The Trump administration’s see-no-evil attitude toward white racism has been on especially vivid display, as the White House struggled over the weekend to manage a convincing condemnation of the rally of neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and miscellaneous white supremacists held in Charlottesville, Va. On the day one of the men drove a car into a group of peaceful counterprotesters, killing one, the president issued an outrageous statement chastising “many sides” for violence.
As critics piled on, the White House tried to clarify Trump’s stance, and finally issued a new statement — through an unnamed administration spokesman — calling out white supremacists by name.
But the president’s initial words were more telling, and reflected a willful blindness toward hate crimes and domestic terrorism that the administration has translated into policy. Trump’s Department of Homeland Security has de-emphasized surveillance of white hate groups, and the administration’s budget proposed stripping funding from a domestic anti-terror program. The administration even killed a small grant to Life After Hate, a group that helps de-radicalize white nationalists. Trump can attempt damage control over this weekend’s comments all he wants, but the test of whether any of those words are sincere is whether he reverses his administration’s policies in a meaningful way in response to the violence.
The photos of the marchers in Charlottesville, carrying swastikas and chanting anti-Semitic slogans, should put to rest any doubts about the surge in white hate-group activity that has been reported since the election. Once-marginal groups have been emboldened by Trump’s election and by the racially charged rhetoric his movement used during the campaign.
Long before Trump, his Republican Party has maintained a sick alliance with white racism, courting racist voters with coded appeals to prejudice. Trump’s accomplishment, if you can call it that, is to force that relationship out into the open. The wink-and-nod relationship is no longer tenable. The GOP controls both the White House and Congress as the tide of extremism grows. Responsibility for countering it is theirs. Either Trump and the Republican Congress turn on their supporters now, and fight back against this surge of hate in words, actions, and policies, or they let it engulf their party, and their country.