August 17, 2017
Peter Solari, Contributing Editor 

In the aftermath of the surreal, and tragic events that occurred in Charlottesville, VA over the weekend, President Donald Trump has rightfully come under fire for his reluctance to condemn, by name, the white nationalists, whose “Unite the Right” rally was at the center of all the chaos. 

There isn’t a lot of evidence to suggest that the president himself, is a racist, but it’s impossible to ignore that white supremacists, for whatever reasons, are attracted to him. We saw much of the same throughout Trump’s run through the Republican Primaries last year. 

When former Ku Klux Klan leader and Holocaust denier David Duke came out in support of his candidacy in February, then-candidate Trump didn’t condemn racism, anti-Semitism, or even Duke.  Instead, the GOP frontrunner nonchalantly “disavowed” Duke’s endorsement, then proceeded to act as if he didn’t even know who Duke was. Writing for PolitifactLinda Qiu addressed this on March 2, 2016, saying:

The controversy began Feb. 24, when Duke said that he supports Trump’s candidacy and told listeners of his radio program to “get active” for Trump. Two days later, Trump disavowed Duke in a news conference.

But Trump, who claims to have the “world’s greatest memory,” seemed to have forgotten this by Feb. 28. When CNN’s Jake Tapper asked him about Duke, Trump claimed ignorance four times:

  • “Well, just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke. okay? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don’t know.
  • “I don’t know, did he endorse me or what’s going on, because, you know, I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. And so you’re asking me a question that I’m supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about. …
  • “I don’t know any — honestly, I don’t know David Duke. I don’t believe I have ever met him. I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet him. And I just don’t know anything about him.”

Later that day, Trump tweeted a video of his earlier disavowal of Duke, and blamed his failure to do it again on CNN on “a very bad earpiece.”

This was a far cry from Trump’s previous statements on Duke. When the real estate mogul was mulling a run for the Reform Party’s presidential nomination in 2000, he was quite critical of the KKK’s former Imperial Wizard. As Qiu pointed out:

Fifteen years ago, when Trump was flirting with a White House bid as a Reform Party candidate, he named Duke as a cause of concern at least three times.

In 2000, former wrestler and then-Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura broke with the Reform Party because he didn’t want to be associated with the Reform Party’s presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, whom Duke supported.

“Buchanan is an anti-abortion extremist and an unrealistic isolationist,” Ventura told the New York Daily News on Feb. 12, 2000. “The latest I hear is that he’s now getting support from David Duke. I can’t be a part of that and I won’t be part of that.”

Before he called it quits, Ventura said he consulted with Trump. After Ventura left the party, Trump also named Duke as one of the Reform’s “biggest problems” on NBC’s Today Show.

“Well, you’ve got David Duke just joined — a big racist, a problem. I mean, this is not exactly the people you want in your party,” Trump said on Feb. 14, 2000.

He announced that day that he wouldn’t seek the nomination of the Reform Party, naming Duke as one of his reasons.

“Now I understand that David Duke has decided to join the Reform Party to support the candidacy of Pat Buchanan,” Trump wrote in a statement. “So the Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a Neo-Nazi, Mr. Buchanan, and a Communist, Ms. Fulani. This is not company I wish to keep.”

A few days later, Trump himself quit the party and repeated his earlier statement.

“Although I am totally comfortable with the people in the New York Independence Party, I leave the Reform Party to David Duke, Pat Buchanan and Lenora Fulani. That is not company I wish to keep,” Trump wrote in a Feb. 19, 2000, New York Times op-ed.

So does any of this make President Trump a racist? No. It more-or-less makes him a politician, something he’s never been shy about criticizing. 

The mystery of Trump isn’t very difficult to solve, especially if you’ve been paying attention. He has impulsively tipped his hand in the past. The president’s hesitance to condemn white supremacy isn’t a reflection of his bigotry. It’s a byproduct of his view of Republican voters, which are very much in line with the left’s decades-old caricatures of Republican voters (racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, callous rubes). 

In a July 11, 2015 speech on healthcare, Trump told his audience in Phoenix, AZ, “I know this doesn’t sound very Conservative. We gotta take care of everybody, not just the people up here. We gotta take care of everybody. Okay! Get used to it, conservatives. I love you, conservatives. Get used to it. Let’s take care of everybody.” 

A year later, in a July 26, 2016 interview on minimum wage, Trump told Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly, “You need to help people and I know it’s not very Republican to say, but you need to help people.”

