The Post reports that Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee in the nationally watched Florida gubernatorial race, has spoken four times at conferences organized by the David Horowitz Freedom Center. The group’s conferences have featured a parade of alt-right, white nationalist and Islamophobic heroes, as well as speakers who claim that refugees and immigrants are destroying European culture and that diversity is dumbing down America.
Horowitz himself has said that “American blacks are richer, more privileged, freer than blacks anywhere in the world, including all black run countries.” He responded to the news that a man was arrested after vowing to kill “all white police” at the White House by saying: “Meanwhile, the country’s only serious race war — against whites — continues.” DeSantis is running against Democrat Andrew Gillum, the African American mayor of Tallahassee.
These revelations need to be read alongside one of the big revelations in Bob Woodward’s book: that Trump privately insisted he did nothing whatsoever wrong in blaming white-supremacist violence and murder on “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” and raged at his advisers for making him backtrack from this, which he called a huge “mistake.”
DeSantis’s spokesperson is stressing that DeSantis is not “responsible for the views and speeches of others.” But in 2015, DeSantis praised Horowitz for doing “great work” and said his organization “tells the American people the truth and is standing up for the right thing.” And DeSantis’s spokesperson did not disavow any of these views, which presumably means, at a minimum, that DeSantis does not see the claim that there is an ongoing race war against white people as worthy of condemnation.
According to Woodward’s book, after Trump got pilloried for his “many sides” comment, his aides talked him into condemning anti-black racism more unambiguously, which he did by decrying the “KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups.” But then a Fox News reporter claimed Trump had made a “course correction,” prompting Trump to explode. “I didn’t do anything wrong in the first place,” he raged, lamenting that he’d been “forced” to “apologize,” adding: “I’m never going to do anything like that again.”
Indeed, Trump then reverted to a formulation similar to “many sides.” And one year later, as white nationalists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis prepared to mark the anniversary of the violence in Charlottesville, Trump condemned “all types of racism” without singling out white supremacy.
What ‘many-sides-ism’ is really about
At the pernicious core of these formulations is the tacit suggestion that discrimination against whites and discrimination against African Americans are not just moral equivalences but in a sense are also social and historical equivalences. The message is that white people should — and legitimately do in fact — harbor grievances about discrimination against them that belong on the same plane of seriousness as the grievances of African Americans do. The veiled but intended goal is to downgrade the latter — and, by extension, the unique monstrosity of the historical crime and continuing systemic anti-black racism that give rise to those grievances.
When Trump sticks to his “many-sides-ism” in the face of widespread demands for unambiguous recognition of the uniqueness of those grievances, it’s basically a wink at the idea of an ongoing war, of one kind or another, against white people.
The larger story here, as Adam Serwer recently documented, is that we are currently seeing the careful mainstreaming of white nationalism, even if overt white supremacists are getting driven from the public square. Such sentiments are gaining a foothold in the GOP, thanks to prominent right-wing media personalities who regularly sound the veiled — and not so veiled — refrain that the browning of America represents at bottom a severe cultural and demographic threat to white America. As Serwer notes, openly committed white nationalists and supremacists alike hear in this rhetoric an exhortation to whites to understand that they are under existential racial attack — albeit one so couched that it can air on Fox News.
Trump, of course, would never endorse such an idea. After all, he opposes racism on “many sides,” in “all” directions. But the mainstreaming of such sentiments should be seen as a process that involves a spectrum of views that imperceptibly blend into one another, with the lines between unacceptable and “acceptable” often being as blurry as the lines between colors on a light spectrum.
Thus, Trump doesn’t endorse the idea of an ongoing race war against white people, but he does further the idea that racism against whites is as socially significant as racism against blacks. White nationalists on Fox News don’t endorse the idea of an ongoing race war against white people, but they do further the idea that racial diversity is a destructive and malicious force.
And DeSantis — who is one of the most slavish Trump worshipers in the country, who ran an ad in which he likened his child’s wall of toys to Trump’s fabled barrier against invading, swarthy hordes — does not endorse the idea of an ongoing race war against white people. But he does speak at the conferences of an organization that promotes this idea in various forms, thus helping to confer on them legitimacy and respectability.
DeSantis still has a chance to unambiguously break with Horowitz’s views in the coming days, and one hopes he will. But if he does not, the message will be as clear as the one sent by Trump’s refusal to abandon his racial many-sides-ism. Of course, Trump got elected president despite his overt racism and white nationalism, so perhaps that message won’t be disqualifying to DeSantis’s quest to become governor of Florida, either. Worse, what if it helps him?