After the events of this weekend, there can no longer be any doubt that U.S. President Donald Trump courts the worst of America. He is the protector-in-chief of right-wing racists, something his past statements and actions had more than just hinted at, but which has now crystallized into a hard reality in the wake of his failure to denounce in a credible fashion the violent actions of Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday.
Do not be fooled by Mr. Trump's belated attempt to clarify his position on Monday, two days after the hate parade led to the death of a woman when a car, driven by one of the racist marchers, plowed into a group of anti-racism protesters.
"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides – on many sides," was all Mr. Trump could muster on Saturday, apparently unwilling to single out the swastika-wearing, torch-wielding, Sieg-Heiling white people yelling anti-Semitic slurs and Nazi slogans and carrying weapons such as pipes and bats under the protection of a heavily armed right-wing militia.
He became more specific after the racist marchers, cheered by his white-washing of their message, claimed that Charlottesville was a "moral victory." "When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him," a neo-Nazi group said Sunday.
Mr. Trump, usually so quick to speak his mind without filter, responded Monday with a canned statement read from a Teleprompter. "Racism is evil," he said. "And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans."
Any sensible observer knows that a politician who fails to denounce evil when he first sees it, then finally does the right thing 48 hours later by reading from a script provided by others, is not to be trusted.
We are far wiser to judge the man we know, not the one in recovery mode Monday who urged citizens to "rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans" – bonds that he himself has tried to break apart.
"Racism is evil," said the real-estate developer who gained early political notoriety by spreading the racist lie that former president Barack Obama was born in Kenya.
"Racism is evil," said the man who has sought to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., called Mexican immigrants "rapists" and criminals and who wants to build a wall the length of his country's southern border.
"Racism is evil," said the man who had to be talked into denouncing the support of the former head of the KKK during his election campaign, and who as a landlord in New York took steps to keep black people out of his family's apartment buildings.
"Racism is evil," said the President whose chief White House strategist, Stephen Bannon, once ran a website for white supremacists.
It is doubtful that the racists who have been empowered by the President will feel any sting in his renunciation on Monday. For them, it will come across as a message delivered with a wink – a calculated statement from an ally to calm down the media and critics – not desirable, but strategically expedient.
It was telling that Mr. Trump didn't endorse his Attorney-General's contention that the deliberate car attack on anti-racist protesters, which killed Heather Heyer and injured 19 others, meets "the definition of domestic terrorism."
And he may well have been alluding to some of the counterprotesters, such as Black Lives Matter, when he referred to "other hate groups" in his Monday statement and when he vowed that "anyone who acted criminally in this weekend's racist violence … will be held fully accountable."
The question Americans, and the world, need to ask is: What is Mr. Trump's game? Why is the leader of the country that led the fight against fascism and racism in the Second World War now so reluctant to denounce those same enemies?
Mr. Trump can't possibly see marginal racist groups as critical to his electoral success – their numbers aren't big enough.
It's more likely that this deceitful and amoral President believes that he benefits from the chaos and division sowed by neo-Nazis and white supremacists. These violent people are tools in an agenda that has been disruptive since Inauguration Day, when Mr. Trump crowed that the "American carnage stops right here."
The carnage may only get worse. The groups behind the Charlottesville fiasco are now emboldened and are vowing to carry on. "There will be more events," one has promised online. "We are going to start doing this non-stop. Across the country."
Thanks to their President, we have no doubt that they will try.