I wasn’t mad at #45 Trump for his initial mealy mouthed, say no name, whitewash of the white nationalist rampage in Charlottesville. I wasn’t mad at the Republican National Committee chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel’s, equally mealy mouthed, say nothing, statement on the racist perpetrators of the violence. My anger only rose after watching and listening to the parade of GOP senators and congresspersons stumble over themselves with pious, self-righteous, hand wringing denunciations of the white nationalists, and of Trump, for not denouncing them.
There are two standard explanations given for why Trump didn’t specifically finger point the Klan and the Nazis and Vanguard America by name. One was because they are his political cheer leaders and he will do nothing to offend them. The other is that given Trump’s well-documented history of race pandering and baiting it is just simply a case of birds of a racist feather flocking together. Neither explanation hit the mark. Even for Trump, the crude, naked, crackpot, violence incitement of the white nationalist fringe groups is an embarrassment. He was right when he fired back that white nationalists didn’t put him in the Oval Office. GOP voters, and the very same GOP senators and congresspersons rushing to condemn him and the white nationalists, did.
Take the very issue that brought the hate mongers to Charlottesville, namely the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee. Several formal and informal polls showed that the overwhelming majority of respondents were adamantly opposed to junking the Lee statue. The sentiment in these poll findings are pretty much the same as those in other polls taken throughout the South on knocking down the Confederate statues and monuments. The legions that back preserving the racist trappings of the past would never dream of joining a white nationalist rally, or throwing a fist in a demonstration, or publicly uttering a racist epithet. They roundly condemn those who do. But the same sentiments are there and in a refined, acceptable, political form they show up in the winning tabulations for GOP incumbents and candidates on every Election Day.
These voters are Trump and the GOP’s much touted base. From the moment Trump flirted with a presidential candidacy, not in 2016 but in 2012, many in the GOP saw Trump’s mediagenic persona, brashness, and take-no-prisoners style as an asset. He could tap the basest instincts among a wide swatch of disconnected and alienated GOP hard-right faithful. They were the ones who stayed away from the polls in droves in 2008 and 2012. Their absence was the tipping factor that assured the election of former President Obama and his return to the White House. There were two keys to try and get them back. One was to pander hard to their fear and xenophobia of minorities, gays, immigrants and Muslims.
The other was to have someone willing to spew as much verbal bile at Obama as possible. Trump fit the bill. The issue of choice in 2012 was the thoroughly phony and idiotic issue of Obama’s supposed foreign birth. This was not an insignificant point since polls repeatedly showed that a majority of Republicans believed that Obama was foreign born and even a closet radical Muslim fellow traveler.
Trump’s slander of Latino immigrants as “criminals” and “rapists” got quiet nods among many, tons of media clips, and the crafting of him as a candidate not afraid to tell it like he saw it on an emotional issue no matter who it offended. It didn’t much matter how much of a polarizing figure he was. He made stupendous copy, brought oceans of attention to the GOP, and suddenly made ultra conservatives cheer lustily for him. GOP presidential candidates handled him with the daintiest of kid gloves.
The GOP’s good cop, bad cop ploy with Trump was not new. 2012 GOP presidential contender, Mitt Romney, and the entire GOP establishment publicly hammered Trump for dredging up the phony birther issue. And in a political self-righteous pique, they pretended to distance themselves from him claiming he did not represent what the GOP purportedly stood for. A few GOP contenders took an occasional swipe at Trump again during the 2016 campaign for his naked bigotry, but stopped way short of taking that same swipe at the virulent racist supporters who screamed their lungs out and assaulted counter demonstrators at his rallies. Charlottesville is an exact repeat of that script again this time with GOP leaders publicly expressing indignation at Trump’s tap dance around the white nationalists. But Trump is not doing anything that he hasn’t always done, and that’s spout any foul mouthed, incendiary racial, Muslim, immigrant slur that came into his skull. This is the Trump the GOP turned loose hoping to provide fodder for media sensationalism, while stoking the frustration and rage of packs of unreconstructed bigots, America firsters, and ultra-conservatives. The white nationalists are only the latest and most extreme of this bunch. And when they got out of hand in Charlottesville, like Frankenstein’s monster, it didn’t change the brutal fact that the GOP, not Trump, created it.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. His forthcoming book, The Trump Challenge to Black America (Middle Passage Press) will be released in August. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.