While Americans have been polarized over many issues over the last 70 years or so, if there was one thing we could truly say was a consensus position among people of all political stripes it was that Nazis were bad and that decent people shunned them.
Our president made it clear on Tuesday, once and for all, that he doesn't agree with that.
Over the weekend, President Trump had issued a very weak condemnation of the horrific events in Charlottesville, insisting that "many sides" were responsible for the violence. Forty-eight hours later, after tremendous public criticism, he came forward with an obviously insincere rote denunciation of white supremacy, Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. But he couldn't leave it at that.
It's clearly impossible for Trump even to pretend to condemn far right white supremacists with whom he obviously feels sympathy. So on Tuesday he turned around and held a press conference in which he once again condemned counter-protesters and insisted that all the "good people" who were simply protesting the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee had been treated abominably.
Rachel Maddow put together a voice-over of his comments with a montage of all those "good people":
If you carried a torch with those Nazis, if you marched alongside them as they chanted "Jews will not replace us" and "blood and soil," you are not a "very fine person." You are, at best, a Nazi sympathizer. At worst, you are a Nazi. If you stood and chanted with men and women who wore hoods emblazoned with Confederate flags you are at best a KKK sympathizer, and certainly a racist. If you stand up for these people's good intentions and walk in solidarity with their "defense of cultural heritage," you are at the very least a fellow traveler in white supremacy, and more likely a white supremacist yourself.
Nobody marching with that crowd is a decent person. Nobody.
Trump made clear that he believes the Nazis who went on to the campus of the University of Virginia on Friday night are just regular folks with a legitimate grievance who were "innocently" protesting. This is the final proof, as if we needed any at this late date, that his ignorance knows no bounds.
It's probable that Trump has no knowledge of this, because he has no knowledge of virtually anything but his own press clippings, but neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, one of the leaders of the march, knew very well what image he was evoking with that march on Friday night -- Nazi torchlight parades such as this one:
It isn't just that Trump has a woeful lack of understanding about why people would be appalled and upset at the sight of hundreds of white (mostly) men carrying torches and chanting Nazi slogans. He also portrayed them as good people protecting their "history" and their "culture." That suggests his idiotic earlier comments about history, such as absurdly suggesting, “People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?” were a good reflection of his ignorance on the subject. (Remember that he also seemed to think Frederick Douglass was still alive.)
Trump clearly has no understanding of the complexity of the issues at hand but, even more importantly, all signs point to him being in direct sympathy with the Nazi-KKK contingent. When asked by one of the reporters if he placed white supremacists and the counter-protesters on the same moral plane, he replied, "I'm not putting anybody on a moral plane." That is obvious. He is completely without moral authority. Indeed, it's not clear that he has any morals at all.
But we already knew that, didn't we? This is a person who has shown over and over again that he's racist, misogynist and xenophobic. There's little need to recapitulate it all now. His obtuse reaction to Charlottesville is really just the latest in a long string of behaviors that should have made him unelectable -- but that actually helped him win.
Vice filmed the events in Charlottesville over the weekend for an HBO documentary that aired on Tuesday (and which you can now watch on YouTube.) It's a frightening film, but one of the most chilling realizations as you watch it is that many of those white supremacists were heavily armed. Considering that the NRA was the advocacy group most passionately supportive of Trump, this makes sense.
In fact, since the election, the NRA has been relentlessly pushing the idea that it's the left that's violent and the right that needs to protect itself and prepare to fight back. This was also a subtle theme of Trump's remarks on Tuesday, in which he repeatedly implied that the "alt-left" were the aggressors in Charlottesville.
Trump's biggest fan was thrilled:
People at his rallies cheered "the wall" and shouted "hang the bitch" and pushed African-American protesters around on national TV. Everyone who voted for him saw it. People unfurled Confederate flags and supporters shouted Nazi slogans. Many people noted the shadow of white supremacy hanging over the campaign, including Trump's Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, who gave a speech almost exactly a year ago on the subject of the "alt-right" in which she said:
Of course there’s always been a paranoid fringe in our politics, steeped in racial resentment. But it’s never had the nominee of a major party stoking it, encouraging it, and giving it a national megaphone. Until now.
On David Duke’s radio show the other day, the mood was jubilant. “We appear to have taken over the Republican Party,” one white supremacist said. Duke laughed. There’s still more work to do, he said.
No one should have any illusions about what’s really going on here. The names may have changed. . . . Racists now call themselves “racialists.” White supremacists now call themselves “white nationalists.” The paranoid fringe now calls itself “alt-right.” But the hate burns just as bright.
Thanks to the man who defeated her and who is now working to normalize Nazism in America, it's burning brighter every day.