By Robert Reich
Two days late, Donald Trump has finally condemned violent white supremacists. He was pushed into it by a storm of outrage at his initial failure to do so in the wake of deadly violence to Charlottesville, Virginia.
But it’s too little, too late. Trump’s unwillingness to denounce hateful violence has been part of his political strategy from the start.
Weeks after he began his campaign by alleging that Mexican immigrants were criminals and rapists, two brothers in Boston beat up and urinated on a 58-year-old homeless Mexican national, subsequently telling police “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported.”
Instead of condemning the brutality, Trump excused it by saying “people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again.”
During campaign rallies Trump repeatedly excused brutality toward protesters. “You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”
After white supporters punched and attempted to choke a Black Lives Matter protester, Trump said “maybe he should have been roughed up.”
Trump was even reluctant to distance himself from David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan.
Since becoming president, Trump’s instigations have continued. As Representative Mark Sanford, a Republican from South Carolina, told the Washington Post, “the president has unearthed some demons.”
In May, Trump congratulated body-slamming businessman Greg Gianforte on his special election win in Montana, making no mention of the victor’s attack on a reporter the night before.
Weeks ago Trump even tweeted a video clip of himself in a WWE professional wrestling match slamming a CNN avatar to the ground and pounding him with punches and elbows to the head.
Hateful violence is hardly new to America. But never before has a president licensed it as a political strategy or considered haters part of his political base.
In his second week as president, Trump called Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association to the White House.
Soon thereafter, LaPierre told gun owners they should fear “leftists” and the “national media machine” that were “an enemy utterly dedicated to destroy not just our country, but also Western civilization.”
Since then the NRA has run ads with the same theme, concluding “the only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with a clenched fist of truth.”
It’s almost as if someone had declared a new civil war. But who? And for what purpose?
One clue came earlier last week in a memo from Rich Higgins, who had been director for strategic planning in Trump’s National Security Council.
Entitled “POTUS & Political Warfare,” Higgins wrote the seven-page document in May, which was recently leaked to Foreign Policy Magazine.
In it Higgins charges that a cabal of leftist “deep state” government workers, “globalists,” bankers, adherents to Islamic fundamentalism and establishment Republicans want to impose cultural Marxism in the United States. “Recognizing in candidate Trump an existential threat to cultural Marxist memes that dominate the prevailing cultural narrative, those that benefit recognize the threat he poses and seek his destruction.”
There you have it. Trump’s goal has never been to promote guns or white supremacy or to fuel attacks on the press and the left. These may be means, but the goal has been to build and fortify his power. And keep him in power even if it’s found that he colluded with Russia to get power.
Trump and his consigliere Steve Bannon have been quietly encouraging a civil war between Trump’s base of support – mostly white and worried – and everyone who’s not.
It’s built on economic stresses and racial resentments. It’s fueled by paranoia. And it’s conveyed by Trump’s winks and nods haters, and his deafening silence in the face of their violence.
A smaller version of the civil war extends even into the White House, where Bannon and his protégés are doing battle with leveler heads.
National security advisor Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster fired Higgins. Reportedly, Trump was furious at the firing.
McMaster was quick to term the Charlottesville violence “terrorism.” Ivanka Trump denounced “racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis.” Reportedly, chief of staff John Kelly pushed Trump to condemn the haters who descended on Charlottesville.
Let’s hope the leveler heads win the civil war in the White House. Let’s pray the leveler heads in our society prevent the civil war Trump and Bannon want to instigate in America.