A Philosopher's Blog

Trump’s White Nationalists

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Race by Michael LaBossiere on August 14, 2017


While the election of Obama led some to believe that racism had been exorcized, the triumph of Trump caused speculation that the demon had merely retreated to the shadows of the internet. In August of 2017, the city of Charlottesville, VA served as the location of a “United the Right” march. This march, which seems to have been a blend of neo-Nazis, white-supremacists and other of the alt-right, erupted in violence. One woman who was engaged in a counter-protest against the alt-right, Heather Heyer, was murdered. Officers Cullen and Bates were also killed when their helicopter crashed, although this appears to have been an accident.

While Trump strikes like an enraged wolverine against slights real or imaginary against himself, his initial reply to the events in Charlottesville were tepid. As has been his habit, Trump initially resisted being critical of white supremacists and garnered positive remarks from the alt-right for their perception that he has created a safe space for their racism. This weak response has, as would be expected, been the target of criticism from both the left and the more mainstream right.

Since the Second World War, condemning Nazis and Neo-Nazis has been extremely easy and safe for American politicians. Perhaps the only thing easier is endorsing apple pie. Denouncing white supremacists can be more difficult, but since the 1970s this has also been an easy move, on par with expressing a positive view of puppies in terms of the level of difficulty. This leads to the question of why Trump and the Whitehouse responded with “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides” rather than explicitly condemning the alt-right. After all, Trump pushes hard to identify acts of terror by Muslims as Islamic terror and accepts the idea that this sort of identification is critical to fighting such terror. Consistency would seem to require that Trump identify terror committed by the alt-right as “alt-right terror”, “white-supremacist terror”, “neo-Nazi terror” or whatever would be appropriate. Trump, as noted above, delayed making specific remarks about white supremacists.

Some have speculated that Trump is a racist. Trump denies this, pointing to the fact that his beloved daughter married a Jew and converted to Judaism. While Trump does certainly make racist remarks, it is not clear if he embraces an ideology of racism or any ideology at all beyond egoism and self-interest. While the question of whether he is a racist is certainly important, there is no need to speculate on the matter when addressing his response (or lack of response). What matters is that the weakness of his initial response and his delay in making a stronger response sends a clear message to the alt-right that Trump is on their side, or at least is very tolerant of their behavior. It could be claimed that the alt-right is like a deluded suitor who thinks someone is really into them when they are not, but this seems implausible. After all, Trump is very easy on the alt-right and must be pushed, reluctantly, into being critical. If he truly condemned them, he would have reacted as he always does against things he does not like: immediately, angrily, repeatedly and incoherently. Trump, by not doing this, sends a clear message and allows the alt-right to believe that Trump does not really mean it when he condemns them days after the fact. As such, while Trump might not be a racist, he does create a safe space for racists. As Charlottesville and other incidents show, the alt-right presents a more serious threat to American lives than does terror perpetrated by Muslims. As such, Trump is not only abetting the evil of racism, he could be regarded as an accessory to murder.

It could be countered that Trump did condemn the bigotry, violence and hatred and thus his critics are in error. One easy and obvious reply is that although Trump did say he condemns these things, his condemnation was not directed at the perpetrators of the violence. After seeming to be on the right track towards condemning the wrongdoers, Trump engaged in a Trump detour by condemning the bigotry and such “on many sides.” This could, of course, be explained away: perhaps Trump lost his train of thought, perhaps Trump had no idea what was going on and decided to try to cover his ignorance, or perhaps Trump was just being Trump. While these explanations are tempting, it is also worth considering that Trump was using the classic rhetorical tactic of false equivalence—treating things that are not equal as being equal. In the case at hand, Trump can be seen as regarding those opposing the alt-right as being just as bigoted, hateful and violent as the alt-right’s worst members. While there are hateful bigots who want to do violence to whites, the real and significant threat is not from those who oppose the alt-right, but from the alt-right. After all, the foundation of the alt-right is bigotry and hatred. Hating Neo-Nazis and white supremacists is the morally correct response and does not make one equivalent or even close to being the same as them.

