something like his response to what just happened. We see it in the the way he seemed to bend over backwards to try and not call a spade a spade, by not naming the act, and by not saying that it was a racially motivated act of domestic terror. 

Saturday’s speech was a display of Trump going through the motions because people forced his hand. The “White House-issued” clarification later (issued by a unnamed White House spokesman) was laughable, claiming that when he condemned bigotry, Trump was including racism and white supremacy. But Trump didn’t say it himself. He never looked into the camera and said to his country, “I condemn white supremacy, racism, and neo-nazis.” Some assistant issued another statement claiming he condemns them. For it to be believed, though, Trump has to say it and do it himself, through both words and actions. Sadly, however, I’d argue there’s no need to wait for him to publicly denounce white supremacy. That’s because, as time has proven over and over again, we need only to look at his actions, not his words. Unfortunately, his actions have always either failed his words, or confirmed his silence. 

Of course the roots of what happened in Charlottesville didn’t start with Trump; they go back to the founding of our country. Racism has always been present, but there are also figures who emerge and seem to fan its flames over the years. We saw this when white people began protesting the election of our first black President in 2008. And Donald Trump was listening. In that audience he found a well and tapped into it. He built his entire campaign platform on the foundation of a disobedient, rogue, enabling environment, one that incited and welcomed violence on the campaign trail, which then spilled over into his presidency. During his gratuitous, self-congratulatory “thank you tour” to the states who showed their Trump loyalty by voting him in, Trump continued this rhetoric. And by then, he was already full-tilt into building his cabinet with known white supremacists who would greatly influence him. 

The responsibility now for all of us white people, whether we voted for him or not, is to consistently and perpetually point out how abnormal all of this is, and how this is fundamentally NOT what our country stands for. We must have the difficult conversations with our family around the kitchen table. We must call and write our representatives, local and otherwise, to state our discontent. We must complain about the normalization of white supremacists in The White House – white supremacists who are attempting to make policies across the boards that are gradually dismantling our individual rights, and undermining our defining American values and ideals.

We have to do more. We have to demand more. We deserve more. Let the American people speak whenever Trump goes silent. Actually, let the American people speak, particularly the decent white people who say they’re not racist. Let those Americans speak. Period.

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