Op-Ed

After sickening act of hate in New Zealand, time to call out some ugly truths at home

New Zealand mosque shootings kill 49, wound dozens

At least 49 people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand on March 15, 2019. One man was charged with murder. Two others were being held in custody.
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At least 49 people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand on March 15, 2019. One man was charged with murder. Two others were being held in custody.

Early Friday morning, the sickening news broke that a white nationalist in Christchurch, New Zealand had murdered 49 persons gathered for prayer services in two mosques.

The mass murderer had not only posted a 74-page manifesto of his religio-racial hatred on the internet but actually streamed live his murderous spree for its maximum impact. In the manifesto explaining his crusade to commit heinous acts to divide societies along racial lines, he applauded Donald Trump as the leading symbol of the white national movement and a builder of white solidarity.

Trump, a few hours later, at a ceremony staged for his signing of the veto of the Congressional resolution nullifying his national emergency, awkwardly read a statement perfunctorily condemning the attack but not mentioning Muslims, much less condemning Islamophobia. Once past that nod to decency, Trump went into Stephen Miller mode justifying the need for his executive action because of the “invasion” that is overrunning our southern borders. The fact that the New Zealand nationalist had used the term “invasion” in his manifesto bothered Trump not at all. Indeed he dwelt on it (“people don’t like the term ‘invasion’ but that’s what it is,” said Trump).

A president who was not an Islamophobe, or at least was not playing one, would have had the decency to postpone the signing while the mass murder was still playing out. Even a mild Muslim hater would have had, if not the grace, at least the expediency not to employ white nationalist rhetoric in discussing the so-called border crisis. Of course, Trump cannot do that, because that would weaken his appeal to the racial bigots in his base.

More importantly, that is who Trump has become. In the moral vacuum that is Trump’s soul, xenophobia and hate have taken possession. It is the main driver of Trump’s immigration policies. It justifies all the lies, the cruelties, the contempt for any laws, national or international, that recognize any rights of immigrants, particularly regarding the seeking of asylum. Trump never even mentions the word asylum. In his world, there are no refugees, only people bringing drugs, crime, and terror into the country.

Hence the invasion trope, the charge of illegality against anyone of color trying to enter this country, no matter the reason for their doing so. How did Donald Trump ever survive, as a candidate, his proposal in 2015 to close our borders to all Muslim immigration? In an America where the merchants of hate have not succeeded in pulling into their reprehensible camp a large minority of the electorate, Trump would have been shamed out of the campaign. Instead it was a major springboard toward his claiming the Republican nomination, and a principal factor in his winning the Electoral College.

Trump was asked at his signing whether he was worried about the white nationalist movement in this country. He paused and responded that he wasn’t. They were, he assured, a very insignificant portion of our society.

Trump’s response reminded of a statement that he made during one of his many rallies on his “Kavanaugh and the Caravan” tour during the 2018 campaign. Trump there proudly defied “political correctness” by declaring himself a “nationalist,” typically feigning ignorance of the darker meaning of the term. But Trump’s base decipher his code all too well. To a great many of them, Trump was affirming that he was part of the movement, indeed its standard bearer.

There has always been an alarming underbelly of American society which would secretly prefer a white-only America. A herrenvolk democracy, in which only whites count, such as defined the South through most of its existence. Our history has sadly been an enduring battle between the progressive forces committed to making a reality of our republic’s motto of “e pluribus unum,” and the reactionary forces who, under the cover of claiming to protect our heritage of “western culture,” cling to the ruinous conviction that “this is a white man’s country.”

Unfortunately the latter forces have had a dangerous resurgence under Trump and his soul-destroying MAGA show. He has made it respectable to be a white nationalist. Until we can face up to that ugly truth and call it out, we are doomed to suffer Trump and others like him.

Robert Emmett Curran of Richmond is professor of history emeritus at Georgetown University.

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