One problem with Trump’s false equivalence is that it helps feed the narrative that those who actively oppose the alt-right are bad people—evil social justice warriors and wicked special snowflakes. This encourages people who do not agree with the alt-right but do not like the left to focus on criticizing the left rather than the alt-right.  However, opposing the alt-right is the right thing to do.  Another problem with Trump’s false equivalence is that it encourages the alt-right by allowing them to see such remarks as condemning their opponents—they can tell themselves that Trump does not really want to condemn his alt-right base but must be a little critical because of politics.  While Trump might merely be pragmatically appealing to his base and selfishly serving his ego, his tolerance for the alt-right is damaging to the country and will certainly contribute to more murders.

 

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25 Responses

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on August 14, 2017 at 9:57 pm

    Controlled opposition on both sides. You’re allowing people to manipulate you. Best to ignore the nonsense.

  2. TJB said, on August 15, 2017 at 3:34 am

    Happy to condemn neo Nazi and white supremacist ideologies. I do not think it is “morally correct” to hate the individuals who hold these views, however, contra Mike.

    In any case, I will note that communism is an equally evil ideology, having killed 100 million people in the 20th century. Moreover, there are lots of Soviet hammer and sickle flags at Antifa rallies. I do not hate those individuals, either.

    • CoffeeTime said, on August 15, 2017 at 7:18 am

      Well put, TJB. When someone is advocating hatred for other people, that person has lost his way.

      Like so much of what I read about the culture wars in the US at the moment, this confirms my feeling that we humans do not have the language, the concepts, and possibly the brain architecture, to reason, or make or receive reasoned statements, about groups of people.

      • WTP said, on August 15, 2017 at 8:41 am

        So, in that context…what is your perspective on the Damore/Google controversy? And in general, no matter how one feels on the matter one must admit that a significant number of very well educated people can read the same memo (or claim to have read the same memo) and come to completely, passionately, even angry opposite conclusions.

        • TJB said, on August 15, 2017 at 9:08 am

          Philip Greenspan:

          Having been both a student and teacher at MIT, my personal explanation for men going into science is the following:

          young men strive to achieve high status among their peer group
          men tend to lack perspective and are unable to step back and ask the question “is this peer group worth impressing?”

          Consider Albert Q. Mathnerd, a math undergrad at MIT (“Course 18” we call it). He works hard and beats his chest to demonstrate that he is the best math nerd at MIT. This is important to Albert because most of his friends are math majors and the rest of his friends are in wimpier departments, impressed that Albert has even taken on such demanding classes. Albert never reflects on the fact that the guy who was the best math undergrad at MIT 20 years ago is now an entry-level public school teacher in Nebraska, having failed to get tenure at a 2nd tier university. When Albert goes to graduate school to get his PhD, his choice will have the same logical foundation as John Hinckley’s attempt to impress Jodie Foster by shooting Ronald Reagan.
          It is the guys with the poorest social skills who are least likely to talk to adults and find out what the salary and working conditions are like in different occupations. It is mostly guys with rather poor social skills whom one meets in the university science halls.

          What about women? Don’t they want to impress their peers? Yes, but they are more discriminating about choosing those peers. I’ve taught a fair number of women students in electrical engineering and computer science classes over the years. I can give you a list of the ones who had the best heads on their shoulders and were the most thoughtful about planning out the rest of their lives. Their names are on files in my “medical school recommendations” directory.

          http://philip.greenspun.com/careers/women-in-science

          Lots more at the link.

          • TJB said, on August 15, 2017 at 9:09 am

            That should be Greenspun–stupid autocorrect.

          • DH said, on August 15, 2017 at 6:15 pm

            Not a lot of MSM outlets printed Damore’s entire memo, which I thought was fairly accurate. What is not accurate is the spin that it is getting – ask anyone on the street what the controversy is about and you’ll hear, “Damore thinks that women can’t be as good as men in engineering”. This is a complete misconstruction of what he said, but entirely predictable in today’s world of PC mob mentality.

            What he said was that, while gender bias definitely exists, it is not the only reason for the male/female imbalance in engineering careers.

            That is a very reasonable observation.

            As an analogy, I’d mention the field of nursing. While there are definitely male nurses working today, the field is heavily skewed towards women. Why is that? Gender bias? Perhaps. I would suggest that nursing requires a personality that is caring, nurturing, and gentle – and women, by nature or nurture, are by and large more predisposed to this kind of temperament.

