So … Trump. Now what? There are a hundred ways to answer that question, some more pressing than others. One seems most urgent of all. The new administration must renounce any connection to, or influence by, alt-right racists and nativists.
I don’t think Donald Trump is racist, at least not consciously. Nor are the vast majority of his supporters. But, tarring any good person who did vote for him, Trump’s rise has invigorated white nationalists unlike anything I’ve seen in my life.
Reported attacks on minorities flooded Twitter and other channels hours after his victory. Many reports proved false, but Trump lent them all inadvertent credibility by welcoming alt-right support during his campaign.
The alt-right considers Western culture the exclusive product of the white race and the white race its proper beneficiaries. All others don’t belong. Trump doesn’t believe that but is supported by those that do. The KKK and other white nationalists cheered his victory.
Though on Sunday Trump told CBS he was “saddened” by the news of the attacks and directed supporters to stop the harassment, he nonetheless appointed Steve Bannon as his chief strategist. It feels like someone switched the tracks and pulled our national train into Worstfearsville.
Until joining the Trump campaign, Bannon was chairman of Breitbart News, a news and opinion site founded by the amusingly loud and lamentably late Andrew Breitbart. According to my friend Ben Shapiro, who once worked for the site,
Andrew Breitbart despised racism. Truly despised it. He used to brag regularly about helping to integrate his fraternity at Tulane University. He insisted that racial stories be treated with special care to avoid even the whiff of racism. With Bannon embracing Trump, all that changed. Now Breitbart has become the alt-right go-to website, with [Milo] Yiannopoulos pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness, and the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers.
I don’t know Bannon. But I’ve known Ben for years. I edited his first book, Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth, over a decade ago. We don’t agree on everything—who does?—but he’s a straight shooter with an allergy to racism conditioned by on-the-job experience with antisemitism.
Whatever Bannon’s actual beliefs, he bragged about using Breitbart News to give the alt-right a platform. That’s reckless at best. The idea that Trump would consider his appointment strategically advantageous is baffling.
I understand why people are protesting, though I won’t Sharpie “Not My President” across my forehead. He is my president. Sovereignty doesn’t rest in the office, let alone the man. It rests in the people who constitute the government. And that’s why I won’t—nor should anyone else—condone or enable this ideology to gain influence in positions of power.
Reasonably enough, people on both the right and left say we should give president-elect Trump a chance. And just as reasonably, Christians remind us to pray for our leaders. But that’s not all we should do. Writes Fordham professor Aristotle Papanikolaou,
Christian responsibility is not done after we vote; it only intensifies after an election. No matter who is elected, Christians must always exercise a prophetic voice.… Christians must demand of Trump that he publicly disavow any and all support from white supremacist groups, and that he not appoint anyone to any position of power—let alone his Cabinet—that has any remote ties with white supremacist movements. It is not the case that everyone who voted for Trump is a racist; however, if Christians do not prophetically demand of Trump that he publicly disavow white supremacist support, then Christians are complicit in extending and empowering racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia.
It’s going to take more than a “stop it” from Trump, welcome as that was to hear. Unless he takes demonstrative steps to distance himself from racist and nativist ideologues, any good he might do will be spoiled. Debate immigration, refugees, trade, whatever. But do it without denigrating or dehumanizing people made in the image of God.
A leader is responsible for those that thrive in his wake. If Trump is serious about uniting the country, he won’t play softball with those who believe substantial numbers of us don’t fit because of extraction, color, or culture.
If Trump supporters really want him to prevail, they’ve got a vested interest in him playing hardball on this topic. He can’t be president for all when he passively accepts support from people who want to exclude some. Anyone who believes Trump is capable of positive change (and we can all hope and pray as much) has more than ample reason to pressure him to make the right move here.
We should give Trump a fair shake. He can demonstrate he’s worth it by shaking loose the support of the racist right.