CHARLESTON, S.C. — The idea of a race war has long animated white supremacists, who seem to think that such a conflict would result in a white victory, whatever that would mean.
Dylann Roof — the white man-boy who murdered nine black parishioners during Bible study at Mother Emanuel AME Church here four summers ago — entertained such an idea and told his roommate that he wanted to start a race war. Alas, Roof failed in his mission. Instead of a war, he launched a massive, community- and statewide demonstration of love, charity and forgiveness, as well as a deepened commitment to racial reconciliation. Blacks and whites hugged, joined hands and, soon after the shooting, marched by the thousands over the Ravenel Cooper River Bridge in solidarity.
If there ever were to be a “race war” in America, it would have to wait for President Donald Trump — rhetorically speaking.
Before you dash to your keyboard, I’m not comparing Trump’s recent racist remarks to a mass murderer’s bloody rampage. But the president’s cannon is loose upon the land, and his attempts to create friction between the races is not harmless. Though no one in his or her right mind can be happy about his callous comments recently aimed exclusively at minority leaders, one can be fairly certain that America’s neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klanners and other white supremacists are celebrating.
Meanwhile, the commentariat has been busy trying to decide whether Trump is truly a racist or merely acting like a fascist psychopath who will use any available means to indulge his impulses and advance his agenda, whatever that may be at any given moment. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that more than half of Americans think he is a racist — so congratulations, Mr. President. Some legacy.
Trump’s racism, which for these purposes shall be defined as employing race for selfish or nefarious purposes, didn’t start with the racial confrontation in Charlottesville, Va., when he defended white nationalist protesters by saying there were “very fine people on both sides.” Sorry, but white supremacists don’t get to be “very fine people” when their purpose is the domination or elimination of nonwhites. “Evil” is the better word.
Trump’s racism also didn’t start with the Squad, the four freshman minority congresswomen whom he told to go back where they came from — a favorite trope of racists throughout American history. Nor was it confined to his tirade against Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and his majority-black congressional district, including Baltimore, when Trump tweeted that it was a “rat and rodent infested mess” and that “no human being would want to live there.” No human being? Recall that in this great country, blacks were once considered and legally treated as three-fifths human.
No, the president’s racism has been present since the good ol’ days when he tagged along with his father, real estate developer Fred Trump, to check on his apartment buildings in Queens, N.Y.,where the policy was basically No blacks allowed. Of course, people can evolve and change, but apparently, Trump’s moral development seems to have arrested somewhere around the middle of last century.
So, yes, Trump has essentially declared a “race war,” for lack of a better term, on minority leaders and their constituents. His defenders can argue that there were other reasons for his attacks on people who happened to be minorities. The four congresswomen ran and won on anti-Trump platforms. Cummings heads the House Oversight Committee, which recently voted to subpoena emails and text messages written using personal accounts in the White House, which would include those of Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner.
But Trump’s critics come in a rainbow of hues, any of whom he could single out for target practice. Recently, however, he has gone after nonwhites, and he’s done so for a reason: to distract, to punish and to reinvent an old brand, “No blacks allowed,” which, presumably, would extend to the White House as well. After all, didn’t this guy start his political career by leading the birther movement? Thought so. Nothing racist about that.
One would hope that Trump’s foul mouth, rather than exacerbating racial division, would foster a shared derision toward this mean-spirited, foolish man. As people did here in Charleston, we should dishonor him by embracing each other, figuratively speaking, though throwing a multiracial lovefest in Baltimore wouldn’t be the worst idea. Invite the rats.
Except for, you know, that one.
Parker writes for the Washington Post. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.