            Does this mean that men cannot be nurses, or cannot be good nurses? Of course not. That’s absurd. I have had my share of hospital stays, of ER visits, of surgeries – and the male nurses I have encountered are every bit as skilled and caring as their female counterparts.

            The same is true of engineering – female engineers are every bit as skilled and talented as their male counterparts – and Damor has said this unequivocally in his memo.

            The point is that there are fewer of them, on both sides. And that there are many reasons for this, including the fact that fewer men are predisposed to go into nursing and fewer women are predisposed to go into engineering.

            It is very politically correct, but misguided and downright dumb, to assign only one reason for a phenomenon as widespread as this.

            I have done a considerable amount of research into the gender disparity in STEM curricula, and the conclusions drawn by most of the scholarly sources I have read is “All of the above”.

            Gender bias among employers? Yes.
            Gender bias in the classroom? Yes.
            Academic shyness on the part of underrepresented populations ? Yes.
            Preference, based on predilection, for other disciplines? ABSOLUTELY.

            As I have been told countless times in response to my posts, “That just doesn’t fit the narrative”.

            Mob rule. Political Correctness. A blind adherence to a narrative that refuses to accept alternate points of view, and the public outcry and excoriation of those who voice those alternative points of view.

            We live in an age of pitchforks and torches. Might as well call Damore a witch.

        • CoffeeTime said, on August 16, 2017 at 11:16 am

          I feel that I would would be abusing our host’s hospitality by going completely off-topic to the Google memo. If Mike wants to make it a topic, he will. I will say that I am curious about the history of the memo rather than the memo itself or any responses to its actual content.

          I note similarities in responses to the Google memo and Charlottesville, now that I’ve looked up some coverage. In both cases, the core itself – the memo and the statue – were not very interesting in themselves, but they both served as symbols that people formed themselves into tribes to attack and defend.

          At least nobody has died in the wake of the Google memo.

          While I have seen only a small part of the footage posted from Charlottesville, I find it remarkable how the ability to see different times from different viewpoints shatters any attempts at presenting a simple, coherent narrative of the events. While reporters try to make one version or other of the story stick, I wonder whether any court cases might disrupt those simplified stories. It is, however, clear that there was lower-level violence coming from both sides, and it is right to condemn the actions of all the people who instigated it, whichever side they supported. Considering the packed crowds, and that some people from both sides had firearms, including what are represented as assault weapons, I am in a way impressed that the outcome wasn’t worse.

    • WTP said, on August 15, 2017 at 12:06 pm

      I will note that communism is an equally evil ideology

      Equally, eh? Would you rather have lived under Pinochet or Castro? Generalissimo Fransisco Franco (who, I understand it is still dead) or Stalin? Mussolini or Mao?

      • TJB said, on August 15, 2017 at 4:31 pm

        Touché. But I’ve never understood why otherwise intelligent people have a soft spot for communism.

        • magus71 said, on August 15, 2017 at 5:08 pm

          Because it was the communists who won in WWII, and survived to penetrate western society. Especially higher education.

          • WTP said, on August 15, 2017 at 10:50 pm

            Communists only avoided losing wwii because capitalist countries were pouring supplies into them. Them being the USSR mostly. They had already penetrated western society long before wwii. See William Duranty and most “intellectuals” from pre-wwi onward. Communism actually picked up steam between the wars, mostly due to the rise of internationalism among the university types such as Woodrow Wilson and his acolytes.

        • WTP said, on August 15, 2017 at 10:40 pm

          Intelligence, or what passes for intelligence in our society, is not what it seems. The ability to memorize information is often mistaken for intelligence. The ability to reason, not so much. Religions are built on this misperception. Especially religions that claim to have no gods.

  3. TJB said, on August 15, 2017 at 4:06 am

    Stephen Pinker’s concept of the “Left Pole.”

    • magus71 said, on August 15, 2017 at 12:46 pm

      Also good:

      • DH said, on August 16, 2017 at 8:49 am

        This is very insightful. If you can get PC status for your particular group’s victim-hood, it is a first step to gaining a tremendous amount of power. Some have seized this power and are anxious to wield it to destroy those whom they don’t like, or whom they perceive as not liking them.

