Reich wing politics: The Nazification of the White House
THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES ISN’T JUST TURNING A BLIND EYE TO NAZIS, HE IS ACTIVELY ENCOURAGING THEM. HIS ACTIONS ARE SPLITTING AMERICA TO SUCH AN EXTENT THAT SERIOUS COMMENTATORS ARE NOW SPECULATING ABOUT A SECOND AMERICAN CIVIL WAR.
MANY Americans are already in no doubt. On Friday night an artist summed up their feelings by projecting the words “The President of The United States is a Known Racist and a Nazi Sympathizer” on the wall of the Trump Hotel in Washington DC.
Just the day before, one of America’s bestknow comedians and former Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, only added to the growing clamour of accusations of Trump having sympathies toward neo-Nazis. “I don’t think everybody who likes him is a Nazi, but everybody who is a Nazi sure does seem to like him,” quipped Stewart, in an appearance at a live show at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
For Trump himself there is no escaping the accusations. Wherever he looks right now, they come hurling towards him thick and fast.
This week, the president, who is known to be an avid collector of magazine covers, is unlikely to give pride of place on his office wall to the latest editions of The Economist, Time or the New Yorker.
While The Economist depicts Trump bellowing into a white, conical megaphone, with eye-holes that lend the appearance of a Ku Klux Klan hood, that same hood and racist symbol appears on the cover of The New Yorker. This time it’s depicted as the sail on a small boat propelled forward by Trump’s ranting.
Time magazine is equally unremitting. Its cover features a jackboot-clad white man behind an American flag, held aloft at a 45-degree angle by a pole whose ornament is an outstretched hand, creating the effect of a Nazi salute.
All these representations of the US President as a racist and Nazi have come, of course, in the wake of Trump’s defence of white supremacist and neo-Nazi protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, last week.
The protests erupted in violence after white supremacists and neo-Nazis rallied against the removal of a statue of civil war Confederate general Robert E Lee from a park in the city.
Violent clashes between the rally’s supporters and counter-protesters escalated when a car driven by an alleged white supremacist rammed into a crowd of anti-racist demonstrators, killing a 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, and injuring 20 others. James Fields, 20 from Ohio, was later charged with second degree murder.
Following the death and injuries, Trump sought to defend participants in the Unite the Right rally, in which he said “some very fine people” had marched alongside white supremacists and assigned partial blame for the violence that broke out to peaceful counter-protesters.
In the intervening days since the rally, whole swathes of American society have rounded on a president they condemn not only as an apologist for racism, but as being inextricably connected and responsible for the Nazification of the White House.
Such is the sharpening of political division across America, exacerbated by the Charlottesville protests and Trump’s subsequent remarks, that an article in this week’s New Yorker went as far as to put the chances of another civil war breaking out in the US in the next 10 to 15 years at being anywhere between five per cent and 95 per cent. Conservative talk radio giant Rush Limbaugh also suggested that the US may be “on the cusp of a second civil war”.
At least one credible analyst, Keith Mines, a national security expert with experience in multiple foreign war zones, himself put the chances at around 60 per cent.
Mines, however, stressed that what he meant by “civil war” was not traditional warfare, but sporadic outbursts of “largescale” violence and an increase in the kind of attacks by far-right terror groups that have accounted for 74 per cent of domestic terror incidents in the US over the past 10 years.
Politically, America is a divided and increasingly embittered country right now. It’s also a place where many citizens insist that a neo-Nazi storm is brewing. A storm they identify as being clearly egged on by a racist president and members of his administration.
According to research conducted by analysts from the Data & Society Research Institute, the far right in the US has risen to new prominence this past year in part by “attention hacking”, or manipulating the conventions of mainstream news.
“The media’s dependence on social media, analytics and metrics, sensationalism, novelty over newsworthiness, and clickbait makes them vulnerable,” the report by the institute concluded.
MEMBERS of the “altright”, a mixed group of racists, nationalists, anti-Semites and misogynists, understand that many news stories are built on a framework of conflict and outrage. It is something they have been keen to exploit as was evident in Charlottesville.
Trump’s subsequent remarks, however, have left even his staunchest media allies struggling to react supportively, to the incontrovertible evidence that the president they have been backing is now openly a neo-Nazi apologist.
By the time of last Tuesday’s catastrophic press conference at which Trump wrapped up his defence of white supremacists, a stunned Katherine Timpf, a prominent host of Fox News, a network known for its unwavering support of Trump, could only say: “I’m wondering if it was actually real life. I have too much eye makeup on to start crying right now.”
But in many quarters the tears are more a result of rage than sympathy. A real disquiet and in some cases outright rejection of Trump’s take on events in Charlottesville is now significantly making itself felt.
Among those expressing such feelings are senior republicans, business and military leaders, and members of Trump’s own administration.
Following Tuesday’s press conference, it was notable that many Jewish members remained largely silent.
Gary D Cohn, the director of the President’s National Economic Council, who is Jewish, was described by several people close to him as “disgusted” and “deeply upset” by the President’s remarks.
