The Charlottesville Shuffle

President Donald Trump speak to members of the media regarding the on going situation in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminister, N.J. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Donald Trump speak to members of the media regarding the on going situation in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminister, N.J. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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March 15, 2019 2:37 p.m.

We should note we’re back to the standard Trump dance in which he needs to be dragged kicking and screaming to call what happened in New Zealand “terrorism” as opposed to just some senseless, unfortunate thing. A short time ago Mercedes Schlapp, White House Director of Strategic Communications, went on Fox to insist that Trump had privately called the incident an “act of terror” even if he wouldn’t do so publicly. “I just spoke with the President, he made it very clear this is an act of terror.”

On both sides of the equation, I’ve always thought we fetishize the word “terrorism” far too much. It’s really just a sub rosa dialogue about Islamist political violence. We use this word as code for political violence carried out by Muslims. It’s a word we use to make Islamist violence uniquely threatening and evil and make right-wing (and other forms of terrorism and political violence) inherently individual and thus politically meaningless, invisible. So it is altogether understandable and salutary to press the point that ubiquitous acts of right-wing terrorism are just as dangerous, evil and systemic as things carried out by al Qaeda or whoever else. They are terrorism just as much. The deeper issue is the learned and willfully blindness toward right-wing terrorism in the US and Europe.

Almost inevitably Trump will soon come out and read some version of the right words from a script – possibly in about an hour where he holds a veto signing ceremony over his border emergency declaration. But the key point will remain that, just as with Charlottesville, he does everything within his power to avoid discussing right-wing violence or terrorism as part of a broader movement or context. This is unsurprising since he is a major part of the context.

After all, while dismissing him as clownish personally, the New Zealand mass shooter praised Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” This is no accident.

Trump’s former advisor Whalid Phares made the point clearly enough this morning. You can disagree with the methods but appreciate the legitimacy of the terrorists’ goals. That is to say, you can if you harbor racist, eliminationist political beliefs and values.

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