Despite the president’s belief that Republicans are heartless and selfish (undoubtedly shaped by the media’s portrayal of them), actual data appears to tell a different story, as multiple studies have found that conservatives donate more, and a higher percentage of, their incomes to charity, than liberals do. Sadly, when it comes to racists in “his base,” Trump miscalculates again.

Before candidates started dropping like flies, Trump’s support among Republican primary voters held steady between 30 and 35%, meaning a vast majority of GOP voters supported somebody else. Of Trump’s plurality of primary support, only a miniscule faction of them represented actual white supremacists. 

In the general election, over 90% of Republican voters, many reluctantly, came around and pulled the lever for Trump. With this in mind, it seems rather absurd to suggest that Trump would lose “his base” if he condemned white supremacy, because white supremacists are far from “his base.” If anything, Trump might have picked up as many, if not more reluctant Republican voters by condemning the “alt right,” than neo-Nazi supporters he may have lost. 

Regardless of his motivations or what’s really in Trump’s heart, when the leader of the free world refuses to call neo-Naziism and domestic terrorism what they are, the silence is deafening, and it sends a dangerous message that only serves to embolden the white supremacists. How do I know this? Because the white supremacists told us so.

Following the president’s vague response to the chaos in Charlottesville, known white nationalist website, The Daily Stormer, which has since been run off the Internet, reacted with glee to Trump’s words. As Amy B. Wang wrote in Sunday’s Washington Post:

Less than a half-hour after Trump’s live remarks, the Daily Stormer had declared the president’s words as a signal of tacit support for their side:

  • Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us. 
  • He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate … on both sides! 
  • So he implied the antifa are haters. 
  • There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all. 
  • He said he loves us all. 

The neo-Nazi live blog also noted that Trump had refused to respond when a reporter asked about white nationalists who supported him.

“No condemnation at all,” the Daily Stormer wrote. “When asked to condemn, [Trump] just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”

This would be a good time for me to reiterate that I’m not calling Trump a bigot, nor do I believe him to be one. But when the actual bigots are essentially calling him one of them, does reality even matter? 

Perception is everything. That’s why this needs to be met with more than silence. 

While the president’s tranquility stiffens the resolve of white nationalists, other peoples’ words are having a similar effect. Enter ESPN  talking-head Stephen A. Smith.

On Tuesday’s episode of “First Take,” Smith uttered the following response to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s statement that there is a “time and place” for protesting:

“I’m going to say something that’s going to be controversial. I don’t give a damn. No white person has the right to tell black folks when you should protest about something. Because usually protests that emanates from the black community is due in large part because of the transgressions exacted against that community by those who don’t happen to be black.”

This is a pretty loaded statement that, like Trump’s message, can be easily misconstrued.

It’s hard to believe that in his heart, someone like Smith, who has built a very successful career on the back of his First Amendment protections, wants to take those same protections away from any of his colleagues who don’t happen to be African-Americans. On the other hand, it’s quite easy to believe that white nationalist groups would use Smith’s words to fan the flames of their bigotry, and make a case that he’s attempting to do just that.

The white nationalist “alt right” movement is built upon crazy notions like “white genocide” and the extinction of the white race. So when Smith makes a blanket statement like, “You can’t (fill in the blank here), because you’re white, he’s playing right into their hands by giving credence to someone like Duke, who says whites have been targeted for discrimination for years.

These comments are no different than a white person saying, “You can’t (fill in the blank here), because you’re black,” a scenario that would likely, and rightfully outrage Smith. The fact that he made these remarks under the guise of “equality,” is even more disgraceful. There’s a word for what Smith is advocating here, and that word is “racism,” and It’s a two-way street.

But as ridiculous as Smith’s remarks are on their face, his logic behind them is flawed too. 

When Smith says black protests “usually emanate” from transgressions against them from non-blacks, does he include Ferguson, MO, where Michael Brown, a black teen, was justifiably shot and killed by a white police officer whom Brown was attacking, as well? 

The response from many African-Americans to the Brown shooting was to burn and loot Ferguson, and numerous other communities around the country. When the dust finally settled, even President Barack Obama’s Justice Department, under a black Attorney General in Eric Holder, decided the shooting was justified, but that didn’t matter too much. The whole “Black Lives Matter” movement was built on fabrications from Ferguson (See: “Hands up, don’t shoot“).

If we’re to take Smith at his words, then any white citizen of Ferguson, who called for an end to the looting, didn’t have a right to do so. That seems rather illogical given the known facts of the case, doesn’t it?

One of the great sadnesses of this whole mess is that neither Trump nor Smith have ill-intentions, but as the old saying goes, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

When your actions, or lack thereof, are strenghthening the cause of neo-Nazis, the end result won’t be pretty, regardless of your motives.