Back in the before-times, when all the polls predicted a landslide Hillary Clinton victory and establishment Republicans were pivoting away from Donald Trump like a chorus line, I had a postelection cautionary column in the hopper. It was imperative, I planned to write, that we remember who the Republicans were before Trump thundered in and tossed reality on its axis.
Don’t let them trick you, I was going to say. They will try — they are already trying — to use Trump as a foil, to quarantine the Trumpists and situate themselves, by contrast, on the side of goodness and rationality and respect. Do not let them off the hook so easily. Never forget that Trump wasn’t anomalous, he was the Republican Party’s quintessence, and their defection is a matter of self-preservation, not conscience.
Of course, I never got to write that essay. Trump won, and Republicans didn’t pivot. They wrapped their arms around his meaty torso and held on for dear life, while the most vile and violent factions of the Republican base got busy living their whole truth.
This past Friday night, those factions — swollen and bold from eight months of making America great again — marched in Charlottesville, Va. They carried torches, shouted Nazi slogans and rallied in protest of the prospect of removing a statue of Robert E. Lee.. The next day, according to police, James Fields Jr., a registered Republican, drove his car into a crowd of counterprotestors, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
Saturday afternoon, President Trump, in a statement that should taint his family name until human extinction, decried the violence “on many sides.” He personally did not mention white supremacy specifically until Monday, and then only under fierce pressure from the public and the media. Abruptly but unsurprisingly, on Tuesday afternoon, he doubled back to his original stance and again blamed “both sides.”
On one side, you see, you have white nationalists and neo-Nazis carrying assault weapons and advocating for a white, Christian, fascist ethno-state in America. On the other side, you have people who would prefer not to be systematically exterminated. Both are equally bad! To put it another way, on one side, you have the guy who law enforcement officials say deliberately ran a woman over with his car and the people who are celebrating her death. On the other, you have the woman who got run over by the car. Both are to blame! (By the way, if you are a good liberal grousing about how some anti-fascists are “just as bad” as fascists, you are riding Trump’s wake on this logical highway.)
During Trump’s two-day silence, congressional Republicans smelled a P.R. disaster and responded decisively. Senator Orrin Hatch, of Utah, tweeted: “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.” Senator Marco Rubio, of Florida, described the events in Charlottesville as a “terror attack by #whitesupremacists.” Senator Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, called it “homegrown terrorism.” Senator Cory Gardner, of Colorado, wrote, “These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.”
Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted: “The views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant. Let it only serve to unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry.” And then, “White supremacy is a scourge.” Senator Jeff Flake, of Arizona, declared: “The #WhiteSupremacy in #Charlottesville does not reflect the values of the America I know. Hate and bigotry have no place in this country.”
Really? Which America is that? Surely not the America that was stolen from indigenous peoples, that was built by slaves, that interned the Japanese, that has the highest maternal death rate in the developed world, that acquitted George Zimmerman, that has had one black president, zero female presidents, zero Jewish or Muslim presidents, and zero openly gay or trans presidents in its 241-year history. There might be freedom and love and audacity in the weft of our national fabric, but hate and bigotry are in the warp…..