Why Trump’s Statement Today is Meaningless

Donald Trump finally came out and said this today:

Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.

This tweet pretty much sums up my reaction.

We’ll be hearing a lot from his right wing supporters over the next few days asking, “What do you want from the guy? He just condemned racism. He’s obviously not a racist.”

Personally, I wasn’t that interested in what the president had to say today. His history and actions speak much more loudly that a scripted comment given under duress. This is the same man who openly discriminated against people of color in his housing complexes and called for the death penalty for the young men of color accused of assault in the so-called Central Park Five case, before they even went to court. He is also the man who injected himself onto the national political scene with birtherism lies and launched his presidential campaign by calling Mexicans rapists and drug dealers. During the campaign he attacked a Muslim Gold Star family and suggested that a federal judge couldn’t be impartial because he is Mexican. This is the president who made Jeff Sessions his Attorney General and brought white nationalists like Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka into prominent positions into the White House. I could go on, but perhaps you get my point.

All of that is why I wasn’t interested in asking the question, “why can’t Trump condemn white supremacy?” and why his words two days later don’t mean anything. It is for the same reason that Hillary Clinton quoted Maya Angelou when she gave her speech about Trump’s connection to the so-called alt-right: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Years ago, Jay Smooth convinced me that it is a waste of time to call someone “a racist.” He said that the “what you are” question is a “rhetorical Bermuda triangle” trap that distracts us from the important discussion about the “what you said/did” question. That’s why you won’t find me calling Donald Trump a racist. Instead, I’ll simply point out that his life is a case study of saying/doing racist things and that he has shown a pattern of delusional thinking…giving him the ability to say things like “racism is evil” while practicing it himself.

It’s true that people can change. But the president hasn’t demonstrated that he has the skills that are necessary to do so: curiosity, humility and the ability to listen. Trump’s initial inability to condemn those home-grown Nazis didn’t surprise me any more than his words today convinced me that he is finally doing so.

That’s why, even after the president’s statement today, I agree with what Josh Marshall wrote Saturday night.

Our sense of reality has been warped. People who refuse to condemn nazis and white supremacists even in the most clear-cut cases – again and again, month after month and year after year – do so because they support those people. This may sound extreme but it is obvious. We are like a woman who can’t admit her husband is an abuser. ‘I provoked him.’ ‘He’s got stress at work.’ ‘It was just one time.’ ‘He said he was sorry.’ You want to shake someone like this to open their eyes and see the reality of the situation. But living with someone with a damaged psyche has in turn damaged them. It is hard to emerge from.

Trump refuses to condemn these people because he recognizes them as supporters and he supports them. That’s the truth. Anything else is denial.

How can this even surprise us? His top advisor ran the publication that courted and popularized the beliefs and actions of these same people. It’s all out in the open. Don’t ask why he can’t condemn them. We know.

The calls are coming from inside the house.

What’s sad is that Trump’s statement today will probably mollify the Republicans and the media until the next time he says/does something that is horrifically racist. Then there will be hand-wringing about why he said/did such a thing and the whole process will be repeated again. Going through that time after time after time is what is contributing to our collective insanity. We need to stop doing that and recognize that “the calls are coming from inside the [White] House.”

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.