Ordinarily, the far-right turns to terrorism when it feels powerless; the Oklahoma City bombing happened during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and all assassinations of abortion providers in the United States have taken place during Democratic administrations. During Republican presidencies, paranoid right-wing demagogy tends to recede, and with it, right-wing violence.
But that pattern doesn’t hold when the president himself is a paranoid right-wing demagogue.
The fact that they’re still operating at a high level during a Republican administration goes against all the trends of the past 40 years. Donald Trump has kept the far right excited and agitated. He is basically the fuel that’s been poured onto a fire.
This past weekend, that fire appeared to rage out of control, when a young man slaughtered shoppers at a Walmart in El Paso. A manifesto he reportedly wrote echoed Trump’s language about an immigrant “invasion” and Democratic support for “open borders.” It even included the words “send them back.” He told investigators he wanted to kill as many Mexicans as he could.
Surrendering to political necessity, Trump gave a brief speech on Monday decrying white supremacist terror: “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy.” He read these words robotically from a teleprompter, much as he did after the racist riot in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, when, under pressure, he said, “Racism is evil — and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs.”
Back then, it took about a day for the awkward mask of minimal decency to drop; soon, he was ranting about the “very fine people” among the neo-Nazis. Nevertheless, on Monday some insisted on pretending that Trump’s words marked a turning point. “He really did set a different tone than he did in the past when it comes to condemning this hate,” said Weijia Jiang, White House correspondent for CBS News.
If history is any guide, it won’t be long before the president returns to tweeting racist invective and encouraging jingoist hatreds at his rallies. In the meantime, everyone should be clear that what Trump said on Monday wasn’t nearly enough. He has stoked right-wing violence and his administration has actively opposed efforts to fight it. Further, he’s escalating his incitement of racial grievance as he runs for re-election, as shown by his attacks on the four congresswomen of color known as the squad, as well as the African-American congressman Elijah Cummings. One desultory speech does not erase Trump’s politics of arson, or the complicity of the Republicans who continue to enable it.
Meanwhile, we learn the Trump 2020 campaign is spending a LOT of money on Facebook ads warning about an “invasion.”