President Trump on Wednesday rejected assertions that his racist, divisive rhetoric is divisive, instead claiming it “brings people together.”
When a reporter asked if his rhetoric divides Americans, Trump responded, “I don’t think my rhetoric does at all. My rhetoric is very—it brings people together,” Trump said before deflecting to say the United States is doing better than China.
President Trump defends his rhetoric: "My rhetoric brings people together" pic.twitter.com/0IyAoPK4mN
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) August 7, 2019
And the president is right, in a way. His explicitly racist rhetoric — dating from his campaign-launch speech demonizing Mexican immigrants to telling four Democratic congresswomen of color to “go back” to their countries to demonizing Baltimore and undercutting the humanity of the people who live there — has brought people together by expanding the political and cultural space for overt, public white nationalism. It has united crowds in chanting “Send her back!” at his rallies. And it has given a public and powerful platform to the ideas a white nationalist expressed before killing nearly two dozen people in El Paso.
Of course, Trump on Wednesday morning seems to be asserting his rhetoric is broadly unifying, a claim laughable for more reasons than could be enumerated here.
But perhaps more insidiously, the president’s remarks aimed to cloud the waters about what’s driving these shootings, equating white supremacy — a hateful ideology whose adherents have been going on shooting sprees — with leftist Antifa groups.
“I am concerned for any group of hate, I don’t like it… whether it’s white supremacy or any other kind of supremacy, whether it’s Antifa, whether it’s any group or kind of hate,” Trump told reporters.
There has been a concerted effort among some conservative figures and media outlets to focus on the politics of the weekend’s other mass shooter, a man who killed 9 people in Dayton, Ohio.
Trump joined in that effort on Wednesday.
“Meanwhile, the Dayton, Ohio, shooter had a history of supporting political figures like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and ANTIFA.” @OANN I hope other news outlets will report this as opposed to Fake News. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 7, 2019
The Dayton shooter’s social media profiles included some leftist sentiments, as well as antipathy toward fascists, but the comparison misses the key difference.
In El Paso, the killer posted a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto moments before he went on a killing spree in an immigrant community that was a 9-hour drive from his home. In Dayton, there’s no evidence the killer was motivated by his politics.
Trump’s raising of Antifa in his remarks further muddies those waters, as the president’s framing points to a problem with “political extremism” in America. The political violence of the moment, however, is not extremism writ large. It’s white nationalists killing people — and echoing Trump’s rhetoric while they do it.
It’s not the first time Trump has attempted to blur these lines in the wake of white nationalist violence. When a white nationalist in Charlottesville drove a car through a crowd of protesters in 2017 and killed Heather Heyer, Trump remarked that the white nationalist rally and counter-protests featured “very fine people on both sides.”
All of this obfuscates Trump’s complicity in the violence of the movement he’s leading, a connection that has grown increasingly apparent.
Counties that hosted a Trump rally in 2016 saw a 226 percent increase in hate crimes. The Washington Post did research using the Anti-Defamation League’s Hate, Extremism, Anti-Semitism, Terrorism map data and established a correlation between hate crimes and a Trump visit. “We found that counties that had hosted a 2016 Trump campaign rally saw a 226 percent increase in reported hate crimes over comparable counties that did not host such a rally,” the Post’s report said.