One of the numerous disturbing things about the Trump White House is the apparent lack of concern about the rise of white supremacists. This was brought home recently by the attack in Charlottesville in Virginia. A demonstration of white supremacists waving Confederate and Nazi flags and chanting Nazi slogans1 (including ‘die nigger!’), and carrying assault rifles, sticks and shields were protesting against the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War. A counter-protest was under way at the same time, and it was this that was attacked. The removal of the statue is part of the realisation in the United States that these statues of confederate generals as well as the confederate flag represent much more than just a general and a flag of the distant past; they represent slavery and I can only imagine how black Americans feel intimidated by them. New Orleans City Council has removed the city’s four confederate monuments, declaring them a “public nuisance”2.
In Charlottesville, a car driven by a 20-year old ploughed into the counter-demonstrators, killing one woman (32 year old Heather Heyer3) and injuring at least 34 others. The car was driven into the crowd on purpose and at high speed. The driver has been arrested and charged. What did Trump do when informed of this event? He condemned, in his usual ham-fisted way “Hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides”. Then he illiterately stated that this sort of thing had been “going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. A long, long time.” He faced bipartisan criticism after failing to condemn white supremacists4, one of whom drove the car.
The odd thing about this car attack, which seems to be a new mode of terrorism in parts of Europe, was that the authorities initially did not refer to it as a terrorist attack. Republican Marco Rubio pleaded with Trump via twitter to call this for what it was, “a terror attack by #whitesupremacists”. Perhaps more clearly illustrating the danger to which the US is exposed, Republican Orrin Hatch said on twitter: “My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home”. Democrat Brian Schatz tweeted: “It is not too much to ask to have a president who explicitly condemns nazis”4.
It is unlikely Trump will condemn these white supremacists as they form a significant part of his support, and indeed some of them hold offices in his White House. As David Duke, former head of the Ku Klux Klan, said to Trump “remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists”4. Trump probably realises this, as he has installed apparent white supremacists in the White House. These include: Sebastian Gorka, who is reputed to be a member of an anti-Semitic, quasi-Nazi group in Hungary5; Stephen Miller, although Jewish, is aligned to the white nationalist movement6; and Stephen Bannon is the darling of the alt-right7.
The United States is heading down a very dangerous path, where white supremacists feel they can openly display their bigotry, and that is seen as something approaching acceptable by some in the White House. This cannot continue if the United States is to survive as anything like a democracy. White supremacists are the malevolent scum staining a society, and their rancid ramblings should be restricted to the periphery of humanity, solely as a reminder of the stupidity of such people. As Lincoln said at Gettysburg, the US was dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal”. If the US loses sight of that, it will cease being the beacon for democracy that it once was.