        Others not so much. Anti-Semitism, for example, continues to thrive in this world, but if discriminatory acts against Jews ever do make the front page, the stories die a quick death. There are no riots, no firings, no destroyed businesses, no outcries, no walking-back of statements seen as “not harsh enough”, no symbolic resignations.

  4. magus71 said, on August 15, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    The only group that had a permit to be there were the ‘white nationalists”. (Did CNN do an exit poll to figure out that the group was a unified “white nationalist” entity? ) The gathering was about the statue. Which it’s argued is symbolic of a systematic attempt to de-legitimize all that is white. the easy heuristic comes from Voltaire: “To know whom is your master, consider whom you can’t insult.” Insulting whites is just fine. insulting black people is racist.

    First and foremost, this is about free speech, which is of no one’s serious concern unless it’s offensive. Was protesting the removal of a 100 year old stature offensive? Or was merely the idea that whites are fighting for whiteness offensive? The Taliban and ISIS would be proud at the pulling down of our historic artifacts to cover up hard truths.

    Secondly it is about first cause. The Right obeyed the law, and went through the process of getting the permit, which was then illegally rescinded. No no outrage from CNN. 1st Amendment blatantly violated as confirmed by a federal judge. The Left did not obey the law. They assembled without a permit. No Left, no fighting.

    • DH said, on August 16, 2017 at 10:12 am

      Exactly. Evelyn Beatrice Hall, in her book “Friends of Voltaire”, said, “I disagree with what you said, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, expressing the true essence of free speech. We have lost this in this country.

      Not only are we ruled by mobs, cowed by the specter of public shaming and threats of violence for the mere expression of our thoughts, but the government has gotten into the act as well. Perhaps our elected representatives fear this shaming (and worse) more than they are willing to commit to the ideals upon which this country was founded. (Consider the 400+ companies and organizations that the IRS has admitted to targeting, based on the perception that they hold conservative ideologies. Consider “Operation Chokehold”, where legitimate businesses are harassed by the government for legal, but non-PC trades like gun sales).

      The President of the United States took an oath of office, swearing to uphold the Constitution – which until an Article 5 amendment process repeals it, still contains a First Amendment. His oath does not include siding with one group or another in expressing their ideology in opposition to another, but to protect each group’s right to do so peacefully. As much as any of us might eschew White Supremacy, Nazism or other oppressive ideology, it was the responsibility of the local and state governments to protect the permit holders and their right to demonstrate – which would probably include holding back the left wing protesters (who did not have a permit, as you point out), who might incite the demonstration to violence. As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened – and a small group of people, peacefully assembling to express their distasteful ideology was set upon by an angry mob that would seek to deny them their constitutional, and locally permitted, right to do so.

      President Trump’s measured response was appropriate. No violence is acceptable. No hatred is acceptable. Had he gone further, (and perhaps he should have) and publicly stated what Hall stated, no doubt there would be impeachment proceedings in process today. People in this country need to be reminded that tolerance is not selective, and that our ability to freely express our ideas regardless of what they might be, is a precious freedom that sets us apart from much of the rest of the world, and that much of the rest of the world has based their own system of government on.

      For those who might make a comparison (as I did in another post) to the objections raised about Obama’s measured response to terrorism, I would suggest that acts of terrorism are acts of war, and that Islamist Fundamentalists are representing the ideals of a Jihad, a Fatwah, a war against the Constitution of the United States. In this sense, it was Obama’s RESPONSIBILITY, as Chief Defender of the Constitution, to speak out with the specificity now wrongly being demanded of Trump.

  5. magus71 said, on August 15, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    The funniest thing about all the flapping from the Left, especially in recent years, is that they really think they’re edgy and against the establishment. When in reality they never step out of line. they haven’t offended the establishment, ever. as Mike points out, how much political or professional danger does anyone attract by criticizing Nazis? Hell, the day after the event in Charlottesville, a confederate stature was pulled down by a black (and white) leftist mob. There’s wasn’t a cop in sight. No matter how edgy the left tries to be, the Overton Window just slides smoothly into place over their actions and rhetoric.

