Condemning the Message but Not the Messenger
Hypocrisy Taints Republican Reaction to Bigotry
A Recurring Theme in America’s History
The vicious assault on counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia by a volatile amalgam of Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, Alt Right and other white nationalist forces was one of the most horrific acts of domestic terrorism in American history. The day after a Klan-like torch light, racist and anti-Semitic show of force on the campus of University of Virginia, a White nationalist terrorist used his car as a weapon and ploughed through peaceful protesters killing Heather Heyer and seriously injuring several other people. The words of former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke captured the motive and aspirations of the largest gathering of White Nationalists in recent history: “We are determined to take our country back……. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.” Much of America and the world was shocked by this vile and ugly show of force in the “land of the free and home of the brave.”
Predictably, there was almost universal expression of outrage and condemnations of the hateful white nationalist army that perpetrated the deadly acts of violence in Charlottesville. Divisions between Democrats and Republicans were swept aside as political leaders of both parties came forward to vociferously denounce these acts of terrorism by white supremacists, that is except the President of the United States. Donald Trump initially condemned the hatred and violence on “all sides,” thereby equating the righteous protests of the counter-demonstrators with the White supremacist terrorists; equating those who were standing for the vision of an inclusive multi-racial, multi-ethnic society with freedom and justice for all irrespective of race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, religion, gender or sexual orientation with those who wish to “Make America Great Again” by turning the clock back to the good old days of White male hegemony.
The condemnations of Trump were swift and furious. They came from every quarter, including leading Republicans. There was a strong push for Trump to use the moral authority of the Presidency to condemn the white supremacists by name. Political leaders, pundits and commentators suggested that he was missing his moment to pull the nation together and heal its racial divisions. When he eventually did speak-out, Republicans in particular breathed a sigh of relief that Trump had finally done that which was “politically correct.” Now the Party and the country could return to business as usual.
But, oops, the sigh of relief was short-lived. Even as I was penning this article, in an impromptu press conference at Trump Tower in New York, Trump went off script and unleashed a tirade, angrily doubling down on his original contention that there was blame on both sides. He went even further by claiming that there were “alt left” demonstrators who charged and attacked a legitimate rally by Neo-Nazis, KKK activists and white nationalists. It was a moral abomination! This time the condemnations were also swift and even more furious as increasing numbers of Republicans tweeted their uncompromising condemnation of racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry.
On the surface this all sounds good, but from my vantage point the condemnation of Trump by the Republicans rings hollow and hypocritical. As Chris Cuomo correctly pointed out on CNN’S New Day, as of this writing, only Senator John McCain, Senator Jeff Flake, Senator Bob Corker and Senator Tim Scott have condemned the President by name. The rest have sanctimoniously taken to twitter to denounce the message without denouncing the messenger.
In fact, Republicans enabled Trump by refusing to repudiate him decisively during the campaign and after his election to the White House. My dear friend Mtumishi St. Julien from New Orleans has a line in a Sifa, African prayer he wrote, which says, “principle is more important than power.” Despite a vile and vicious campaign, clearly Republicans made a calculated decision that power is more important than principle. They have stood with Trump despite his erratic and often hurtful behavior as President in hopes of implementing their rightwing, reactionary agenda.
They know who Trump is. He is the originator of the racist birther movement that relentlessly questioned whether President Barack Obama was born in the U.S. This is the Donald Trump who cemented his credibility with xenophobic, anti-immigrant adherents by blatantly labeling Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers; the same Donald Trump who castigated and insulted an American Judge of Mexican descent; the same Donald Trump who claimed he did not know who David Duke was and equivocated on condemning him; the same Donald Trump who brought an Alt-Right, White nationalist Steve Bannon into the White House as his “Chief Strategist!” The Republicans know who he is, but for the sake of advancing their reactionary agenda, they have embraced, enabled and empowered Donald Trump. Now their lack of principle and moral courage has exploded in their faces like a pus-infected wound.
From the campaign to his brief and horrifying tenure as President, the Republican reactionaries’ treatment of Trump represents the height of hypocrisy! If President Obama had committed any of Trump’s transgressions, the Republican reactionaries would have condemned him unmercifully and called for him to resign. But, by and large they have refused to condemn and abandon Trump. They know him; they enabled him, and they own him and should suffer the consequences of their blatant hypocrisy!
