President Trump’s refusal to immediately disavow white nationalists and white supremacists — an ever-growing (or emerging) subset of the alt-right base — is telling. And they’ve noticed.
After Trump’s comments on Charlottesville during the signing of Veteran’s Affairs legislation, a live update thread on the Daily Stormer, an alt-right white supremacist site, had this to say:
Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us. He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate… on both sides! So he implied the antifa are haters. There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all. He said he loves us all. Also refused to answer a question about White Nationalists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him. – Daily Stormer
Trump’s initial condolences to the family of Heather Heyer initially came in an insultingly casual greeting card form and we mixed in with a “best regards” for all of those injured.
Condolences to the family of the young woman killed today, and best regards to all of those injured, in Charlottesville, Virginia. So sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2017
What’s more, Trump’s previous tweet, devoted to the VA State Police who were killed in an unrelated helicopter crash, seems much more sincere. He even devoted a full tweet to it:
Deepest condolences to the families & fellow officers of the VA State Police who died today. You're all among the best this nation produces.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2017
And there was nary a mention of Nazis and White Supremacists marching openly in the streets — a surprising omission for any President other than this one. Later, Trump came out with stronger language calling the KKK and White Supremacists “repugnant,” but even the brief passage of time has made his words meaningless; it was only a transparent attempt at damage control following public outcry.
Trump is very specific when he wants to be, which makes all of this even more disturbing. He has no issue calling out politicians and reporters by name. He doesn’t seem to have an issue calling out the Black Panthers when it suits him, so why, I wonder does he hesitate to do the same with neo-Nazis?
The New Black Panthers are back at the same Philly polling station from '08 http://t.co/LIBmCVDs Don't let them intimidate you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
The answer, simply, is that his most ardent base of support — the alt-right — is a catch all for new-wave conservatives. It is a leaderless, amorphous mass with anti-political correctness as its only true cornerstone, and Trump is wary of disenfranchising any part of it. The alt-right itself seems wary of fracture and has responded with its own counter-narrative that blames the police entirely. But while there is much truth to claims of Antifascist violence at marches and demonstrations (including Charlottesville), the alt-right’s failure to distance themselves from white supremacists, or their insistence on seeing Nazis and Klansmen as a means to an end, or to at worst embrace those groups and personalities (the organizer Jason Kessler, a white nationalist himself, invited Richard Spencer to the march), means that these alt-right supporters are very literally guilty by association. I support the right of all people to peaceably assemble, but I encourage people to think carefully about who they choose to assemble with and what message they mean to convey.
The real shame of it is, whatever legitimate grievances and talking points that new-wave conservatism had are now buried under the tragedy of the march. But I can tell you one person who’s not losing any sleep over that: Donald Trump.
This is the cycle of communication that Trump repeats time and again: he says what he pleases and lets others mop up the resulting mess. His language is either bellicose or impotent — there is no middle ground. He tweets when he should speak formally, and leaves the nuance to his underlings, if they can even manage that themselves.
North Korea is another perfect example of Trump’s inability to communicate truthfully, effectively, and as a rational adult. While some might consider Trump’s rhetoric to Pyongyang “tough-talk,” I think his communication style undermines the Office of the Presidency and the reputation of the United States. It also puts the world in severe danger; while “tough-talk” is necessary when dealing with the Kim Regime, flamboyant threats that are improvised increase political tensions unnecessarily and increase the risk of military miscalculation, especially in an era of expanded North Korean nuclear capabilities.
Trump has shown callous disregard for the lives of Koreans and Americans in harm’s way by suggesting we a are “locked and loaded” even when it’s clear that the US isn’t militarily prepared for any kind of assault:
Military solutions are now fully in place,locked and loaded,should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 11, 2017
If we compare this fiery rhetoric with Mattis’s press release, it makes it apparent that Trump’s diplomatic skills are severely undernourished.
Mattis and Tillerson released a joint statement on North Korea which emphasizes the US’s desire for a diplomatic solution. The President isn’t mentioned at all, and the administration is only mentioned once, which is an extremely odd occurrence for most administrations. Yet again, we can see that Trump’s underlings are wresting control of the situation from the President himself, calming tensions with an extremely even-handed and positive-pressure response to the situation. This is how the Trump administration will continue to operate throughout the remainder of his first term and the American people need to decide if this is the President they feel represents their best interests.
Well before his fall from grace, Anthony Scaramucci told Trump detractors to take him “symbolically, not literally.” The similar adage that circulated around after the election was of the form “Trump supporters take him seriously, but not literally, and Trump’s opposition takes him literally, but not seriously.”
But we should ask ourselves: why we should be forced to analyze our President’s language each time he speaks or tweets? How is that anything other than a monumental waste of time or a potential powder keg? If Americans are struggling to understand what he really means to say at any given moment, how can we expect international allies and adversaries to respond when a language barrier is involved? When Trump’s communications team back-peddles and re-states what the President meant to say, I find myself wondering why we couldn’t just get it from the source.
Trump is a masterful emotional communicator, but a poor linguistic one. All of our greatest Presidents have been proficient at one of these two styles — I’ll let you decide which.