    • DH said, on August 16, 2017 at 10:15 am

      Thanks for this. I had never heard the term “Overton Window”. Glad to know it.

  6. Eric Teplitz said, on August 15, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    Well said. This is merely the latest troubling incident, in a very troubling administration,
    that should serve as a wake-up call to any who believe overt racism is a thing of the past in 2017.

    • magus71 said, on August 15, 2017 at 5:07 pm

      Nah. The rally drew less than 500 people. Why are liberals bad at probability analysis and risk assessments?

      • WTP said, on August 15, 2017 at 10:42 pm

        Because if they weren’t, many would cease to be so-called liberals.

  7. DH said, on August 15, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    “While the election of Obama led some to believe that racism had been exorcized,” Only fools. The election of Obama was a great symbol of the exorcism of racism, but there was no bite to it at all. At best, it was merely reversed. The biggest impact the Obama administration had on racism in America was that it elevated the accusation of “Racist!” to the destructive level where it stands today. Nevermind any truth to the accusation – if you can make it stick via Facebook, Twitter or the mass media, you can bring down anyone.

    Trump’s response to the attacks in Charlotte were measured, but no more so than Obama’s responses to the nearly 300 terrorist attacks worldwide perpetrated by Islamist terrorists. During his eight-years as President, there were almost 10,000 deaths and 14,000 injuries as a result of these attacks, many of which happened in the US. The Obama administration, as a matter of policy, either flat-out refused to call these what they were, or downplayed them in hopes they would go away. Who can forget the “workplace violence” story of the Fort Hood attack – perpetrated by an Islamist fundamentalist who himself declared that the shootings were “an attempt to protect Taliban leaders in Afghanistan from American Troops”. He told a military mental-health panel that the shooting was justified because the soldiers he killed were “Going against the Islamic Empire”.

    Obama, at his best, only said that this was “a threat from radicalized individuals”, and that the “pull towards extremism appears to have led to the shooting at Fort Hood and the bombing of the Boston Marathon.

    Incredibly, those who tried to call these attacks what they were were denounced as anti-Muslim, Xenophobes, and outright racists.

    So when Trump comes under fire for not saying more than ““We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides”, that does not make him a protector of the Alt Right, it does not make him a racist, it does not make him a bigot or a White Supremacist – and it certainly doesn’t make a case for calling the White Nationalists “Trump’s”. I suspect that no matter what he said, he would have come under fire.

    It’s just a huge load of PC crap, and an excuse for other racists to find a little inroad to criticize him.

    And I join him in criticizing Kenneth Frazier, Kevin Plank, and Brian Krzanich for resigning from trump’s advisory board. What a bunch of feckless PC weasels. These three were in a fantastic position to help turn this country’s economy around, to work with Trump and make their disagreements with him truly meaningful – but instead they just walked away in some misguided symbolic act that takes them out of the game, removes whatever power or influence they had to be real agents of change in this country, and just adds to the hatred that has become the standard narrative in this country.

    And it’s not as though he didn’t have enough on his plate, what with the threat of WWIII hanging over our heads.

    Yesterday, below the fold, was a little mention that North Korea had backed down from its threat against Guam. In the international game of brinkmanship, they blinked and we didn’t. Had it been anyone but Trump, this would have been front page news, but the narrative of racism trumps everything in this country.

    We live in Orwellian times.

    All of the above I realize lays me open to the accusation of “Trump Supporter”, which, as I have pointed out in other posts, has gained a power almost as great as that of the “n-word” or “Racist” in this country.

    This issue, to me, is not about Trump at all – it is about the power of name-calling, the mob mentality that truly rules this country.

  8. magus71 said, on August 16, 2017 at 8:39 am

    Here’s the root of the rally, and the story the media won’t link to this, because they don’t do their jobs well. Kessler is the one that planned the rally. The man who originally planned the statue removal had a black supremacist bent, and has been arrested several times, including charges of assaulting police officers. But of course he was hired by the Virgiania Board of Education. This story is from back in December:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2016/12/01/virginia-board-of-education-member-resigns-after-vulgar-tweets-surface/?utm_term=.f87c997a82ed#comments


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