While expressing frustration about including President Trump in conversations about the spread of white supremacist ideology, a top White House staffer revealed a disconnect from many Americans’ views of his boss — and, thus, an inability to grasp one of the biggest cultural issues of our time.
On “Fox News Sunday,” the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, was asked whether the president would deliver a speech condemning Islamophobia and white supremacy.
Mulvaney replied: “The president is not a white supremacist. I’m not sure how many times we have to say that.”
“To simply ask the question every time something like this happens overseas, or even domestically, to say, ‘Oh, my goodness, it must somehow be the president’s fault,’ speaks to a politicization of everything that I think is undermining sort of the institutions that we have in the country today.”
Americans of all stripes continue to look to the president to respond emphatically to incidents involving white supremacists, because Trump has regularly espoused worldviews and put forward policies that many view as inciting racism and anti-Muslim bigotry.
Nearly 6 in 10 Americans believe the president is a racist, according to a February 2018 Associated Press poll. In a July 2018 Quinnipiac poll, nearly half of those surveyed said Trump is a racist. In a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, nearly 7 in 10 American Muslims said Trump causes them worry. And nearly half — 45 percent — said Trump makes them angry. Ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, I wrote:
“Muslim Americans, in particular, found themselves politicized like never before after a presidential campaign that produced what critics called some of the most anti-Muslim language in history. After years of peddling rumors about Barack Obama’s birthplace that seemed rooted in Islamophobia, Trump called for a ‘total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on’ in December 2015, a few months after launching his White House bid.”
And when white nationalists chanted “Jews will not replace us” during a 2017 Charlottesville protest over the planned removal of a Confederate general’s statue, Trump called some of them “very fine people.” These kinds of remarks by Trump have won praise among white supremacists, including former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, and led nearly 6 in 10 Americans to conclude that Trump has encouraged white supremacists, according to a Quinnipiac poll in 2017.
Even after 50 people were killed at two New Zealand mosques last week by a suspected gunman who had left behind a 74-page manifesto hailing Trump as a symbol “of renewed white identity and common purpose,” the president downplayed the threat of white supremacy.
After a journalist asked him whether white nationalists posed a growing threat globally, Trump said: “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. It’s certainly a terrible thing.”
The president’s words were criticized by many who see white supremacy and racism as a growing problem, especially domestically.
A plurality of Americans in an NBC News-Survey Monkey poll last year said racism in the United States is getting worse. And more than 6 in 10 people polled said racism remains a major problem in our society.
Trump’s — and his staff’s — views about the prevalence and threat of white supremacy and the president’s role in it will directly affect how the White House responds to the issue. By playing down the dangers of poisonous ideologies that hurt people of color and religious minorities globally, Trump is signaling a clear unwillingness to acknowledge and respond to the seriousness of this crisis, making him at least somewhat complicit in all the horrors that emanate from it.