Making excuses for racism never ends well. It hurts people on both sides of the color line. In the case of Donald Trump, racism helped him to win the White House and, as now appears evident, betray the United States to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump’s embrace of Putin’s autocratic regime and betrayal of the United States’ military and intelligence agencies at Monday’s summit in Helsinki constitutes one of the worst moments in the history of the American presidency.
This article was originally published at Salon
Through those actions Donald Trump has ushered a new phrase into the American vocabulary: treasonous racism.
There were many stops on this ignominious journey.
Donald Trump’s voters were motivated by racism, sexism, nativism, prejudice and bigotry. There is overwhelming evidence in support of this conclusion. Yet, the narrative that Trump’s 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton was due to “economic anxiety” among the “working class” still persists.
After the white supremacist riot in Charlottesville last summer, Trump infamously said that there were “very fine people” among the neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and other domestic terrorists who ran amok, killing Heather Heyer and injuring many other people. Donald Trump’s grotesque comment was met with deflections and rationalizations by many in the news media and among the political class, along the lines of “we can’t call him a racist because we don’t know what’s in his heart.”
Trump met with a group of law enforcement officers last May in California. During that meeting Trump clearly suggested that he believes Hispanics and Latinos are “animals.” Once his comments became public there were, of course, more deflections and excuses. Those who interpreted Trump’s remarks that way were taking them “out of context.”
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., has met with Trump on several occasions to discuss the country’s “racial atmosphere.” As a black conservative fulfilling his anointed role as professional best black friend to white racists, Scott has said that Trump is not racist but rather is “racially insensitive.”
In the most recent example of Donald Trump’s white identity politics and de facto embrace of white supremacy, last week in Britain he said this in his now-legendary interview with the Sun, a London tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch:
I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad. I think you are losing your culture. Look around. You go through certain areas that didn’t exist ten or 15 years ago.
Who does Trump mean by “you” in that passage? What does he mean by “your culture”? The president offered similar thoughts on immigration at his subsequent press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May:
I just think it’s changing the culture. I think it’s a very negative thing for Europe. I think it’s very negative. … I think it’s very much hurt other parts of Europe. And I know it’s politically not necessarily correct to say that, but I’ll say it and I’ll say it loud. And I think they better watch themselves because you are changing culture, you are changing a lot of things.
Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, helped decode this text in an interview with the Washington Post:
The way he put this argument about changing our culture … about Europe becoming less nice than it is, in other words, these people are here and they are making the culture crappy and making the place lesser, that’s straight out of the white supremacist/white nationalist playbook …
Donald Trump is indeed America’s “first white president.” But he aspires to be something much more. Donald Trump yearns to be King of the White People.
Let’s back up a few steps: Claims about how “our” culture is being damaged or polluted by nonwhites (as well as Muslims and other non-Christians) are built upon a deranged and ahistorical fantasy. Historically, Europe has long had encounters with “nonwhite” cultures and civilizations. There were “nonwhite” people living in Europe during the Middle Ages and at various times before that. At least two Roman emperors were born in Africa, and several more had origins in what we would now call the Middle East. Moorish invasions and an infusion of Arab culture and learning helped lift Europe out of the Dark Ages.
Moreover, the very idea of a “white” Europe is extremely problematic for a number of reasons. The concept of “whiteness” did not come into existence until approximately the 15th century. As mentioned above, ancient civilizations had nothing similar to the modern conception of race. The main dividing lines for much of European history have been around religion and nationality. The white supremacist fantasy that Donald Trump and many others on the far right embrace presupposes a monocultural and monoracial Europe that does not exist and never did. Throughout Europe’s history, migration and immigration have been a net gain by any possible measure — economically, culturally, socially and politically.
In his quest to become King of the White People, Donald Trump has used or channeled white supremacist talking points and related ideas many times.
Trump is a professional white victimologist. In keeping with that identity, he and his allies have systematically tried to undermine the civil rights of African-Americans and other nonwhites. The Trump administration has even gone so far as to suggest that “affirmative action” and other programs “discriminate” against white people. Moreover, the Department of Justice and Department of Education have recently been tasked with investigating “racism” against white people. This is a central white supremacist notion: Any effort to combat racism is defined as “anti-white.”
Donald Trump has consistently used “eliminationist” language in referring to nonwhite refugees, immigrants and undocumented residents: They are “vermin” or “snakes” or “animals,” an “invading” “infestation.” This is strikingly similar to the language and logic used by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis to refer to the Jewish people and others they wished to drive out, enslave or exterminate.
Trump’s administration wants the United Nations to remove all language from official documents that condemns racism and nationalism as a threat to democracy. Trump does not want the U.S. to be a leader in global human rights. He does, however, want our nation to carry the global banner of white racism and white supremacy.
Trump’s administration, at least at times, has served as a base of operations for white supremacists, neo-Nazis and others who embrace such ideas under the cover of “ethno-populism,” “economic nationalism” and a desire to end “multiculturalism.”
There is a simple reason that high-profile white supremacists like David Duke and Richard Spencer, as well as rank-and-file hate-mongers, have claimed Donald Trump as their leader and hero. Trump has repeatedly shown through his words, deeds, policies and other actions that he shares their values.
David Duke was effusive on Twitter in his support of Trump’s treasonous behavior in Helsinki:
What happened in Helsinki is Historic. I my lifetime [sic] I have never seen such a courageous attack on the whole of the ZOG, the Zionist Occupied Government of the United States and the Zionist Occupied Media! Today Trump is a Hero! Trump is no Jesus but they hate him as much!!!!!!
Bravo Trump! Bravo Russia! Bravo to all the true American Patriots who put America first and Peace and Justice first before the Zionist Deep Evil State ruling American Media and Politics. Russia has values America once had and America the values that Communist Russia had!
Fox News and the broader right-wing echo chamber has been grooming its audience for years with white supremacist narratives about white people becoming “victims” in this “new America” and how their culture is imperiled by the “browning of America.” This is a slightly more polite repackaging of white supremacist rallying cries about “white genocide” and “race suicide.”
Furthermore, one cannot overlook the way many white supremacists and other members of the global far right look to Vladimir Putin for leadership. They see Russia under Putin as a leader in the global struggle for “white Christian civilization.”
America has been sick with a white democracy problem for centuries. But with Donald Trump’s presidency this has reached a new crescendo.
Republicans and other Trump supporters have consistently chosen loyalty to their party and its authoritarian leader over love of country and American democracy. Racism helped to facilitate that decision. Ultimately, when Republicans decided that Trump’s evident racism and bigotry were not disqualifying attributes — and, for many of his voters, were the main reason to back him — they also betrayed the United States.
Philanthropist and impeachment advocate Tom Steyer was correct when he said this on Monday:
Today, Americans and our allies around the world have witnessed the most disgraceful and appalling performance by a U.S. president in our history. The entire world has seen that Vladimir Putin has full control over Donald Trump. Trump’s defense of Putin — a known tyrant — at the expense of our intelligence agencies and democratic institutions is nothing less than treason and fully meets the criteria of high crimes and misdemeanors. Trump must be impeached to preserve the fabric of our democracy and the safety of our republic.
With Trump’s betrayal in Helsinki, America has now been brought to this: Tens of millions of white Americans now pledge fealty to Donald Trump, he who would be King of White People, even as their leader bends the knee to Vladimir Putin. Shame on them all.