If there was doubt about where the president stands on the issue of racism in America, he made it clear during his campaign rally Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Donald Trump is on the side of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
His heroes are the Confederate leaders who split America in two in order to maintain the institution of slavery. Why else would he describe statues erected across the South after the Civil War as “our beautiful monuments”?
Symbols of defiance
Statues of Lee, who led the Confederate army, the slain soldiers he commanded, and others have stood in public squares across America for more than a century in many cases. These are not merely honorable relics of a bygone era. They are symbols of defiance.
Many were erected during the Jim Crow era as a symbol of the Confederacy’s prevailing dominance in the South, despite having lost the war. America has been complicit in promoting that message of superiority by refusing to take them down.
Trump accused protesters who recently toppled them to the ground in several cities of “trying to vandalize our history, desecrate our monuments.” He spoke of these people as if they are trespassers in a country where they do not belong.
The demonstrators who climbed atop those racist figures and dismantled them are not “thugs” or an “unhinged left-wing mob” as Trump contends. They are truth-seekers, who are calling America out for its hypocrisy.
Whenever African Americans in Richmond, Virginia, walked past the massive monument to Davis, the president of the Confederacy, they were reminded of how deeply rooted their city — the final capital of the Confederacy — was in the preservation of slavery.
Anyone who clings to these monuments today as part of their heritage must recognize that their birthright is racist. No one can defend these Confederate statues without also embracing the racism they represent.
A dividing leader
Trump did not ascend to the White House on a platform of racially unifying the nation. If anything, it was the opposite. He does not have the moral fortitude to bring people of opposing views together. Even if he were capable, he would not.
Trump knows that White supremacy is a core value within his base. Without the racists, he would not have been elected and certainly cannot win again. Trump supporter David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, often reminds us of that.
So, Trump strokes their ego with a side wink, reassuring them that no matter how much he boasts about having done more for African Americans in three years than any other president, his heart is really with them.
When he rallies supporters, everyone understands the underlying message. These Confederate monuments have served as prolific messengers, blatantly spewing White supremacy in a way many who cling to the values of the Old South might not be comfortable doing publicly.
No healing words
It was more effective to allow the 60-foot-tall monument with a bronze image of Lee sitting on his horse say what needed to be said.
At the same time, they could attempt to trick America into believing that these statues were distinguished historical relics rather than the hurtful symbols they are.
By tearing them down in Washington, D.C., Virginia, North Carolina and other places, demonstrators did what city and state officials would not do. After decades of calls to remove them, several Southern states passed laws that made it difficult, if not illegal, to take them down.
Some states now are reconsidering those laws. But Trump has not wavered. In defending the monuments on June 20, he stoked racial tensions at a time when much of the country is focused on coming together.
He did not say George Floyd’s name in his speech, nor did he mention the word “healing.”
Ignites more hate
In the past, even staunch conservatives such as Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have taken Trump to task over his divisive rhetoric.
Three years ago, when neoNazis clashed with protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing a woman in the crowd, Trump initially refused to condemn the white supremacists who held the rally at the site of Lee’s statue.
He responded by blaming “both sides” for inciting violence and said there were “very fine people” on both sides.
At the time, Graham said the manner in which Trump handled the Charlottesville tragedy had garnered the president praise from “some of the most racist and hate-filled individuals and groups in our country.”
The Republican lawmaker pleaded, “For the sake of our nation, as our president, please fix this.”
Trump would not fix it for our nation then, and he will not fix it for us now. Once again, he has chosen to stand with racists.
And like Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, he will land on the wrong side of history.
Dahleen Glanton is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.