November 3rd 2020
When asked to provide a condemnation of white supremacist and militia groups, President Trump responded in terrible fashion at the first presidential debate of the 2020 election.
His first responses were so reluctant that the moderator, and former Vice President Joe Biden, repeatedly pressed him to exercise his own voice on the subject. President Trump then asked to be provided the name of an organization on the far-right he could criticize. After Joe Biden assisted President Trump by suggesting he condemn the Proud Boys—a far-right, neo-fascist group known for its political violence—President Trump responded with significantly less than the typical dose of blistering criticism he reserves for everyone else. He said, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”
Stand back and stand by? That sounds closer to marching orders from a commander-in-chief than a scathing criticism of a violent hate group. It’s not the only instance of emboldening radicals that has come from President Trump.
After torch carrying white nationalists marched through Charlottesville and clashed with counter-protestors violently back in 2017, President Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides.”
Earlier this October, over a dozen militia group members were arrested in an alleged plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI). The plot, which at one time included an armed assault on the Michigan capital with 200 men, was foiled by an undercover FBI investigation.
Governor Whitmer made a statement shortly after the arrests and pointed to President Trump’s debate comments as being partly to blame for radicals taking such extremes. “Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry, as a call to action. When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight.”
President Trump responded to her remarks by taking to Twitter to attack, not the militia groups, but against Governor Whitmer for having done a “terrible job.” Joe Biden also pinned blame on President Trump by highlighting a tweet prior to the incident in which the president posted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”
However, in dealing most matters with politicians, a healthy dose of skepticism could be wise. It may be worthy of deliberation whether any politician would make statements merely to gain an upper-hand in an upcoming election.
If there is one thing which I’ve learned about President Trump as a person and a politician, it is that he deeply values loyalty. Not many years ago, President Trump was off the political radar, but one decision made a huge difference for him. That move was saying the first black president of the United States, Barack Obama, was not born in America. After Donald Trump bolstered the birther movement, he became a political star among the far right.
With President Trump having barely won an electoral college victory in 2016, polls currently showing him far behind in the 2020 election, and falling sick to COVID-19, President Trump could be the most out of sight from doing the right thing than ever before. He may not ever risk truly condemning and turning away the far right-wing white nationalist vote that assisted his narrow path to presidential power.