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Presidenting 101: Intro to denouncing racism

It's long been assumed that denouncing white supremacists or at least literal swastika-waving Nazis was a pretty easy task, that not liking Nazis was something that most post-Second World War people just knew how to do. Sure, it has not always been that way, but a general distaste for at least openly genocidal white supremacists was one of the good things to come out of the Second World War, that and the defeat of literal Nazis.

Much like the vanilla filling in a Twinkie – which replaced the banana cream that originally occupied the centre of the pastry, until wartime rationing of real fruit necessitated a change –the value of not openly tolerating Nazis came to fill the space formerly occupied by the idea that Nazis were on the same white page as Americans in some sort of global clash of civilizations. Vanilla cream and Nazi-condemning turned out to be quite popular with mainstream Americans and became pretty much the norm.

There's a reason Nazis are the default movie villains. When, in 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Harrison Ford said, "Nazis, I hate those guys," people in the audience laughed hard. The joke being that for just one moment a Steven Spielberg film approached understatement.

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No one, in the film or in the audience, felt the need to say, "Whoa now, Indy, hate just begets hate, maybe the Nazis are feeling some economic anxiety. There are two sides to this quest to uncover the Holy Grail, and besides, Nazis are very bureaucratic, I bet those Nazis have a permit for this expedition. Do you have a grail-seeking permit, Dr. Jones?"

Denouncing white supremacists is basically Presidenting 101, a lesson easily learned and applied. It's an instruction I imagine coming right after "Press lips to baby, remove lips. Fairly quickly. Under no circumstances eat the baby, no matter how much you think the baby looks like a 'beautiful cake.' Do not even sample the baby. Do not sniff the baby. Do not lick the baby. You are a 21st-century American politician, you kiss babies and you condemn white supremacists."

Taking a stand against this week's overtly racist "Unite the Right" march in Charlottesville should have come easily to Donald Trump, even if, after much other violence and bloodshed and the declaration of a state of emergency, one of the attendees, James Alex Fields Jr., hadn't allegedly driven his car ISIL-style into a group of counterprotesters. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed and many more protesters were gravely injured.

One would think then that coming down hard on a large gathering of white-race enthusiasts who marched, heavily armed, through the streets of Charlottesville waving tiki torches would be political childsplay. Placing distance between oneself and the citronella reich should be almost instinctual to a mainstream politician, even if these clowns had not been taped chanting "White lives matter" and "You will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!" and, in an entirely uncoded homage to Nazis, a neo-Nazi neon sign, if you will, "Blood and soil!" But Mr. Trump clearly struggled with articulating his disapproval. It took him almost 48 hours to condemn the march.

"Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans," Mr. Trump said, arm twisted, but it took him significantly less time to walk his censure right back again.

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It's amazing how quickly the cry went from being, "Why is the President so silent about neo-Nazis?" to, at least among Republicans, "for the love of tax cuts for the obscenely rich, is there anything we can do to get the President to stop talking about neo-Nazis?"

In a news conference his staff had expected, or at least hoped, would be about infrastructure, President Trump up and clarified exactly what he found most concerning about the Charlottesville march: How unfair the "Fake News Media" was being to him over the whole thing.

You could almost hear his aides' increasingly panicked thoughts during the news conference: "Okay, the media is asking about the Nazis. Everything is going to be fine, the President is just going to call them 'fake news' and move on to talking about all beautiful new highways and a giant transparent solar-powered border wall with holes in it he's going to build for free. Oh, okay. He's responding, not a big deal, he'll just repeat his old statement, he's even got the notes and … oh, man, he just both-sided neo-Nazis.

"It's okay, at least he hasn't dragged any popular historical figures into … aw, holy hell, my boss just drew an equivalency between two of the founding fathers and Robert E. Lee. Please just storm out now, Mr. President, preferably without … oh, too late. He's defending the majority of marchers as not actually being neo-Nazis, saying they're fine people who just happen to be neo-Nazi-adjacent and he's praising them for having a permit, unlike the other side, the not-any-sort-of-Nazi side. The President just said, 'You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent …'"

It should almost go without saying at this point, given the President's precarious relationship with facts, that the counterprotesters did, in fact, have a permit. And I ask you, if those yobbos came to claim your streets, would you stay home?

"I think there is blame on both sides," the President said on Tuesday. He may not have achieved his goal of Making America Great Again, but he does deserve to be recognized for his achievement in Making Equivalency False Again.

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The "Unite The Right" march was nominally organized to protest the scheduled removal of a statue of General Lee from Charlottesville's Lee Park, but these marchers – whose ranks included Richard Spencer, an "identitarian" and "peaceful ethnic cleansing" advocate, and David Duke, former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan – are not simply big-time statuary fans. It's not as if they plan to picnic at a Henry Moore next week.

For the record, Robert E. Lee is famous for just one thing and that is fighting a war against America, in the expectation that he and all his fellow white people would be able to keep owning black people.

It's not like that statue, erected in 1924, is up there because the guy caught a particularly big fish or anything.

You can find this week's events revolting, but if this felt like a shocking twist to you, you really need to go back and watch Seasons 1 and 2 again. Pay close attention to the story arc in which "Trump praises everyone who praises him." Watch the pilot in which Mr. Trump tried really hard to get the entirely innocent, and black, Central Park Five executed.

It comes up again late last season, when he doubled down on that dream of his, insisting the Central Park Five "admitted they were guilty" and calling their eventual exoneration based on DNA evidence and an actual confession to the crime from a serial rapist "outrageous."

Revisit that improbable early storyline that first captured the United States' political attention, that one where Mr. Trump insisted that the first black U.S. president could not possibly be a real American.

White supremacist, neo-Nazis are emboldened and organizing and finding a sympathetic ear and this was always where this series was going.

Any surprise you might be seeing from Mr. Trump's supporters or allies of convenience, shows at best, profound ignorance, but more likely disingenuousness. They played along. These days, it's like watching the proprietor of a "Lebensraum and Breakfast" being interviewed on local television wondering why his establishment seems to attract so many Nazis.

"Guests are greeted each morning with a hearty egg-and-sausage breakfast and a suggestion that non-white people are stealing their birthright through welfare, affirmative action and illegal immigration," he says. "You know, I just don't understand what's attracting all these terrible, hateful people! I tried replacing all the Confederate-flag bed sheets with new, clean bedsheets explaining in long essays about how the civil war wasn't actually about slavery, but the racists just kept coming."

Because, of course, it really is easy to denounce racists, if you actually want to denounce racists. What we're watching here is failure of the will.

Video: Trump defends pro-slavery monuments as more come down (Reuters)
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