Aside from the deeper examination of racism in America (which I discussed earlier this morning) we are currently witnessing a political sideshow involving the President which lends a rather circus-like atmosphere to what would otherwise be a very serious debate. It all has to do with the how, when and why of President Trump’s “official response” to the mayhem in Charlottesville. Sadly, you could see it coming from a mile away, but Trump walked into the trap like a political novice. Here’s roughly how the game played out, very much by design.
Media: You need to denounce the racism and violence in Virginia!
Trump: I denounce racism, hatred and violence of all kinds.
Media: Not good enough! You need to specifically call out white supremacists, the KKK and the Nazis!
Trump: Okay. I denounce the white supremacists, the KKK and the Nazis.
Media: Not good enough! You waited too long! You only did it because we were criticizing you for not doing it!
Trump: [Tears up remarks and goes back to golf course]
All of this has given Trump’s most virulent critics plenty of fodder to pass the time until Congress is back in session and something new actually happens. Primarily it’s a speculative game of suggesting precisely why it “took so long” for the President to specifically call out the Klan and the neo-nazis. The suggestion here, of course, is that Trump is secretly a huge racist and fan of these organizations so he had to be prodded into action. (Trump needs to denounce the entire “nationalist wing!”) In a more sane world you would be amazed if anyone could denounce the actions of those groups without noting that Steve Scalise is still facing years or rehab or recalling the bloody beatdowns which took place at Berkeley and other protest sites. But I suppose the President is held to a higher standard, despite the fact that this sort of partisan equivocation (well your side does it too!) goes on all the time.
So is Trump a secret racist? There’s an alternate theory out today from conservative radio host Michael Graham, writing at the Boston Herald. And keep in mind that Michael has been, from the day Trump first came riding down that golden escalator, such a consistent and enthusiastic opponent of anything to do with Donald Trump that he makes most of the original NeverTrumpers look like weak-kneed apologists. Put on your tinfoil hats and check those safety belts because here comes a new idea. Trump’s not really a racist, antisemite or what-have-you, but he thinks that’s what conservatives want him to be so he’s just faking it!
There’s another explanation. What if Trump is telling us, not his opinion of white supremacy, but instead sharing his opinion of his white supporters. What if he’s soft on supremacy because he thinks conservatives want him to be?
There are times when Trump sounds like a bad “Saturday Night Live” parody of a Republican politician, making clueless, ignorant comments that sound like what liberals might imagine conservatives say Remember: Trump is no genuine conservative and has never been one. He’s a New Yorker who spent 70 years in the Manhattan media stream, told again and again that “conservative” was just a polite way of saying “Heil Hitler!”
Conservative intellectuals have been attacking Trump’s “Klan-casual” attitude from day one. But the Bannon nationalists around him haven’t. Perhaps they’ve convinced President Trump to believe the worst about the people who like him best.
First of all, let me say that I find the idea of Trump being some sort of crazed, closet racist (beyond the normal range of residual bias you might find in a seventy year old, fabulously wealthy, Big Apple urbanite) to be laughable. I don’t know where the President falls on the scale of social justice enthusiasm, but I highly doubt that a deep dive into his Trump Tower enclave would reveal a collection of 400 thread count Klan hoods and signed love letters from Josef Mengele.
With that said, I’ll admit that my first reaction to reading Michael’s column was akin to how I’d expect to feel upon pulling up next to another car at a stoplight and seeing a dog behind the wheel. But does Graham’s explanation merit further examination?
I will grant you that Trump’s history of public commentary over the decades would suggest that his conservatism, however much credence you give it, is a more recently acquired taste. His positions have clearly taken a lurching turn to the right in just the past decade. Whether you choose to ascribe that to some sort of Come to Jesus moment or a calculated adoption of an agenda which would best serve him in pursuit of the presidency is left to the observer.
But in order to buy into this we’d have to assume that Trump fundamentally misunderstands the conservative base. I’ll readily grant you that he took some bedrock conservative principles during the primary and turned them all the way up to eleven, almost to a comical degree. You want more secure borders? I’ll build you a one hundred foot wall. Like to see less intrusive government regulations? I’ll fire half the people at the EPA and shred their rule book. Like lower taxes? I’ll eliminate all taxes on everyone! (Okay, I made up that last one, but it wouldn’t have been a bad idea.) But I’m afraid Michael goes at least one moderate sized bridge too far for me here.
Conservatives have been accused of racism by the liberal media for ages because it’s infinitely easier to simply shout, “racist!” than to construct defensible arguments against the need for better border security, enhancing the integrity of elections with voter ID, opposition to a steeply increased minimum wage which hurts those it purports to help and all the rest. But I can’t bring myself to believe that Trump bought into that narrative to the point where he’s suddenly willing to start pretending to be a racist in the White House just to make the base happy. Sorry, Michael. I’ll toss it out for our readers to debate, but I’m just not buying it. I think Trump’s original official statement was precisely what it sounded like. He was denouncing hatred and violence, but was unwilling to pretend that it only takes place among the Klan and the Nazis. And I think he was silly to do a follow-up on Monday to satisfy the press because nothing he could have said at any point would have satisfied the people who have already made up their minds that he’s the Devil incarnate.
Oh, and before you go… here’s those driving dogs I mentioned earlier.