Trump’s destructive validation of racists

Once upon a time, I thought the repudiation of white supremacists was the easiest layup in U.S. politics. Not for the Trump campaign.

Asked recently whether he considered former KKK leader David Duke deplorable, Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence said he was “not in the name-calling business.” Earlier this year, Donald Trump was posed a similar question and claimed, incredibly and repeatedly, “I don’t know anything about David Duke.” In a particularly revealing campaign moment, Trump was asked to repudiate the anti-Semitic death threats made by some of his followers against a reporter. “I don’t have a message to the fans,” Trump said.

The fans, no doubt, regard this as the gotcha game of a politically correct press. Even if this is true, an initial reluctance to condemn some of the very worst people in U.S. politics conveys a message. Several years ago, researchers developed an Implicit Association Test — a sort of computerized “blink test” measuring how subjects associate positive and negative words with people of different races. The immediate reaction of a politician to the KKK is a kind of political blink test. The right response is revulsion. And there has generally been a Grand Wizard exception to the prohibition on name-calling.