Once again, the President of the United States was pushed to play the role of decent human being and offered a bare minimum performance in return.
On Monday afternoon, President Trump held an impromptu news conference to condemn the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists as “criminals and thugs.” He also noted that “racism is evil” and declared, “We must love each other, show affection for each other and unite together in the condemnation of bigotry and violence.”
They were remarks that should have been first uttered over the weekend — a woman was killed when a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters who had gathered to respond to the white nationalists who stormed the city of Charlottesville, Va., upholding the racist legacy of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. However, his initial statement was one that spoke of hatred “on many sides,” and that inability to address violent white racists directly sparked criticism from Democrats as well as multiple members of his own party. Monday’s remarks were intended to right that wrong. Instead, we got a limp condemnation of white supremacy from a man whose fortune and political ascension can be directly attributed to it.
Worse, he employed phrases like “law and order,” which just goes to show even when theoretically speaking against institutional racism, he couldn’t help but use language that essentially blows air kisses to it.
Nevertheless, he inadvertently did offer a degree of astuteness when he noted, “In times like these, America always shows its true character.”
Indeed, it does. As many of us watched in equal parts horror and exhaustion at the sea of White men (and White women) playing victim over the proposed tear down of an American traitor, well meaning White people behaved exactly as well meaning White people so often do. The knee-jerk response was to declare that the organizers and participants of the Unite The Right march were un-American. That everyone expression of their bigotry — verbal and violent alike — were antithetical to the ideals of American democracy. And of course, many White people rushed to declare that they are nothing like those White people who brought terror to Charlottesville.
The problem with the hashtag #ThisIsNotUS and the sentiment behind is that it is a fantastically farcical. It is a fairy tale White people tell each other in order to play lip service to an obvious atrocity without truly weighing culpability and complicity in it.
What happened in Charlottesville is not un-American; it is classic Americana.
To pretend otherwise is to coddle one’s own cluelessness and continue to let those of us who have to know better to survive deal with the consequences.
When confronted about James Alex Fields Jr., the man who drove into the crowd of counter-protestors and killed Heather D. Heyer, Samantha Bloom said of her racist, terrorist son: “I just knew he was going to a rally. I mean, I try to stay out of his political views.”
She went on to note her son had an “African-American friend” and said of the rally, “I thought it had something to do with Trump. Trump’s not a white supremacist.”
No, he just employs white supremacists sympathizers and installed an attorney general with a lifelong dedication to using the might of the Department of Justice to extend systemic racism. He’s also a bigot known for housing discrimination, calling on the death of innocent Black men, branding Mexicans as “rapists,” and assailing an entire religion as a hotbed of terrorism.
Bloom’s not the only one in denial, though.
In “The Hate He Dares Not Speak Of,” the New York Times editorial board did indeed criticize the president for his initial remarks about events Charlottesville, but curiously said this: “Mr. Trump is alone in modern presidential history in his willingness to summon demons of bigotry and intolerance in service to himself.” One can immediately recall Ronald Reagan’s 1980 appearance in Philadelphia, Mississippi where he declared, “I believe in states’ rights,” but the last half century offers numerous examples.
This all goes to show that the folklore about how this nation runs wide from institution to institution, White person to White person of every socioeconomic background. That’s why as despicable as that demagogue president is for his initial refusal to flat out speak out against white supremacists and nationalists, he is not alone in his delusions or cowardice. In fact, if not for White people collectively, he wouldn’t be president now.
If you cannot acknowledge America’s past and present, you are helping perpetuate more of the same in its future. If you are not confronting the racists in your own circles, you are part of the problem.
Professing “This is not us!” will not change anything, it only proves you care more about appearances than action.