Mourners lay flowers along a wall at the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 18, 2019, paying tribute to the 50 people slain by a gunman at two mosques. (Vincent Thian/AP)
Columnist

Consider where the United States finds itself in 2019:

A white supremacist allegedly killed 50 people in New Zealand and cites as his inspiration the president of the United States.

Decades after public officials stopped declaring their allegiance to white supremacy, the nation is led by President Trump. His racism is so evident that he is a symbol to be admired by an immigrant-hating gunman 8,900 miles away who is accused of carrying out Friday’s attacks on Muslims at two mosques.

Police said that man — 28-year-old Australian national Brenton Harrison Tarrant — issued a 74-page manifesto with this self-interrogation:

"Were/are you a supporter of Donald Trump?”

“As a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. As a policy maker and leader? Dear god no.”

Tarrant draws common purpose with Trump because the most powerful man in the world has repeatedly demonstrated racism. Early stages of key steps in his political career have been defined by bigotry.

Trump came to political prominence by pushing “birther” nonsense that questioned the nationality of Hawaii-born former president Barack Obama. Notably, no such campaign was waged against John McCain and Ted Cruz. These former Republican presidential hopefuls actually were born outside the United States, but their natural-born citizenship rightly is not the basis of a conspiracy theory. Trump announced his presidential campaign by insulting Mexican migrants as rapists. Trump issued an executive order just days after assuming office banning U.S. entry for Muslims from certain countries.

Trump’s record is such that his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, had to go on Fox News Sunday to declare: “The president is not a white supremacist. I’m not sure how many times we have to say that.”

Until people like Tarrant are convinced.

While Tarrant identified with Trump’s racism, it is people who are black, brown, Muslim, LGBTQ or somehow other than Trump who suffer from policies polluted with bias. This is a small sample:

·Immigration — The Trump administration’s cruel decision last spring to detain and prosecute parents illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border led to the separation and jailing of children, a move that will long disgrace the nation. In January 2018, he referred to black and brown immigrants from “shithole countries.”

·Voting — Trump administration officials have engaged in various voter suppression attempts, beginning in February 2017 when the Justice Department reversed the Obama administration position that a Texas ID law was racially discriminatory. That summer, Trump’s now-defunct and discredited Advisory Commission on Election Integrity requested personal data on voters from 50 states.

·Criminal justice — Following a pattern set early in the administration, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in November sharply restricted the use of consent decrees in cases involving police abuse. In July 2017, Trump gave a wink and a nod to rough treatment of suspects by police officers.

·Housing — Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson announced in January 2018 the delayed implementation of a Fair Housing Act regulation that would strengthen the housing discrimination ban.

·LGBTQ — A Pentagon memo says the military will start enforcing Trump’s restrictions on transgender troops on April 12. Actions by the departments of Health and Human Services, Justice and Education also have weakened protection policies for transgender people.

·Education — The Education and Justice departments revoked Obama administration language designed to encourage greater diversity in higher education.

Policies and statements like these set a tone of intolerance. Using language like Tarrant’s, after the attack on Friday, Trump talked of invaders crossing the southern border. During the presidential campaign he stoked anti-Muslim feelings by saying “Islam hates us.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations reports “an unprecedented spike in bigotry targeting American Muslims, immigrants and members of other minority groups since the election of Donald Trump as president and has repeatedly expressed concern about Islamophobic, white supremacist and racist Trump administration policies and appointments."

Disturbing note: Hate crimes were up 17 percent in 2017, in part because more local police departments are reporting. Worth noting: “Right-wing extremists collectively have been responsible for more than 70 percent of the 427 extremist-related killings over the past 10 years, far outnumbering those committed by left-wing extremists or domestic Islamist extremists — even with the sharp rise of Islamist-extremist killings in the past five years,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.

On the plus side, black and brown unemployment is low under Trump’s watch, though he never mentions that the trend began when Obama was president. White House influence on that economic indicator is not great, but presidents get the blame when unemployment is high and claim credit when it is low. Trump does deserve credit for signing the important criminal justice reform legislation, rightly called the First Step Act.

Placing that in context, the modest legislation was particularly needed coming after the Trump administration “dismantled federal criminal justice reform and refueled policies of mass incarceration” during its first two years, Vanita Gupta, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told the Federal Insider.

Her views were echoed in interviews with other civil rights leaders:

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, referring to Trump’s reaction after violence during a white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, said: “I don’t know when it happened in America that there was not a consensus around the rejection of Nazis up until this president decided that they were very fine people on both sides.”

Hilary O. Shelton, NAACP senior vice president for advocacy and policy: “We watched these hate groups, these extreme groups, these white-supremacist organizations and others seem to feel much more comfortable coming out in the open … they are actually receiving a form of validation from the president.”

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus: I just think that it would be very helpful if President Trump, very clearly, very strongly, made a speech denouncing white supremacy, denouncing this type of terrorism and especially, especially because his name was invoked and of course we know he didn’t have anything to do with that. But if somebody did a horrific act and invoked my name I would unequivocally denounce them and say don’t you ever use my name because I have nothing in common with you. You are a mass murderer. … That’s the type of aggressive proactive leadership I would like to see from the president.”

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