(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Jason Kessler, a prominent white nationalist, tried to get a permit to march today in Charlottesville, Virginia, to mark the one-year anniversary of a violent, racially charged rally there that left a young woman dead.
Charlottesville turned down Kessler’s group, Unite the Right, so he has relocated to a more accommodating location: Lafayette Square in Washington, across the street from the White House.
Kessler told National Public Radio on Friday that he hopes his march highlights challenges disenfranchised white people face and he considers himself “a civil and human rights advocate focusing on the under-represented Caucasian demographic.” Kessler said he thinks white disenfranchisement is a problem for the country overall because white people are smarter than most:
There are differences in mental life just like there are in physical life. I mean, it's ridiculous to say that, you know, there are no differences in height, let's say, between a Pygmy and a Scandinavian. So if we acknowledge that there are physical differences, obviously, there are differences in behavior, in levels of aggression, in intelligence, in, you know, bone density, et cetera, et cetera. … There is enormous variation between individuals, but the IQ testing is pretty clear that it seems like Ashkenazi Jews rate the highest in intelligence, then Asians, then white people, then Hispanic people and black people.
While there isn’t a credible empirical or scientific basis for Kessler’s racism, he’s on the national stage during the Donald Trump era. It’s a welcoming and forgiving time for racists to wear their values on their sleeves.
On Wednesday evening, Laura Ingraham let her Fox News viewers know that “in major parts of the country, it does seem that the America we know and love doesn't exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted on the American people and they're changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don't like.”
David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, knows a racially charged rant when he sees one, and he tweeted his praise of Ingraham’s commentary, citing it as "one of the most important (truthful) monologues in the history” of mainstream media. (He later deleted the tweet.)
Ingraham, who populated her commentary with images of people trying to vault over a wall or scurry under a fence, said she wasn’t addressing race and ethnicity and was merely identifying what she described as national discomfort with the changes wrought by illegal and legal immigration. (Polls suggest support for legal immigration is rising nationally, actually, but that’s an argument for another day.)
On Thursday night, Ingraham responded to widespread criticism of her commentary by saying that “white nationalists and especially one racist freak whose name I will not even mention” don’t have her support and hold beliefs that are antithetical to hers. “The purpose of last night’s angle was to point out that the rule of law — meaning secure borders — is something that used to bind our country together.”
Ingraham has been selective about when she does and doesn’t support the “rule of law” (see her routine efforts to undermine the bona fides of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, for example), so that particular fig leaf doesn’t provide much cover. Given that she also emphasized the same “demographic changes” that white nationalists like Kessler — and some politicians like U.S. Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican — associate with “cultural suicide,” perhaps Ingraham can be more careful in the future to avoid racial buzzwords so she won’t be mistakenly labeled as a racist.
It’s also unfair to put all of this on Ingraham’s shoulders. The president, after all, has set an international example for tolerating racial intolerance. In the wake of the Charlottesville marches last year, Trump famously couldn’t bring himself to condemn the white nationalists and neo-Nazis who took part. Instead, he criticized the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides — on many sides.” That was a landmark moment in Trump’s presidency, and his response gave racism and indifference to racism fresh, overt traction in the national conversation and in political arguments.
A year later, the president is still equivocating. On Saturday he offered this tweet to memorialize what happened in Charlottesville:
The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 11, 2018
If Trump had demonstrated a real desire to unify rather than polarize the country during the course of his presidency, that tweet could be taken at face value. And his stubborn refusal to explicitly identify white nationalists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis as a pestilence could be seen as cold-blooded, calculated courting of a core part of his political base.
Doing any of that would misunderstand and misrepresent who the president is, however. He has been jumping into racist divides and has been a race-baiter for most of his 72 years – long before he entered the White House. I suspect that it’s hard for Trump to overtly condemn behavior he happily engages in himself.
Trump and his father ran a housing business that was sanctioned by the Justice Department in the 1970s for discriminating against prospective tenants of color. He paid for newspaper ads in 1989 condemning black and Latino teenagers accused of assaulting a white jogger in Central Park, stoking racial animosities to keep himself in the public eye. (Long after the teenagers were exonerated, Trump continued to insist on their guilt.)
Trump saddled Barack Obama with bogus citizenship charges while embracing birtherism, and he attacked a federal judge by emphasizing his Mexican heritage. He opened the White House to Steve Bannon, the former steward of Breitbart, a white-nationalist journal of record. He has refused to distance himself from white supremacists like Duke. ("I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists," he has said.)
In White House meetings, Trump has inveighed against allowing immigrants from “shithole countries” — noting that, unlike residents of Norway, Haitians all had AIDS and Nigerians lived in “huts.” He has unapologetically retweeted white nationalists, and for years has praised himself and others for being successful because of “good genes.”
We shouldn’t expect any of this to change. The president is who he is, and many in his political party seems content to let him have his way. But on the anniversary of the tragedies and obscenities involved in the Charlottesville march, the rest of us can remind ourselves why the president has set such a terrible and dispiriting example.
To contact the author of this story: Timothy L. O'Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Brooke Sample at email@example.com
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Timothy L. O’Brien is the executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion. He has been an editor and writer for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, HuffPost and Talk magazine. His books include “TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald.”
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