President Donald Trump’s moral compass isn’t working. The needle’s spinning wildly, but the leader of the free world just can’t find moral north.
The latest example of his moral senility came in the wake of the white nationalist and Nazi atrocities in Charlottesville this weekend. On Friday night, torch-wielding supremacists descended on the college town, chanting slogans such as “Jews will not replace us,” many of them giving the Nazi salute.
The event looked like a hybrid of a KKK lynch mob and a Nazi book-burning ceremony. The tweeter-in-chief’s response was … silence. The next morning, hundreds of heavily armed white supremacists descended on the town again. From the loud-mouth president … more silence.
By 11 a.m., media outlets were beaming footage of American Carnage around the world: Nazi mobs attacking the broad array of anti-Nazis who had gathered in Charlottesville to defend what is best in the human experience: diversity, tolerance, the embrace of difference, the ability to love across ethnic and racial and religious divides.
Hour after hour, the rolling coverage continued: And, from the president, the vice president, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions … silence.
Finally, after a car, likely driven by a far-right thug, mowed down protestors, Trump awkwardly read a prepared statement. Expressing hurt that protestors were ignoring his supposed economic accomplishments, he blamed the “hatred” coming from “many sides.”
At a moment of extraordinary civic peril, with the fabric of the peaceful, democratic, society under assault from a ragtag band of fascists, Trump’s speech was beyond shameful.
Equating the “hatred” expressed by die-hard Nazis – yes, the sort of pond-scum who tattoo swastikas onto their chests and go around taunting Jews, blacks, gays and other minorities that they will hunt them down and kill them – with the opposition to that world view expressed by the Virginians who came out onto the streets of Charlottesville to protest the Nazis’ presence should in and of itself disqualify Trump from holding public office.
Trump’s inane words are, alas, no surprise. As the KKK’s one-time Grand Wizard David Duke so helpfully pointed out on Saturday, Trump was elected by appealing to white animus against the multi-racial, multi-cultural society.
A large part of his most ardent fan-base has always been enthused by his willingness to at least partially embrace “white nationalism.”
That’s why Trump found it almost impossible to properly distance himself from Duke after the KKK’er endorsed his candidacy in 2016. It’s why he routinely slams Black Lives Matter while supporting groups who push the White Lives Matter slogan.
It’s why, surreally, he managed to make a speech on Holocaust Remembrance Day that didn’t mention anti-Semitism or reference the fact that millions of Jews were gassed.
When challenged, his office said something to the effect of “All Lives Matter,” and “lots of different people were killed in the war,” and then explained that the cataclysm of the Holocaust was “sad.”
In Trump’s vision of the world, certain peoples are inherently more valuable than others, and highlighting the harms done to, and the moral claims of, those deemed less valuable doesn’t fit into such a calculus.
Moral equivalence arguments aren’t just inadequate to the events of the moment. They are deeply destructive of our ability as a society to parse right from wrong.
Let’s be absolutely clear here: what was unleashed in Charlottesville this week wasn’t the fault of the anti-racists and the anti-Nazis. It was the deliberate seeding of chaos by right wing paramilitary thugs who want nothing more or less than to provoke race war and the tyranny of the mob.
Sasha Abramsky's new book,"Jumping at Shadows: The Triumph of Fear and the End of the American Dream," will be published by Nation Books in September, firstname.lastname@example.org.