Silence That Stokes

Illustrator: Katie Heywood

With a delayed response, Trump offers hate groups time to recharge

In what was seemingly an act of deference, though veiled by political expediency, the president on Monday condemned egregious acts, which left three dead, perpetrated by white supremacists on Saturday in Virginia by saying, “Racism is evil.”

Facing “overwhelming pressure,” according to The New York Times, President Trump submitted, chastising the demonstrators at the “Unite the Right” rally and those who espouse white supremacy and neo-Nazism. But considering Trump’s reluctance to disavow the support of characters like David Duke during his campaign, along with his apparently anti-Semitic actions, the strength of his statement comes into question. 

And at a time when political differences are so fierce that those peddling hate find refuge in the rhetoric of the president, a lack of swift denunciation on the part of Trump is especially disturbing. 

Sure, without deviating from traditional practices Trump is no one, but whose support did the president risk losing by explicitly striking down white supremacy?

Leading Republicans like Lindsay Graham, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio wasted no time condemning the hatred on display Saturday. A rebuke of what others candidly called hate would have only lost Trump the support of the hate-fueled white nationalist movement itself.

Casting down the extremists in Virginia is not a political move. It’s likewise not a partisan issue in the sense of feuding among Democrats and Republicans. For someone so profuse in pointed tweets, the silence was deafening.

But he did not spare critical words Monday morning. Still having yet to address the violence in Virginia on Twitter, Trump called out Ken Frazier – CEO of Merck Pharmaceuticals and the first African-American man to lead a major pharmaceutical company – after Frazier resigned from the President’s Manufacturing Council.

“Now that Ken Frazier of Merck has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” Trump said Monday morning on Twitter.

Critics were quick to acknowledge that Trump had yet to condemn white supremacy on Twitter despite lashing out against a black business leader.

Frazier released a statement on Merck’s Twitter that laid out his reasons for resigning: He said, “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy,” and “as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”

On Monday night, the CEO of Under Armour, Kevin Plank, joined Frazier in leaving Trump’s council. “Under Armour engages in innovation and sports, not politics,” Plank said on Twitter. Intel’s chief executive, Brian Krzanich, joined him later that night.

Behind a lectern on Saturday – the day a peaceful protest turned to melee, leaving three dead, including two state troopers who crashed a helicopter they had used to monitor the demonstrations, and a woman, Heather Heyer, 32, who was struck intentionally, according to police, by a car driven by a white supremacist – Trump condemned “hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.”

Yet on Monday, in providing the public an update on the “ongoing federal response,” Trump, through an affectless look, condemned “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence,” the sides of which went knowingly unmentioned this time.

Political backlash will encircle Trump because of his delay in response. But will his slow response embolden the perpetrators of violence and the radical right?

According to Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer, yes. He said “these influences around the country, these anti-Semites, racists, Aryans, neo-Nazis, KKK,” people who were “always in the shadows” have “been given a key and a reason to come into the light,” in reference to Trump’s culpability in normalizing the attacks.

Furthermore, The New York Times reported on Monday that some members of the Virginia rally were returning home feeling “ready and energized,” aiming to undertake future marches, demonstrations, and public office campaigns. Figures like Eli Mosley, who’s mentioned in the Times article as a member of white separatist group Identity Evropa, said more rallies are coming.

“Every city needs to watch out,” Mosley said to the Times. “We are everywhere.”

After the president conceded in his comments on Monday, criticizing white supremacy directly, many took back their negative remarks of Trump that they had expressed on Saturday.

On Twitter Monday, despite having said a day earlier that Trump should’ve condemned the hatred more strongly, Newt Gingrich thanked the president, and said “his condemnation of racism, bigotry and hatred should satisfy even his harshest critics.”

But the harshest critics would acknowledge that the delay in messaging tainted the message itself. They’d say the decision to lash out against a black business leader before denouncing white supremacy put into question the president’s true focus. They’d say if the attackers were strengthened by the president’s actions, inadvertent or not, there is no satisfaction.   

Blame was cast late and under pressure, and that harshly affected the potency of Trump’s message. The president’s hesitancy gave extremists time to charge up. Hate will manifest itself again, and though there was no response that would’ve prevented it for good, hesitation only hastened its return.