Steven Mnuchin, the secretary of the Treasury and also Jewish, stood silently behind Trump at the press conference as the President reiterated that there were “very fine people on both sides” at the Virginia incident. Mnuchin has not said anything since about the President’s remarks.
Then there are those even closer to Trump like Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, who is also Jewish, but remained stony silent about the President’s comments.
It was left to Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, who converted to Judaism, to say in a Tweet: “There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazis.”
Across the US political establishment there is simply no getting away from the controversy and concern that Trump’s stance has stirred up.
Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee pulled no punches, warning in statements he made on Facebook of an “unravelling of our national fabric”.
Trump, he said, must “testify that there is no conceivable comparison or moral equivalency between the Nazis – who brutally murdered millions of Jews and who hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives to defeat – and the counter-protesters who were outraged to see fools parading the Nazi flag, Nazi armband and Nazi salute”.
As the White House has tried to control the bipartisan firestorm created by the President’s equivalence of neo-Nazi white supremacists with those protesting their message of racial hatred, many commentators have been more forthright about the Trump administration’s position.
Reuben Brigety is a former US ambassador, senior State Department official and now dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University. Brigety had no hesitation in calling it as he saw it.
“The unprecedented situation that we currently face is that the elected government of the day is now led by a Nazi and white-nationalist sympathiser,” wrote Brigety, in an excoriating attack on the White House.
Quoting the late US poet laureate Dr Maya Angelou, Brigety summed up the feeling of many Americans with the words: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them!”
In essence, Brigety says, Trump definitively showed the world who he is, and we should believe him. One by one, Brigety also called out some of the Trump administration’s senior officials by posing what he called a series of “difficult” questions.
“How, Secretary of Defence James Mattis, can you convince the men and women serving in the greatest military the world has ever known, and who comprise virtually every creed and colour of our great nation, that racism will not be tolerated in the ranks if you do not publicly and powerfully challenge the blatant racism of their commander-in-chief?” asked Brigety.
“How, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, can you convince the world that American values are a force for good in the world, and convince your own workforce who hail from every corner of our country to confidently project America’s image in the world, if you fail to publicly challenge a president who embraces the latter-day Nazi spawn of the greatest evil the world has ever seen?”
And so Brigety, the former State Department official, went on, individually calling out Trump’s men as Nazi sympathisers one after another, adding that just as these questions apply to them, they equally apply to others who occupy political positions of great responsibility in the service of the United States.
The aim of Brigety’s attack was simple and could not have been more direct, ensuring there was no way senior Trump political appointees could evade the mounting accusations that the administration is home to Nazi-sympathisers.
Just how damaging all this will be in the longer term for Trump remains to be seen. It’s not the first time since his inauguration he has courted considerable controversy and criticism, but many observers are convinced this time things are different.
Aside from the obvious offensiveness of his recent remarks, they seem to be doing enormous damage to the thing perhaps more than anything Donald Trump cherishes most, the Trump brand. This, after all, is a man who likes to put his name on everything be it Trump golf, Trump steaks, Trump hotels, Trump condos, Trump ties and the failed Trump University.
ACCORDING to branding experts, the fallout from Trump’s comments this week equating white supremacists and neo-Nazis with those who oppose them, marks a turning point for the President’s commercial and political brands, which have become intertwined.
“I think it’s going to frame him historically as aligned with these fringe groups that are not consistent with the character of America,” said Eric Schiffer, CEO of Reputation Management Consultants.
At this precise political moment, says Schiffer, “what you’re left with is this almost radioactive component to him that is low grade. It’s dirty-bomb level”.
The question now is how long this political fallout will last and how damaging the Nazi label will ultimately prove to be.
“People are not going to want to have any association” with the Trump name if he continues to align himself with hard-right groups, says Schiffer.
“It’s like knowing your neighbour is suddenly a Nazi. You’re not going to want to publicly hang out there because of the taint.”
Schiffer’s point is evidently already resonating among many American be they in office or ordinary citizens.
There will, of course, always be that hard core of Trump supporters willing to overlook his latest disastrous mishandling of a situation – and even the branding of him as a Nazi – but this is a president looking irretrievably isolated.
Over the last few days following the exit of Steve Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist, there’s a telling photograph that has garnered considerable attention in social media.
It shows Trump behind the desk in the Oval Office, surrounded by his top advisers, Vice-President Pence and national security adviser Mike Flynn, chief of staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Steve Bannon and press secretary Sean Spicer.
That photograph was taken earlier this year on January 28, eight days after Trump was inaugurated. Today, all those advisers are gone, except for Pence.
In February, shortly after that photograph appeared, chief strategist Bannon was on the cover of Time magazine as “The Great Manipulator”.
Today, Bannon has been booted from the White House fold and Trump the US President is on the cover of Time in the guise of a Nazi. It’s hard to see the American people being ultimately forgiving of that.
This week’s covers for The New Yorker and The Economist featuring Trump