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Trump calls confederate statues 'beautiful’, Bannon slams white hate groups clowns

A key motivation behind Trump’s flagrant appeasement of white supremacists appears to be politics

world Updated: Aug 18, 2017 03:20 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Trump on Confederate statutes,Steve Bannon,Charottesville
President Donald Trump pauses while speaking in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington. (AP)

US President Donald Trump has plunged his administration into a new crisis in the defence of white hate-groups that go under various names and their cause, but his chief strategist Stephen K Bannon, who once ran a far-right news-site, has a few names for them as well: “clowns”, “losers” and “fringe elements”.

“Ethno-nationalism (white nationalists, in other words) —it’s losers. It’s a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush crush it more,” Bannon told a liberal news magazine. “These guys are a collection of clowns.”

But Trump is willing to go the full length for them. After defending them at the now infamous news briefing at which he sought to blame “both sides” for the violence that led to three deaths in Charlottesville, he lent full-throated support to their cause in multiple tweets on Thursday.

He called the statues of Confederate figures who had fought in support of slavery during the civil war—and are thus the target of those who want them taken down—“beautiful” and that it was “foolish” to remove them. “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart.”

Trump’s support of white hate-groups has brought him grief from both critics and allies, even by those in his own Republican party. Some of America’s top CEOs have resigned from Manufacturing Council and Strategy and Policy Forum, advisory panels Trump had launched with much fanfare, forcing him to shut them down pre-emptively to escape the embarrassment of being left alone in the room by fellow business leaders.

Even military leaders have sought to distance themselves from his remarks, without naming him. “The Army doesn’t tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks,” General Mark Milley, chief of staff of the Army, tweeted. “It’s against our values and everything we’ve stood for since 1775.”

A key motivation behind Trump’s flagrant appeasement of white supremacists appears to be politics apart from other reasons, as has been argued by Joshua Green in a widely acclaimed new book chronicling the rise of Trump as a politician and Bannon’s role in his victory. Green traces Trump’s race play to the birther movement , a fringe far-right obsession he adopted and high-priested questioning President Barack Obama’s birth — that he was not born in the US — to delegitimise his presidency.

The Charlottesville protestors form his base and played a large role in his election — as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke reminded him recently — and he may be craving their support especially as approval numbers remain at a historic low for any American president at this stage of their term.

His chief strategist Bannon was clear in the interview it was about politics. “The Democrats, the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

Bannon, whose position in the White House is matter of much speculation, might not have been speaking for Trump all the way. He differed with the president on North Korea, for instance, on the use of military option. “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it”.

First Published: Aug 17, 2017 23:02 IST