Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was vilified for calling some of her opponent’s supporters “deplorables.” During the campaign we noted her opponent’s reliance on white grievance and negative racial stereotypes. Pollsters could see that during the campaign — no surprise — those voters with the most racial animus were drawn to then-candidate Donald Trump. (“Trump performs best among Americans who express more resentment toward African Americans and immigrants and who tend to evaluate whites more favorably than minority groups.”) Polling and statistical analysis after the election confirmed the role race and xenophobia played in the campaign, far outweighing economic anxiety. This did not mean that all Trump voters were racists, but some clearly were; for others, Trump’s racist appeals didn’t bother them enough to deter them for voting for him on other grounds (e.g., his business background, his promises on trade).
Now we fast forward to Charlottesville. Trump has spun a tale of moral equivalency between white nationalists and those who oppose them. He’s said some of those who participated were “fine” people. (Do fine people accompany neo-Nazis shouting anti-Semitic slurs, using the Nazi salute and embracing Nazi iconography?) And yet there is a segment of GOP voters who still defend him, agree with his response and have sympathy for the false narrative of white victimhood, an essential component of neo-Nazis’ and white supremacists’ ideology which seeks to “reclaim” (from Jews, minorities, foreigners, etc.) their country, as David Duke likes to say.
So who are the people who still support Trump? It would be those who have been willing to tolerate his history of birtherism, his continued vilification of the “Central Park Five” (even after they were exonerated), his racial attack on Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel, his declaration that Mexican immigrants were “murderers,” the portrait of African American life as a war zone, and now even his efforts to shield neo-Nazis and white nationalists from blame. Those who after all of that still back him either share his racist beliefs or have an incredibly high tolerance for racism.
Moreover, if Trump voters tolerated his racism during the campaign because they thought Clinton was a she-devil or because they were convinced he possessed unique skills or because they thought he’d be controlled by congressional leaders, what is their excuse now? Clinton isn’t the alternative to Trump. (Vice President Pence is.) Trump is not demonstrating even a smidgen of competence or ability to enact the agenda he promised. Even if you thought in the campaign his racism was mitigated by other factors (we find that entirely reprehensible, but let’s continue) those other factors don’t exist any more. All that is left is the white-nationalist sympathizer.
In sum, there is no non-deplorable rationale for continuing to defend this president, his rhetoric and his moral obtuseness. No one is asked to confess error in voting for him (although some self-scrutiny would be appreciated). Nevertheless, continuing to deny he is unfit for office and to make excuses for his verbiage makes one complicit in his racial divisiveness and his determination to provide aid and comfort to neo-Nazis and white nationalists.
Some delude themselves by thinking that Trump can show “greater moral clarity” (!) (as the Republican Jewish Coalition preposterously did) or that staying in the administration prevents damage to the country (as Gary Cohn, John F. Kelly and others apparently do) or that the 2016 voters’ verdict cannot be upset with no regard for subsequent events (as Republican lawmakers insist). Let’s be blunt, these are rationalizations for continued support for an unfit, racist president. It does in fact make one deplorable.