The mass murder of 50 worshippers inside two Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques could not deter President Trump from his appointed rounds. On Friday, he did not consider postponing or even de-emphasizing a ceremony in the Oval Office marking his first veto, rejecting the Congressional block on his dubious national emergency declaration for border wall funding. New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern suggested that the president express “sympathy and love for all Muslim communities.” He didn’t. Before that veto ceremony, the best Trump could manage was calling the mosques “sacred places of worship” that “were turned into scenes of evil killing.” Then Trump, who rose to the presidency on a wave of Islamophobia, got back to the business of embracing the same white-supremacist ideals that allegedly motivated the gunman in the first place. “People hate the word ‘invasion,’ but that’s what it is,” Trump said. “It’s an invasion of drugs and criminals and people.”
This talk of invaders echoes the rhetoric in the gunman’s alleged manifesto — which celebrates Trump, specifically “as a symbol of white identity and renewed purpose” — and the ideology of American terrorists like the man who killed 11 inside a suburban Pittsburgh synagogue last October. It is also reminiscent of men whose theories about racial purity resound through both the manifesto and Trump’s platform.
Others have noted that false intellectuals like Madison Grant and Renaud Camus, who mused about the death of the white race through miscegenation and homogenization, are sources not merely for today’s extremism on the far right but for past atrocities, as well. Adam Serwer, in an Atlantic essay on the roots of white nationalism published one day before the Christchurch massacre, cites a 1933 Hitler quote that undergirds his thesis that global panics about “white genocide” stem from our own shores: “It was America that taught us a nation should not open its doors equally to all nations.”
As such, it’s now increasingly clear that the swelling scourge of white nationalism and the terrorism committed to further it won’t slow down unless white people begin to understand that though white supremacy may target the black and brown, it doesn’t discriminate. White supremacy hurts white people, too. That may be no more evident than in the Republican Party. Perhaps more consciously and clumsily than ever, the GOP in the Trump era uses conflicts over racial identity to obscure a plutocratic agenda that subjugates poor white families as readily as non-white ones. The party’s problem? Their president doesn’t commit racism as subtly as his Republican predecessors. Whereas racism lay beneath the party’s brand more so in the past, Trump has tattooed it onto its forehead. Republicanism is now inseparable from this corrosive notion of white identity.
It hasn’t helped that so many continue to focus so acutely on class, often failing to fully grasp why an elected official would cut taxes for the wealthy, kill a labor union or let a factory town die without lifting a finger because they have neglected to consider that people of color are disproportionately injured by such malice. Tip-toeing around Trump’s racism hasn’t produced a groundswell of action or even an awakening from white Americans. They haven’t responded en masse to proof that systemic manifestations of white supremacy, such as police violence and far-right attacks, are also hazardous to their health. Given how Trump and the Republican Party operate, this is really more about shame, and whether white people understand how bad a look this white supremacy thing is all starting to become.
White people have long enjoyed the benefit of never having to worry about “shaming the race,” so to speak. Many black folks and other people of color grow up with this anxiety. It is more a reflection of the fact that while most white people are not necessarily immune from consequences, they can move throughout the world knowing that whatever negative actions they commit will not disgrace white people everywhere. When Ted Kaczynski started killing people through the mail, nobody was out here saying white culture turned him into the Unabomber. When any of these mass shooters, nearly all of whom are white, shoot up a school or a movie theater, there aren’t elected officials and television commentators questioning whether they grew up with fathers in the home or blaming hip-hop. None of us should have to live as a stereotyped mascot for our entire group, and I don’t think that white folks are there yet. No one is blaming white people collectively for the actions of the Australian gunman charged with the murders in Christchurch, nor should they. But if they haven’t already, white folks worldwide may begin to become acquainted with that particular anxiety.
Trump is doing the exact opposite. He seems to know no other way to live than to be obvious, so he has exacerbated racial tensions, seeking to tie whiteness intimately to his brand. That is what a large portion of his base has accepted. His border-wall rhetoric has, not so subtly, warned about guarding white people from murderous, drug-dealing brown hordes. Family separation? Blame the invaders. Cuts to the safety net, putting the unqualified-but-black Ben Carson in charge of housing, refusing to budget for his own criminal-justice reform bill and all the other signs that he couldn’t care less about people of color? Check. And we can’t forget the Muslim travel ban. I’m sure that Trump will figure out “what the hell is going on” with that supposed threat when O.J. finds the “real killers.”
Then there are the ways that Trump and his administration have not only encouraged the spread of racial hatred, but ignored the global threat of far-right terrorism. New York Times opinion writer Wajahat Ali called this growing network of extremism “white ISIS,” and he’s right on. Authoritarian leaders — ours included — are pushing policies that demonize immigrants and refugees, particularly those of color. The resentment fueled by the human flow from conflict-torn countries like Honduras and Syria are fueling hate groups throughout this nation and Europe.
But the way that Trump has ignored the warnings of his own administration, it would seem as though he either doesn’t care how bad the problem is, or he is willing to let it get worse for fear of upsetting racists, a key 2020 voting bloc. At Friday’s veto event, he blithely dismissed the crisis of global white nationalism, saying that they are “a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.” These new comments are his Charlottesville moment gone global. What Trump said two summers ago, about “fine people” on both sides, was so willfully ignorant that it rose to the level of complicity, especially when contextualized with his xenophobic policies and open threats of vigilante violence.
Over the weekend, both Trump and his staff made it their priority to exculpate the president from any association with the attack. In a brief distraction from another vomitous tweetstorm defending himself from the Mueller probe, Trump opened Monday morning by declaring, “The Fake News Media is working overtime to blame me for the horrible attack in New Zealand. They will have to work very hard to prove that one. So Ridiculous!” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, apparently willing to risk further exposing the world to ideas that inspired someone to kill 50 people, suggested during a television appearance that “people should read the gunman’s entire” 72-page manifesto in order to understand why Trump isn’t connected. It’s all false outrage. No one with any sense is connecting him directly to the attack; it’s the philosophy of white supremacy that connects him to it. If Trump simply found it within himself to do what Ardern had asked, and perhaps rescind his discriminatory ban on Muslim travel, no one would ask these types of questions.
This Republican party wedded itself to whiteness long before Trump showed up to collect a presidential nomination. The GOP’s platforms, policies and practices have for generations sought to appeal to white voters simply because they are white. Candidates like Duncan Hunter, the indicted Congressman from San Diego, won re-election against his Arab-American opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, on the strength of an Islamophobic campaign message. Hatred wins elections because the GOP has become so identified with one race, thanks in part to the current president. This has been so obvious that white nationalist groups have been working diligently to solidify their power bases within the party.
Another tweet that Trump sent Monday morning noted his approval rating among Republicans, the only one worth celebrating. He claims it is 93 percent, which comes from the right-leaning Rasmussen polling firm. Gallup has his overall approval at 39 percent, but never mind that. One constituency matters, and it is almost wholly made up of one racial group. That works for him, to an extent. I’m not sure how well it’s working out for them.
Because elections matter, the House Judiciary Committee is now led by Democrats and will reportedly hold hearings on the issue of white nationalism for the first time during Trump’s presidency. The New Zealand murders undoubtedly gave them the push, but the domestic terrorism that we experience should have, as well. Same with voter suppression, mass incarceration, racial gerrymandering, education and housing discrimination. Perhaps they’ll make time to examine environmental racism and health disparities, too. White supremacy is a shape-shifter. I sincerely hope that Democrats, and Americans of every stripe, prepare themselves to confront it in all of its forms.
This story has been updated to clarify that Ammar Campa-Najjar is Arab-American.