Charlottesville violence: Trump’s misstep

White nationalist rallies are not new in the United States. But the demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Friday and Saturday were unprecedented in recent American history in terms of the number of participants and the scale of violence that followed. Those who turned up in Charlottesville, barely 200 km from Washington DC, have sent a clear message that the far right in the U.S. is ready for a long battle on a white supremacist agenda. On Friday night they took out a torch-bearing procession reminiscent of the Hitler Youth night rallies, shouting, “blood and soil”, protesting plans to remove a Confederate monument from the city. Saturday’s demonstration turned violent as counter-protesters mobilised an equally strong group against the white nationalists. This took a tragic turn when a demonstrator rammed a car into the counter-protesters, killing a woman and injuring several others. For years, the Alt-Right movement of white nationalists has been mobilising using online platforms. They supported Mr. Trump in the November election. Steve Bannon, the former editor of Breitbart News that gave a “platform” to the Alt-Right, was chief executive of Mr. Trump’s campaign, and is now his chief strategist. With Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon in the White House, the Alt-Right clearly feels emboldened. David Duke, a former “Imperial Wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan, who took part in the Charlottesville rally, admitted as much in plain words when he said, “It is the fulfilment of President Donald Trump’s vision for America.”

Mr. Trump could have shown leadership by instantly denouncing the ultra-nationalists and upholding values enshrined in the Constitution. But he failed the test, completely. He first condemned the violence “on many sides”. Two days later, apparently under pressure from his team, he criticised “the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate gangs”. But within a day he made another U-turn, holding both “the Alt-Right and the Alt-Left” responsible for Saturday’s events. In effect, Mr. Trump failed to make a moral distinction between the neo-Nazis who rallied with swastikas, Confederate battle flags and anti-Semitic banners and those who assembled to protest that intolerance. Mr. Trump also launched a Twitter attack against Merck CEO Ken Frazier, an African-American, who quit the President’s advisory council over his response to the Charlottesville violence. And he told Fox News that he was “seriously considering” a pardon for Joe Arpaio, a former Sheriff who faces allegations of racial profiling and discriminatory police conduct. Organisers of the Alt-Right demonstration have thanked Mr. Trump for his “honesty and courage” and vowed to hold many more such rallies. Unfortunately, the U.S. President does not see such endorsement from neo-Nazi groups as a problem.

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2021 3:12:46 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/trumps-misstep/article19504474.ece

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