On Monday, President Trump will again address the deadly violence sparked by a rally of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, a White House aide tells CNN. It remains an open question whether he will denounce white supremacy by name, which he failed to do in his original comments on Saturday, or whether he will label the killing of a young woman protesting the rallies as domestic terrorism.
Even if Trump says the right thing today, the question will linger: Why does Trump resist condemning white supremacy? The most obvious answer is that he’s encouraging the racism of some of his supporters, after a campaign that derived initial energy from his racist birther conspiracy theories and in many ways was framed around the narrative that white identity and white America are under siege. White nationalism is now alive and well in the White House; we are reaping the inevitable consequences.
I’d like to suggest an additional reason for Trump’s reticence that is intertwined with this one: Trump does not recognize that his service as president confers on him any obligations to the public of any kind. This does not supplant Trump’s racism as an explanation. It throws its potential effects going forward into even sharper, more alarming relief.
On Saturday, Trump condemned what he called an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides,” but did not explicitly blame white supremacy or continuing racism toward African Americans for it. This sparked a ferocious backlash, including from some Republicans, and the White House and Vice President Pence have since put out statements calling out white supremacy. Trump has yet to take this simple step.
Trump’s resistance appears rooted in part in an instinctual sense that so doing would constitute some form of capitulation. In his remarks, Trump repeated the phrase “on many sides” in a pointed tone, as if to signal that he will not be bullied by any objection to his false equivalence or any pressure to single out anti-black racism.
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