Before President Trump’s coronavirus contraction knocked virtually everything from the news, alarm over Trump’s refusal to denounce white supremacist militants such as the gun-toting extremist “Proud Boys” was sounding all across the ideological spectrum.
Left-leaning anti-Trumpers were hardly surprised; this particular non-denunciation was one more in a long string reaching back to the 2016 campaign. More newsworthy was the sharply elevated hand-wringing of Trump sycophants, notably deep-South Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham. According to New York Times reporting, McConnell found it “unacceptable not to condemn white supremacists,” while Graham called on the president to “make it clear Proud Boys is a racist organization antithetical to American ideals.”
Has enlightenment suddenly struck these hardcore conservatives, knocked them off their ass like Paul on the road to Damascus? Have they finally concluded that Trump has gone too far in his tolerance for, if not pandering to, the wacko right wing of our disintegrating politics? Doubtful, unfortunately. But if not this, then what? What are they really worried about?
I suspect that the distress with Trump really comes down to this: He’s not sufficiently adept in the essential political craft of saying one thing and doing something else altogether. McConnell and Graham, both scions of the South (Kentucky and South Carolina, respectively) and well-schooled in race, gender, and class “New South” doublespeak, know how to play this game, and want to Trump to learn to play it too. Racism has no place (no place whatsoever!) in the sacred company of “American ideals,” but racist systems and structures can (must!) be allowed to persist, however pernicious the outcomes they produce. In other words, Donald, denounce the Proud Boys (the more passionately, the better; emotion makes for better sound bytes, you know), but wink-and-nod at their plans to show up on November 3, in camo fatigues and guns at their sides, outside polling places in heavily black and brown voting districts.
The perverse irony is that Trump, certainly the most successfully prolific liar the nation has ever produced, is far more honest than his more sophisticated Congressional enablers. That’s how sick our political culture has become. And this disease has nothing to do with the coronavirus.