Let’s call a spade a spade.
Donald Trump is soft on white supremacy.
He should be ashamed of himself. White supremacy is a blot on American democracy and a threat to Jews and other minorities, and no U.S. president should tolerate it.
During the recent presidential debate with Democratic rival Joe Biden, moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump point blank whether he would “be willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups” and demand that they “stand down” and not stoke the violence that has erupted in a number of American cities of late.
Trump said “sure,” but did not offer an unequivocal condemnation. Instead, he blamed the violence exclusively on left-wing Antifa radicals. When Wallace pressed him for a full condemnation, Trump asked which organization he should condemn.
Biden broke in and mentioned the Proud Boys, a far-right, “alt-lite” group founded by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnis. Proud Boys, which denies a connection to the hard alt-right, has been accused of antisemitic, misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and anti-immigration rhetoric by the Anti-Defamation League.
Taking his cue from Biden, Trump said, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”
This incredibly lame, cryptic response was the extent of his condemnation of white supremacists, who have carried out lethal attacks against American Jews in Pittsburgh and Poway, California, in the past two years. In addition, Jews have been targeted by African American attackers in Jersey City, New Jersey and Monsey, New York. During this period, antisemitic incidents in the United States have skyrocketed.
Trump’s remarks were hardly surprising.
In 2017, when asked to comment on a Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, he could not bring himself to lambaste the neo-Nazi slogans that were brazenly shouted there, including the infamous “Jews will not replace us” chant. Nor did he condemn the right-wing extremist driver who killed a young woman in a hit-and-run attack during the rally.
In typical fashion, Trump simplistically equated white supremacists with left-wing protesters and blamed both sides for “hatred, bigotry and violence.” And shockingly, he claimed that “very fine people” could be found in each camp.
To be fair, Trump — whose daughter Ivanka is a convert to Judaism and whose senior advisor is her husband, Jared Kushner — has explicitly condemned antisemitism. He did so after the 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, which was perpetrated by a white supremacist/neo Nazi. But his performance at the recent debate was very disappointing.
Tellingly enough, Trump’s aversion to blasting the Proud Boys was appreciated by its leader, Enrique Tarrio. As he said, “That’s my president!” and “Standing by, sir.” Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, was equally impressed. “I got shivers,” he wrote. “I still have shivers. He is telling the people to stand by. As in: get ready for war.”
Trump’s spineless refusal to unequivocally condemn white supremacy caused a backlash, even in Republican Party circles.
Senator Tim Scott, the U.S. Senate’s sole African American Republican, chided Trump. “White supremacy should be denounced at every turn,” he said in a written statement. “I think he misspoke, I think he should correct it. If he doesn’t correct it I guess he didn’t misspeak.”
Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader and Trump’s ally, said he agreed with Scott and rebuked him for not categorically denouncing white supremacy. “With regard to the white supremacy issue, I want to associate myself with the remarks of Tim Scott,” McConnell said. “He said it was unacceptable not to condemn white supremacists and so I do so in the strongest possible way.”
Senator John Thune urged Trump to “clear it up.” Senator Bill Cassidy told reporters, “He should unequivocally condemn white supremacy.” Senator Susan Collins said that Trump should “absolutely” condemn white supremacy.
The following day, Trump said, “I don’t know who the Proud Boys are, but whoever they are, they have to stand down, let law enforcement do their work.”
When asked whether he would welcome white supremacist support, he dodged the question and said that left-wing violence is “the real problem.”
By contrast, Biden had no problem excoriating white supremacy: “My message to the Proud Boys and every other white supremacist group is cease and desist. That’s not who we are. That’s not what we are as Americans.”
Biden got it right.
Trump failed miserably, tarnishing himself once again and emboldening white supremacists.