In response to the violence perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the American town of Charlottesville, the speechwriter of former President George Bush is said to have remarked that one of the “difficult but primary duties” of a political leader, indeed the Head of State, is to speak for the nation in traumatic times. By that token, Donald Trump’s words were wholly inadequate, almost perfunctory.
The ugly incident in Virginia last weekend can be contextualised with the fundamental malaise of racism that has deep historical roots; Charlottesville’s expression of white nationalism of the neo-Nazi variety has served to extend the loop that was manifest in Barack Obama’s time, notably in Ferguson, St Louis and St Bernadino. It would be useful to recall that the original United States of America was founded on white supremacy.
Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf had praised America’s institutional racism as a model from which Nazi Germany could learn. Only in the post war period was meaningful racial equality pursued by the perceived “land of the free”.
Last Saturday’s mayhem was both the same and different. Whereas such outrages were invariably perpetrated by white policemen on black citizens, the extremist mobilisatiion in Virginia was the outcome of an individual’s expression of an extreme form of mental aberration. Arguably, the distorted variant of nationalism is of a piece with the US President’s bizarre perception. Not that America has not changed over the past 60 years.
Pre-eminently, it has elected a black President, equal rights and equality have been enforced… at any rate theoretically. Ergo, the show of strength by the neo-Nazis and “white supremacists” at Charlottesville warranted a robust condemnation from the President… not a feeble response to an ugly truth.
That truth has tragically been airbrushed, and of a piece with that evasive response was last Wednesday’s statement that “both sides are to blame”. The alienation of the black shall fester still. As President, Trump’s primary duty was to uphold equality and be explicit about the racist violence that had roiled Virginia.
Far from it. It will not be easy for the White House to dispel the dominant impression that he has played to the gallery of the white “supremacists”.
The least that was expected of him was to proclaim what has been called the “ indivisibility of equality and tolerance before the law”. By compromising on one of the thorniest issues at stake, he has binned the certitudes of a theoretically libertarian state. He was almost deliberately economical with the truth when he remarked that the violence in Charlottesville came from “many sides”.
He has failed to stand up against racists and those who promote racial violence. And that succinctly is the tragedy of America.