Column: Trump’s half-hearted rebuke no surprise

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By Athena Redmond

When I saw TV coverage of last weekend’s events in Charlottesville, Va., I had a hard time distinguishing some of the civilians from the police and National Guard.
Some of them arrived in camouflage and riot gear, wearing helmets and protective vests. A few carried guns.
Some of these armed protesters openly identified themselves as “Unite the Right” supporters to reporters on the scene. The allegiance of others was not as clear.
It seemed to me they were spoiling for a fight. And they made sure they got one.
Many elected officials immediately condemned Saturday’s violence. It took President Trump two days to issue a weak statement, and even then he tried to spread the blame to others and not leave it squarely on the shoulders of the Unite the Right supporters by insisting that the problems were on “many sides.”
Many officials and commentators expressed surprise at his half-hearted response. But after watching Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and his first seven months in office, his reaction to the Charlottesville events should not shock any of us.
Trump ran a campaign often tinged with hatred and bigotry and continues that theme in his administration.
He insisted that a Hispanic federal judge was incapable of rendering a fair ruling in a Trump University lawsuit because of the candidate’s proposal to build a wall on the Mexican border.
He fueled the flames of white supremacy with his anti-everyone-else rhetoric, calling Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers and proposing a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering our country.
He openly condoned his supporters’ acts of violence against protesters who interrupted his rallies until pressure from his staff made him change his tune publicly.
Even his campaign slogan, “Make America great again,” implied that the country was better when only white men ran it.
In essence, he told his followers their problems are someone else’s fault. They should blame everyone who doesn’t look and think like they do.
Trump’s actions have encouraged white supremacists to step out on the national stage – loud and proud. It was striking how many young men were willing to march openly in Charlottesville, screaming Nazi slogans, their faces lit perfectly by torchlight and now forever archived on the internet.
According to a July report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, nearly 900 hate incidents occurred nationwide in the first 10 days of Trump’s administration. These included the spray-painting of swastikas on public and private property and attacks against members of the LGBT and Hispanic communities. In nearly 40 of those incidents, the president’s name or campaign slogans were explicitly mentioned by the assailants.
And, since these extremists are a segment of his base and likely helped him win the election, Trump can’t speak against them or their message without risking the loss of their support.
After Trump’s soft initial statement about Charlottesville, white nationalist and former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke thanked Trump for shifting the blame for the violence away from Unite the Right supporters and onto “leftist terrorists.”
And when Trump did take a stronger stance, Duke shot back: “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror and remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.”
David Duke seems to think that white supremacists’ support for Trump in the election should give them a “free pass” for racist, violent behavior.
“This [rally] represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back,” Duke said. “We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump.”
Duke’s statement indicates that the events in Charlottesville are only a beginning. Trump’s obvious reluctance to stand against Duke and white nationalism will only encourage them further.
And that’s why it’s so important that the rest of us stand against this kind of hatred.
In this country, we have the right to peaceful protest, but coming to a protest “locked and loaded” doesn’t signal a peaceful intent.
We have spent decades working for a better America for all of us, regardless of color or creed, only to see the progress we’ve made be trampled by these newly-emboldened white supremacists.
Decades ago, American folk singer Woody Guthrie wrote a lyric that mentioned Trump’s father, Fred Trump, who was Guthrie’s landlord in Brooklyn. “I suppose Old Man Trump knows just how much racial hate he stirred up in the bloodpot of human hearts.”
Those words could easily apply to the son today. And while I suppose he knows, I wonder if he cares.

Athena Redmond is a page designer for The Lancaster News.