They are desperate to cling to the myth that the mayhem in Charlottesville and Trump’s behavior is “un-American.”
The elites can’t accept the death of Heather Heyer and related violence is the product of a man whose agenda has been to “Make America White Again” since that day in June 2015 when he kicked off his presidential run by scapegoating Mexican immigrants as criminals, drug dealers, and rapists.
Anyone who calls Charlottesville un-American is a fool. There is nothing more American than a mob of enraged white men rampaging, pummeling a Black man bloody, and killing.
It’s a tradition forged on the frontier and during the slave era and passed down among much of white America from Klan terror to Jim Crow to the civil rights era to the police brutality of today.
The failure to accept this history is symptomatic of a country in which there are just two museums of slavery in America, but there is a cottage industry of speculative fiction about a modern-day slave-practicing Confederacy “where whiteness thrives and people of color remain oppressed.”
Take NBC newsman Chuck Todd. After Trump’s “jaw-dropping” press conference on Tuesday, in which he sided with white supremacists, Todd expressed his childlike faith that Trump, solely by virtue of being in the office of the president, “will eventually do the right thing.” News hosts on Fox and CNN were similarly “stunned” by Trump’s “off-the-rails” performance.
Did these journalists miss the last two years? All the times Trump promoted violence at his rallies, including the rally in 2015 when he egged on his supporters as they kicked and punched a Black Lives Matter activist on the ground. The fights Trump picked with Gold Star-father Khizr Khan and Judge Gonzalo Curiel. The attacks on Muslims. His birtherism against Obama and 30-year crusade against the exonerated Central Park Five.
For elites, Trump is incomprehensible. They worship American exceptionalism. Trump has burned it to the ground. He’s proved America is no safe haven from the cliche of a venal and scabrous authoritarian.
Endowed with the staggering powers of the presidency, Trump’s appetite for white mob violence has swelled like a tick on an elephant. There’s the Muslim ban, promoting police brutality, reducing legal immigration, taking the “handcuffs” off the Border Patrol, voter suppression, escalating U.S. wars, and sabre-rattling against China, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, and Mexico. His White House is infested with white nationalists like Jeff Sessions, Stephen Bannon, Stephen Miller, Sebastian Gorka, and Kris Kobach.
Trump’s remarks on Charlottesville are calibrated to keep white supremacists in the fold. Bannon “cautioned the president not to criticize far-right activists too severely for fear of antagonizing a small but energetic part of his base.”
Trump’s base hears him loud and clear. One commented on the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, “Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. … He said he loves us all.”
The only surprise is when Trump briefly disavowed the Klan, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists. Doubling down on Charlottesville was a return to form for Trump. Notorious ex-Klansman David Duke was so thrilled he tweeted a mash note: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.” (Antifa is short for antifascist.)
One feels pity for elites who can’t figure out what is happening. Here is why they are confused. They are unable to reconcile their deference to and even reverence for the American presidency with a president who consorts with domestic terrorists to spread racialized violence and fear.
Elites are in denial that Trump has blown a gaping hole into the side of American history. As his polo-shirted, khaki-panted, MAGA-hat-wearing minions goosestep through the breach, editors and corporate CEOs futilely try to plug the chasm with laughable advice of what Trump could do or say to rein in white supremacism. Unbelievably, they still believe Trump will soon start acting presidential.
They are blind, too, to the racist storm of attacks, killings, and near massacres Trump has let loose. Five white supremacist attacks linked to Trump have killed six people since February. In Seattle, Trump supporters nearly killed a union organizer on inauguration day and a Sikh man was shot after being told, “Go back to your own country.” Three other recent murders may have been racist hate crimes. Then there’s foiled plots by the Crusaders, a pro-Trump militia that aimed to kill hundreds of Somali immigrants in Kansas, and Jerry Drake Varnell, a follower of the right-wing Three Percenter ideology who allegedly tried to detonate a 1,000-pound vehicle bomb in Oklahoma City.
The heroes in this story are the Heather Heyers: antifa, anarchists, socialists and Black Lives Matter who put their lives on the line. Dr. Cornel West described how in Charlottesville, after police had pulled back, he and a small group, many clergy, “would have been crushed like cockroaches if it were not for the anarchists and the anti-fascists who approached, over 300, 350 anti-fascists. We just had 20.”
Those events have spurred an outpouring of reporting to understand antifa. These reports should embarrass those who were demonizing antifa. Recently, Politico, PBS, and The Atlantic have portrayed antifascists as more of an organized threat than the white supremacists killing people. Neoliberal Democrats like Neera Tanden, James Wolcott, Joan Walsh, Eric Boehlert, and Joy Reid aided in the dirty work. They eagerly used the false construct of “alt left” to paint socialists as racists and white supremacists, paving the way for Trump to liken Nazis to a fabricated alt-left.
In Portland, The Oregonian took the scapegoating an embarrassing step further by labeling antifa as “punk fascists.” The editors come across as ignorant of fascism as they used Nazi-style language, “parasites hungry for a host,” to describe anarchists breaking windows.
Charlottesville is not the end for Trump’s fascistas. It is a precursor of worse violence to come as Trump is intensifying the hate. He tweeted a train hitting a cartoon CNN figure, is “seriously considering a pardon” for former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, echoed white supremacists by calling it “foolish” to remove “beautiful” Confederate statues, and cheered Islamophobes by promoting a bogus history of the U.S. war in the Philippines. And the far right is energized.
When Trump took the podium on Jan. 20, 2017, to deliver his inaugural speech, he spoke about “American carnage.” He was not describing the past. He was outlining his vision for the future. Unleashing carnage, as in Charlottesville, is how he intends to keep his deadly grip on power.
And that is what the elites still don’t comprehend.
Arun Gupta contributes to The Washington Post, YES! Magazine, In These Times, The Progressive, Telesur English, and The Nation. He is author of the forthcoming, Bacon as a Weapon of Mass Destruction: A Junk-Food Loving Chef’s Inquiry into Taste, from The New Press.
Follow him @arunindy or email at arun_dot_indypendent_at_gmail_dot_com.