Sunday morning, in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Donald Trump was confronted with a demand from The Anti-Defamation League to condemn the racism of David Duke. The noted white supremacist and former KKK leader said on his radio show last week that “voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage.” Duke also dispensed gems like “Don’t vote for a Cuban. Vote for Donald Trump,” while encouraging his listeners to support Trump’s campaign, telling them that there they would find people who share their “values.”
So, easy enough, right? Trump has repudiated Duke and his kind before, after all. In 2000, he threw very public shade at the Reform Party for including Duke in its ranks. A quick “fuck this guy and everything he stands for,” cleaned up for cable, and on to the next, right?
Nah. This is 2016.
Trump repeatedly refused to distance himself Sunday, saying, “I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists.” On Monday, he blamed technology.
OK. If you say so. We know this is kind of your thing, this move. But those people know about you, Trump, and they love you.
White supremacist love for Donald Trump has been documented and tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) since his campaign started gaining serious momentum last year. In the SPLC annual report on hate and extremism, they cite an increase in the number of hate groups in the United States since 2014, and show that numerous white supremacist groups feel galvanized by Trump’s message. Hate groups rally around Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-black comments because his platform echoes so much of what they believe. His refusal to distance himself from them fuels their support, even though most extremist groups support neither the Republican nor Democratic Party.
While white supremacists make up a small minority of the American population, Trump is bringing these fringe extremists into the forefront of American politics. He has made himself their candidate through sleights of hand like these, performed right out in the open. Hey, a vote’s a vote, right?
You can argue that Trump’s Sunday tap dance might be an elaborate form of performance art winking at the Know-Nothing Party of the 19th century. You can argue that Trump’s regular retweeting of white supremacists and his affinity for Mussolini quotes are a sign that Trump may truly be courting the white-supremacist vote. Regardless of the direction his comments get spun, though, step back for a minute and really think about what’s happening.
No matter what you believe of Trump’s true intentions — indeed no matter what his intentions actually are — we’re devoting significant time, in 2016, to parsing just how much affection a major political party’s front-runner for the nomination might have for white supremacists. That’s HAPPENING. Before we can even begin to be concerned about the leanings of Trump’s heart, or what they might mean for this election, we should take plenty of time to be terrified and furious that this conversation has cause to exist in the first place.