The American president, Donald Trump, is playing for time when it comes to the meaning of the terrorist attack in Charlottesville, which left one person dead. By making the evil of white supremacism commonplace, he is helping to set racism free in a country under stress.
Let us examine the situation in chronological order. James Fields, a young American with neo-Nazi sympathies, plowed a car into a gathering of anti-racism activists on Saturday, Aug. 12, leaving one person dead and 19 injured. He stands accused of unpremeditated murder, and is vilified by the most conservative members of the Republican Party. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Sen. Ted Cruz immediately branded the attack as terrorism, contrary to what the president did.
In a spontaneous response that Saturday, Trump assigned blame to “many sides” for the explosion of violence in Charlottesville. It is as if Fields’ alleged victims, one of whom is dead and others mutilated, were responsible for having provoked the extremist.
This cynical trivialization of extreme right-wing violence led to a feeling of outrage in the United States, forcing Trump to clarify his thinking. On Monday, Aug. 14, he changed his tune, denouncing the “racist violence” of white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, whom he described as criminals and thugs.
And then on Tuesday, Aug. 15, Trump reiterated his earlier remarks that fault lay with both sides, rebuking the “alt-left” for having attacked those from the “alt-right.”*
The climate is so rotten in the United States that academics are calculating the chances of a civil war. Trump, a man devoid of any presidential stature, is doing nothing to ease social tensions. On the contrary, his lackluster condemnation of white supremacists is helping legitimize their racist doctrine. He is creating a space within public debate for the expression of hatred.
Racial prejudice is a distinctive feature of the Trump presidency: calling Barack Obama’s nationality into question; accepting the support of former KKK leader, David Duke, for a time; treating Mexicans as criminals, drug traffickers and rapists. Surrounding himself with advisers who are extreme right sympathizers, and justifying it all with a vague agenda to “make America great again.”
What’s so great about it? Extreme right groups paraded through the streets of Charlottesville with torches before the death of Heather Heyer, chanting Nazi slogans. Following the tragedy, they said they were proud of their “moral victory” and promised to hold further demonstrations over the next few weeks. An entire electoral base.
*Editor’s note: “Alt-right” is a term that describes a political grouping or tendency mixing racism, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and populism; a name currently embraced by some white supremacists and white nationalists to refer to themselves and their ideology, which emphasizes preserving and protecting white race in the United States. “Alt-left” is a term some use to describe far-left factions.
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