by: Michael Shields
In the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, and in consideration of the response of the current administration, President Trump’s role in igniting the will of white nationalists in America is examined…
This past weekend the world was offered a chilling window into the version of America Trump promised during his presidential campaign. Seven months into a scandal-plagued presidency, the United States came face-to-face with a glaring example of what Trump might truly have meant when he pledged to Make America Great Again. For what we witnessed, in a normally quaint college town in a state whose motto proclaims itself as a home for “Lovers,” is inarguably a product of an administration, and of a president, that has consistently shied away from denouncing groups such as the KKK and neo-Nazis — hate groups who now believe they have in place leaders who champion their racist causes. Personally, I am still processing the images that transfixed our nation this weekend: Nazi flags; angry young white males dressed in khakis and white polo shirts with torches held high, unthreatened by police; armed neo-Nazi militias marching in the streets; a car viscously plowing into a mass of peaceful protesters; bodies tossed like rag dolls into the air; and a president walking briskly away from reporters who are simply asking him if he wishes to condemn the white nationalists that support him.
I hate to buy into the hyperbole, as I still believe there is far more good in this country than evil, but the truth is that the United States is divided in a way that I have never experienced in my forty years of life. Racism has always existed and thrived — systematically, predominantly and profoundly — as well as in the hearts of many an American citizen, but it hasn’t shown its contemptible head like it did in Charlottesville in some time. The fact that racial and hateful rhetoric is on the rise at this moment can be traced directly back to the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America. Make no mistake about it: Trump has emboldened those who believe America belongs to those with white skin, and has invigorated a heinous faction of the population to the point where an inspired David Duke could be found at the rally in Charlottesville stating that what was occurring “fulfilled the promises of Donald Trump.”
It can be argued that racists feeling bold enough to show their face in public in the manner in which they did in Charlottesville this weekend is a good thing. In this way, racism is being rooted out of the darkened corners it typically nests in for all to see. This allows for the sort of national dialogue that needs to occur if we’re to begin addressing, and eventually dismissing, this outdated and ugly brand of ignorance. Not only that, but it also provides the opportunity to expose those who have been blind (unwittingly or wittingly) to the deep-seated racism that runs rampant in America, so that they can no longer pretend that the wanton bigotry that underlies our national divisiveness and depresses a large segment of our population, intentionally and on the daily, is not a dire concern. But this encouraged notion is, admittedly, an attempt to look at the bright side of things, as the fact of the matter is this past weekend a courageous citizen committed to opposing racism tragically lost her life (RIP Heather Heyer) because she was brave enough to stand up to bigotry. It was a tragic and heartbreaking end for a peaceful protestor who stood courageously against neo-Nazis literally marching through the streets of America, a band of close-minded and selfish individuals who felt enabled by a president who took multiple days to, grudgingly, denounce the brand of hatred that took Heather’s life, and then doubled-down on his original “violence on many sides” comment in a bizarre and heated exchange with reporters at Trump Tower just yesterday.
Attempting to build off what they believe to be fuel for their hate-filled fire, white nationalists across the country are mobilizing with a renewed enthusiasm, because as these groups see it, this is their time. “Nazis,” Jon Oliver declared cheekily on Last Week Tonight, “are a lot like cats, if they like you, it’s probably because you are feeding them,” and the Trump administration has been generous with the sustenance. Until Monday, Trump had never renounced the KKK’s support, or the backing of any white nationalist organization1. Neo-Nazis could be found at every Trump rally, flying their colors and harassing minorities and those who protested against hate. Trump welcomed the alt-right into his rallies and events throughout his campaign, and then later, directly into his administration. So it should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention to what is happening in America that tensions are heightened and that the alt-right, with their newfound cheerleader, has become progressively motivated, as violence, hatred, and bigotry go blatantly unchecked by the President Trump and his administration.
Although I was born in New England, I have strong ties, and a fond affinity, to the state of Virginia, due to the fact I spent my formative years in the Commonwealth. Because of this, and due to the severity in nature of the alt-rights’ emboldened presence, the events that took place in Charlottesville resonate with me deeply on a personal level. But this eruption of hate and violence surely isn’t about a single state, but about a nation that after almost two hundred and fifty years of existence cannot find a way to live by the standards of which is was founded, where all men (and women!) are created equal. On Saturday, the first fatal terrorist attack to occur under President Trump’s watch transpired, and the entire nation should take pause and consider its ramifications. For this terrorist attack did not come at the hands of Radical Islam, which Trump admonishes at every turn, but rather in the name of white extremism, homegrown here in America, and charged by a hate that has unquestionably spilled from the top down.
The initial, feeble and wholly flawed, response by the president on Saturday, which was emphatically echoed again on Tuesday, did little to diffuse the will of white nationalists in our country. In fact, quite the contrary. It is through Trump’s abysmal and bizarre statements, and his actions throughout his entire campaign and through to his presidency, that the various factions of the alt-right have come to realize that he has their back. The paltry response, too, from far too many Republicans is as telling as it is disturbing. What occurred in Charlottesville this past weekend, where Nazi flags were paraded unchecked through the streets, and an innocent protester was brutally killed, is hostile to everything America stands for. It spits in the face of everything that makes this country special. And what is so very clear now is that the trying days that await us as a country will not shape Trump into the president many on the right believe he can be, but rather will further expose his weaknesses, his incompetence, and his biases. There is little that would have been easier for Trump to do in his role as president this trying week than to simply denounce Nazism and hate-filled speech in all its forms, but after Trump’s tepid, if not supportive, response to the violent uprising in Charlottesville, his true colors have been exposed, and the question we need to ask ourselves now is: What are We, The people, willing to do to ensure that the rights of all people are protected in the face of an administration that appears to believe otherwise? Because if nothing is done, the events that took place in Charlottesville will only be the beginning.