Actually, hypocrisy runs deep in the “conservative” ranks of the Republican Party. While Richard Nixon was the first to unveil the “Southern Strategy,” Lee Atwater employed it with devastating effectiveness as a strategist for Ronald Reagan’s campaign for President. The strategy was designed to use code words to fuel and enflame anti-Black sentiment in the South and was used to appeal to the disgruntled supporters of Alabama Governor George Wallace. Who can forget that Ronald Reagan launched his first campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi a few miles from the site where civil rights workers Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney were murdered. Though the insensitive selection of the site may have been coincidental, Reagan was clearly signaling to Wallace’s supporters that he was on their side.
As President, Reagan did deliver a stinging denunciation of white supremacists, but this was after he played to their fears and aspirations (like Trump) to become President. Moreover, Reagan continued to feed the “white backlash” against the progress of the Civil Rights Movement by invoking terms like “Black racism” and “reverse discrimination.” And, he appointed Attorney Generals whose mandate (like that of Jeff Sessions) was to minimize enforcement of civil rights laws and statutes. Hence, Reagan’s perfunctory denunciations of white supremacists were as hypocritical as those of his conservative progeny today. The real deal is that the rightwing reactionaries have courted, appealed to and appeased white supremacist sentiments and forces for decades. The only difference is that Trump made the mistake of doing it openly. Trump brought the bigots and haters that conservative Republicans have been courting under the table, from the fringes, from the margins into the mainstream of American politics; from “the outhouse to the White House.”
The one thing Trump was right about in his unscripted, heartfelt tirade was that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slave owners. Though it was not his intent, Trump pointed to America’s “original sins” and original hypocrisy. First the Pilgrims, pioneers and colonizers ruthlessly seized this land from Native Americans. Then, to create this new nation, the founding fathers compromised on the vital question of how enslaved Africans would be included and treated. Despite the lofty rhetoric about the equality of all “men” and “inalienable rights” contained in the Declaration of Independence, enslaved Africans were enshrined in the Constitution as 3/5 human beings for the purposes of taxation and representation in the Congress of the United States. Native Americans were spared that indignity but denied citizenship in a nation created on their land.
In addition, shortly after the adoption of the Constitution, Congress passed the Naturalization Act of 1790 that essentially declared America a White man’s land. These original sins, original hypocrisy and overt commitment to establish a privileged status for White men has plagued this nation right up to the present. The tragic events of Charlottesville are the latest manifestations of the failure of this nation to acknowledge, reckon with and resolve these contradictions. Hence, there is an ongoing struggle between those who would restrict America to being a nation of Eurocentric cultural dominance, patriarchy and White male privilege versus those who envision an expansive, inclusive multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation, free of discrimination or oppression on the basis of class, gender or sexual orientation.
Whether intended or not, the founding fathers crafted a Constitution which created space for the potential resolution of this hypocrisy and contradictions. The genius of the Constitution is its elasticity. Under its provisions, political and economic democracy can be stretched/expanded or constricted based on the impact of social movements. The elasticity of the Constitution may be the saving grace of this nation. Charlottesville may well represent the dying gasp of the hard core, reactionary, white supremacist adherents who are now a formidable force within the Republican Party. They must be confronted and defeated. But, they will not succumb willingly or easily. They are emboldened and energized by the blessing of Donald Trump and the complicity of the shriveling, equivocating hypocrites who have placed power over principle in their quest to impose their reactionary agenda.
In this crucial moment, those who stand for a progressive vision of America must build a powerful social movement utilizing protests, economic sanctions, civil disobedience and the ballot to righteously overwhelm the racist and reactionary forces. And, then we must compel this nation to confront its original sins and hypocrisy and repair the centuries of damages inflicted on Native peoples and people of African descent as the basis for creating a “more perfect union.”
Author’s Note: Steve Bannon has been removed from the White House, but his co-partners Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka remain. Irrespective of who is in or out of the White House the damage is already done and the hypocrisy continues.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published August 22, 2017 and is being republished today because of its relevance to current events. Find this and other Vantage Point articles in Dr. Ron Daniels book “Still on the Journey” available by clicking here.