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.

Sunday Herald - - NEWS - FOR­EIGN ED­I­TOR DAVID PRATT RE­PORTS

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

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