In recent days, events have reignited the most disturbing speculation about the nature of the incoming Trump regime, its ideological orientation, and the political character of the president-elect himself.
Over the weekend, an organization that calls itself the National Policy Institute convened a couple hundred white nationalists and other disreputable elements of the self-styled alt-right in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the election of Donald Trump.
While this outfit’s leader, Richard Spencer, sought to present its racist program publicly in the most anodyne terms, a video of his closing speech — shot by a documentary team working for The Atlantic magazine — showed him shouting “Hail Trump” as followers saluted with their arms thrust out, just like old-time Nazis. Spencer’s remarks suggested that Jews are not human, and quoted the old Nazi term “luegenpresse” in “the original German,” as he put it, to lambast the “lying press.”
He had waited to uncage his inner Nazi, and the totalitarian emotions of his followers, until after a celebratory dinner, when most journalists had left the conference. White people are “the children of the sun,” he shouted, and need not seek the approbation of their darker inferiors. “America was until this past generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”
When that video surfaced on Nov. 21, its shocking message scraped away the deceptive branding of “alt-right,” a thin scrim invented for social media, and revealed the thuggish fascists lurking underneath. Such a revolting spectacle should have upset Trump, still trying to stabilize his awkward transition to power.
He might have worried even more because the president-elect’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has boasted of transforming his media company, Breitbart.com, into “a platform for the alt-right.” And of course the alt-right Nazis welcomed Bannon’s appointment when it was announced last week.
In fairness, Bannon has denied harboring any anti-Semitic or racist sentiments, and he has found a few Jews to vouch for him. But just as Trump himself hesitated to renounce an endorsement from former KKK leader David Duke earlier this year, while his campaign promoted white supremacist messages on social media, so his team’s official response to the uproar over the Spencer video was unspecific and pathetically weak.
“President-elect Trump has continued to denounce racism of any kind and he was elected because he will be a leader for every American,” said the rote statement issued from his transition office. “To think otherwise is a complete misrepresentation of the movement that united Americans from all backgrounds.”
Considering how jealously Trump seeks to protect his image and brand, his own silence about the neo-Nazi appropriation of his trademarked name is strange. Rather than blast the sieg-heiling creeps on Twitter, he let his spokesperson’s tepid statement stand.
Now contrast that bland reaction to Trump’s weekend Twitter rage over the Hamilton incident, where Vice President-elect Mike Pence listened to a brief and cordial plea for fairness and decency from Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr in the hit Broadway musical.
“Apologize!” shrieked Trump in a series of furious tweets that went on for two days — even though Pence denied he had been offended at all, and urged everyone to see the play. Trump’s intemperate ranting continued through the weekend, including a foolish assertion that the show, which he hasn’t seen, is “overrated.” (In fact “Hamilton” is brilliant and beautiful, a patriotic masterpiece inspiring renewed fascination with the nation’s revolutionary history and founders among Americans of all ages).
Somehow the neo-Nazi salutes didn’t seem to bother Trump nearly as much as that sassy multiracial musical cast.
Perhaps the president-elect’s wildly inappropriate reaction to these incidents is merely another symptom of his profound insecurity and bloated vanity. But the longer he allows white nationalists to decorate their propaganda with his name, while refusing to denounce them directly, the more suspicion he provokes about his own ideology and intentions.