Sunday, August 13, 2017

Charlottesville, Trump, Republican Hypocrisy and the Art of the False Equivalence

by David Balashinsky

The right-wing propaganda machine - Fox, Breitbart, Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch, Steve Bannon, and their ilk - as well as the vast majority of the Republican Party, by supporting the campaign and presidency of Donald J. Trump, bear a moral responsibility for the horrendous display of radical anti-Americanism that occurred in Charlottesville this weekend.  They are responsible either by having actively supported Trump's bigotry with their words and their votes or by having tacitly supported it with their silence when they had the chance to speak up and chose not to.   Let's not forget that Trump ran on a campaign of bigotry and nativism in which he exhorted his followers to thuggery and mob violence.  Even now, Trump refuses to unambiguously disclaim and repudiate the neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, and white nationalists who proudly marched in his name this weekend.  Instead, Trump seems to have taken pains to avoid alienating the white-nationalist segment of his base by refusing to explicitly identify them and by creating a false equivalence between them and those who oppose them.  This was Trump's mealy-mouthed and winking statement about the violence, as reported in the Washington Post: "The hate and division must stop and must stop right now.  We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.  On many sides."  Note how Trump goes out of his way to emphasize, with the rhetorical technique of repetition, the false narrative that the white nationalists and those who oppose them are morally equivalent.  That neo-Nazis, white nationalists and anti-Semites and those other Americans who happen to believe in the ideals on which this nation was founded - that all people are created equal - are all equally to blame.  As the Post reported, "Asked by a reporter whether he wanted the support of white nationalists, dozens of whom wore red Make America Great Again hats during the Charlottesville riots, Trump did not respond."  Let that sink in: Trump was lobbed the easiest sort of softball question in which he was offered the easiest of opportunities to explicitly repudiate white nationalists.  Yet this pretender to the Oval Office, who never shies away from criticizing or condemning anyone else, could not bring himself to repudiate the political support of white nationalists.

In a way, Trump's false equivalence here is perfectly fitting, given that the ostensible reason for this gathering of racist groups from around the United States in Charlottesville was to protest the impending removal  of the statue of Robert E. Lee from what is now known as Emancipation Park.  (One concise history of the efforts to remove this statue can be found here:  After all, those who defend the preservation of monuments to the Confederacy in public spaces seldom if ever do so on the basis of a defense of the enslavement of millions of black people.  Rather, they seek to create an alternative meaning for these monuments:  They represent the sacrifice of people who sincerely believed in the cause for which they gave their lives.  Or they represent the neutral and abstract principle of "states' rights."  Or, conversely, the campaign to have them removed from public spaces constitutes a misguided attempt to negate or rewrite history.  What all of these formulations have in common is that they disingenuously attempt to deny the actual meaning of these monuments: that the enslavement of millions of black people is a part of our nation's history that deserves to be honored and that the effort to preserve slavery by Confederate heroes such as Robert E. Lee was honorable.  By avoiding the real significance of these monuments, the monuments'  defenders attempt to position themselves and their opponents on the same moral plane.  This is the technique that has become fashionable in right-wing circles and that has been elevated to high art by the right-wing media as epitomized by Fox and Breitbart.  Thus, the moral distinction between supporting and opposing a monument to slavery itself becomes blurred or even effaced. Similarly, in Trump's version of what occurred this weekend, it was not specifically white-nationalist hatred, racism, bigotry and violence that were on display in Charlottesville but a generic, non-specific "hatred, bigotry, and violence," and there is enough culpability for that to go around -  isn't there? - "on many sides - On many sides."

But hatred of "non-whites" is not the moral equivalent of hatred of racists and racism.   And so back to Trump and the outbreak of violence over the significance of the Robert E. Lee statue in Emancipation Park.

If there were any doubt that a direct link exists between Trump's candidacy, his campaign rhetoric, his presidency and the full flowering of the neo-Nazi, white-nationalist movement that was on display yesterday in Charlottesville, the presence of all those MAGA hats should dispel it once and for all.  The neo-fascists, after all, make no bones about their explicit intentions "to take our country back" and they plainly have hitched their wagon to Trump the candidate and now Trump the president.   Here is what one self-identified Nazi, Michael Von Kotch, interviewed by the Post in Charlottesville yesterday, had to say.  The rally made him "proud to be white."  The Post article continues: "[Von Kotch] said that he's long held white supremacist views and that Trump's election has 'emboldened' him and the members of his own Nazi group.  'We are assembled to defend our history, our heritage, and to protect our race to the last man.'"   David Duke - ardent Trump supporter, white nationalist, and former head of the KKK -  responded to Trump's faux condemnation of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville by publicly reminding Trump of the debt tht he owes to his white-nationalist base.  Addressing Trump directly, Duke wrote, “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.” 

Trump and his fellow opportunistic Republican politicians are perfectly happy to exploit the strain of bigotry that, sadly, still runs through part of the nation's electorate when doing so assures them a win at the ballot box, in the state house or in congress.   But by doing so, they have opened a Pandora's Box of racism, white nationalism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia and everything else that the "alt-right" stands for.  They cannot have it both ways.  They could have taken - as a few did - a moral stand against Trump last year, but chose not to.  Now they must acknowledge their own moral culpability in this national disgrace.  For Republicans - who acquiesced in Trump's candidacy last year and acquiesce in his presidency now - to shed crocodile tears about what happened yesterday in Charlottesville constitutes the height of hypocrisy.

1 comment:

  1. yes, this comparison between BLM/peace activists and nazi/supremacist activists is ridiculous. Lucky for us, Trump doesn't pay his debts, just ask Putin :).