Former Klu Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke felt “really proud of him.” Steven Bannon — founder of the far-right news site Breitbart — was reportedly “thrilled.” Another white nationalist called him an “honest man.”
And the rest of the nation recoiled. Or so it would seem.
Cartoonists drew the White House topped with a klansman’s hood and illustrated President Donald Trump shouting into a megaphone-turned-KKK hood. Leading Republican lawmakers criticized his remarks. The president’s manufacturing council collapsed after its members left en masse. Even on Fox News, two black commentators cried and implored the president to take it back.
“It” being Donald J. Trump’s unwieldy and unexpected defense on Tuesday of white supremacists in Charlottesville, calling some of them “fine people” and equally condemning anti-racist protesters. This, despite the fact it was white supremacists who arrived with shields and helmets and mace in numbers that far outweighed antifa (a group that meets fascist violence with violence). And despite the fact that it was white supremacists who surrounded a black man and beat and stomped on him, and an alleged white supremacist who is accused of killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens more when he plowed through the crowd in a Dodge Challenger.
Donald Trump’s presidency has often felt like a Tilt-a-Whirl ride if you were a drunk teenager who just hoovered a hot dog. But this week the country seemed to flip. Permanently.
There they were, again, as if transported from the past: Nazis and the KKK chanting and burning torches under the gaze of Southern city.
Americans believed they had moved on.
Nixonian scandals and the threat of nuclear war with North Korea are looming under Trump, but neither sparked the national trauma it would take to shake that “we’re past this” belief.
Except not everyone was shaken. Most GOP lawmakers have yet to criticize Trump’s remarks.
To Yolanda Pierce, dean of the school of divinity at Howard University, there’s been more “moral leadership” from fleeing CEOs than evangelical leaders — none of whom budged from Trump’s faith advisory board.
By Thursday morning, a CBS poll reported 67 per cent of Republicans approve of Trump’s response to Charlottesville. Only about half believe Heather Heyer’s death was an act of domestic terrorism, despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ assertion.
Confederate monuments like Charlottesville’s statue of General Robert E. Lee — erected to celebrate the Confederacy, which sought to preserve slavery — is highly divisive in the heavily Republican South.
On Tuesday, and again in tweets Thursday morning, Trump condemned the removal of such symbols, proclaiming their value as “history and culture.”
National and Louisiana polls suggest a majority of Americans may agree with him. Meanwhile, Charlottesville has spurred a new push across the country to take them down.
Since there is no consensus here on where to put monuments to a white supremacist past, perhaps it is not surprising that not even Nazis can unite the nation.