Trump Reluctantly Condemns White Supremacists, but his Presidency Still Empowers Them
Gerald Horne contextualizes the terror attack in Charlottesville, and says Trump’s administration has continued to embolden white nationalists
JAISAL NOOR: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. Heather Heyer became the latest casualty of white supremacist violence since Donald Trump’s election after the 32-year-old was killed and more than 19 injured in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend, when a car mowed into a large group of counter-protestors, sending some of them flying into the air. A 20-year-old man was charged with murder, malicious wounding, and hit-and-run earlier today. After refusing to condemn white supremacists after the violence in Charlottesville on Saturday, Trump did so at a press conference on Monday. Here’s what he said.
DONALD TRUMP: We must love each other, show affection for each other, and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry, and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans. Racism is evil, 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.
JAISAL NOOR: Meanwhile, the mayors of Lexington, Kentucky and here in Baltimore, Maryland say Confederate statues are coming down in their cities. A Confederate statue was moved today in Gainesville, Florida and the speaker of Maryland State House has called for moving the Confederate statue in Annapolis, Maryland. Gerald Horne holds the Moores Professorship of History and African-American Studies at the University of Houston. He’s the author of many books, most recently The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the USA. Gerald, good to have you back on. I wanted to get your initial reaction to this act of what even officials in the U.S. Government say constitutes domestic terrorism.
It took Donald Trump two days after the attack in Charlottesville to condemn racism and this violence. Meanwhile, white supremacist figures, including Steve Bannon and Steven Miller and Sebastian Gorka remain in the administration. Give us your thoughts.
GERALD HORNE: Well, first of all, Mr. Trump, although being pressured to give this latest statement, still has not used the T-word, terrorism. What’s striking about that is that he reprimanded and rebuked the previous president, President Obama, repeatedly for not using the term Mr. Trump preferred, which was radical Islamic terrorism. Yet when it comes to white supremacist terrorism, Mr. Trump is rather mute in calling out what this actually is. All I can say is, is that it’s well that Mr. Trump has responded to pressure but he should not escape culpability because it’s clear that his ascension to the Oval Office has given white supremacists and neo-Nazis a new lease on life. They’ve been emboldened by his reluctance to condemn them explicitly and pointedly. Until that situation changes, I’m afraid this entire nation will be in jeopardy.
JAISAL NOOR: Even some self-professed liberals continue to defend Confederate statues staying where they are. For some background, the whole tension, the ongoing protest in Charlottesville are about removing a statue of General Robert E. Lee and so support … Even those who say they aren’t white supremacists, they say they even are liberals, say these statues are part of history and should be preserved for future generations so we don’t erase this history. What’s your response to those type of arguments, especially in light of the violence we saw this weekend?
GERALD HORNE: At best it’s a superficial argument. When the statue of Saddam Hussein came down in Baghdad in 2003, I don’t recall folks in the United States saying that the statue should remain. When the statues of Lenin came down in Eastern Europe in 1989 and thereafter, I don’t recall these same forces calling for the statues of Lenin to remain standing. In order to get a history lesson we should read books, we should watch documentary films. Monuments, which is what they are, are a way to honor and ennoble figures. I do not think we should honor or ennoble a man, Robert E. Lee, who was a leading slaveholder who rejected his military commission from the United States of America in order to join a renegade band that attempted to overthrow the government committing a traitorous, treasonous act in order to perpetuate slavery forevermore.
That’s not the kind of figure we should be honoring and ennobling. In order to learn that lesson, I think, once again, we should read history books and we should watch documentary films more so than watching 30-foot statues and 30-foot monuments.
JAISAL NOOR: I named a number of cities that have decided to take down monuments, including right here in Baltimore, of Confederate figures. Obviously, there’s hundreds of these statues. What do you think should be done to them today?
GERALD HORNE: I remember when I visited Luanda, Angola in the early 1990s, independence was in 1975, and all of the statues from Portuguese-Colonial period were put in a park in one place. If people wanted to see those statues they could go to that park. That might be a way to deal with these statues in the United States of America, or they could be placed in museums, or they could be melted down and the resultant metal can be sold and used for reparations payment to enslaved Africans. I think that there are many ways that we can deal with these statues, but certainly, allowing them to stand is no longer sustainable.
JAISAL NOOR: I also wanted to get your comments to another part of Trump’s comments today about this incident. He condemned the attack, as a white supremacist attack, but he also said that, “Americans are viewed equally under the law regardless of the color of your skin.” He said, “This goes back to the founding of this country.” I want you to respond to that and also can you talk about when these Confederate statues were built? Many people might still be surprised to know that these statues, which number in the hundreds across the country, they weren’t built after the Civil War, they were built in the early 20th Century.
GERALD HORNE: If you look at Charlottesville, these statues in question were actually constructed in the 1920s. They were constructed as a response to the fact that Black soldiers had made a blood sacrifice during World War I, 1914 to 1918, and came back militantly demanding rights. These statues were sort of a slap in the face intended to humiliate and discourage Black soldiers from demanding what was justly theirs, i.e., a full complement of civil and human rights. With regard to this idea that the United States was built upon equality, that’s laughable at best. It reminds me of the fact that too many of our leaders and historians and commentators, they’re basically historical ventriloquists.
That is to say they sit a dummy, entitled to pass, on their knee, and then without moving their lips they try to impart today’s understandings into the past. We have an imperfect union as we speak, but certainly, it’s miles ahead of what existed in 1776. You should know that when the United States was formed in 1776, it was not formed in order to somehow bring rights to all. It was formed, not least, as a revolt against the fact that London, the Colonial master, was moving to abolish slavery and slaveholders like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and James Madison. Rather than accede to that decision, revolted and kicked out London.
Likewise, this revolt was based upon the fact that there was a hunger for the land of Native Americans and the leading, if not one of the leading real estate speculators of that era, George Washington, was in the forefront of clamoring for Native American land. To that extent, he shares a commonality with the current occupant of the White House who was also a real estate speculator. I think one of the problems we have in the United States is that in some ways, sadly, tragically, and unfortunately, the white supremacists are closer to the truth when they say that the United States was founded as a White man’s country. The tragedy is, rather than confront that story head-on, many of our liberal friends in particular, prefer a rosy, unrealistic, false view of history and that sadly and tragically helps to put wind in the sails of the white supremacists.
JAISAL NOOR: Finally, what many people don’t know is that as the city of Charlottesville proceeded this year to move forward and take down these Confederate statues, they’ve also put forward a reparations program. They call it an equity package that helps fund programs for low-income people of color, including African-Americans in their city, along with other programs, to bridge equity they say. Do you think that this should be a counterpart to the removing of statues also trying to undo some of the damage that white supremacy’s done to this country?
GERALD HORNE: Absolutely. That is a wonderful idea. I only hope that it spreads like wildfire across the country, or at least spreads up the highway to Richmond, Virginia, a city, which probably has more monuments to the Confederacy than any other. Certainly Richmond, Virginia should be a prime candidate for that kind of Charlottesville-type package that you just outlined. It seems to me that we’re always going to have combustible discord as long as these statues to traders and slaveholders continue to pockmark the landscape in the United States of America.
JAISAL NOOR: All right, Gerald Horne, it’s a pleasure as always. We’ll link to all of your interviews with us that really expand on a lot of the points you’ve made at TheRealNews.com. Thank you so much for joining us.
GERALD HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.
JAISAL NOOR: Thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.