On Tuesday, 15 August, at President Trump’s Manhattan press conference he proved himself to be a stalwart supporter of the far right, reversing his scripted criticism of neo-Nazis and the KKK on Monday.  He reverted to his immediate response to the violent protest in Charlottesville at the weekend. The reaction to his comments at his most un-presidential press conference to date has been met with praise from the former head of the KKK and sharp rebuke from many, including fellow Republicans. UK MPs are calling on Theresa May to cancel his state visit planned for some point in 2018.  

The US president has created new two-party divisions in the US, where there was already a standoff between Democrat and Republican lawmakers. In saying that “alt-left” counter protesters were equally at fault for the violence by charging the alt-right with clubs, he employed the term invented by the alt-right to nullify opposition. He defended those who marched in the crowd of neo-Nazis shouting racist epitaphs, saying that not all them were white supremacists. 

MPs call for postponing Trump state visit

Prime minister Theresa May has criticised Donald Trump’s most recent statements, saying “I see no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them. I think it’s important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far right views whenever we hear them.”

Nia Griffith, the Shadow defence secretary tweeted: “A state visit by £Donald Trump would shame this country and betray all we stand for. Theresa May should revoke the invitation immediately.” Nottingham South MP Lilian Greenwood described Trump’s statements as “sickening” and “a new low”, asking, “When will the UK Govt admit he should never had been invited for a state visit?” Justice minister Sam Gymah said “silence matters,” telling people: “we must call out hate—unambiguously.”

Nothing to do with statues

On 15 August, NBA superstar LeBron James tweeted: “Hate has always existed in America. Yes, we know that but Donald Trump just made it fashionable again! Statues has nothing to do with us now!”

His point about the importance of the statues that are being removed was lost on Trump who had asked whether or not statues of Thomas Jefferson or George Washington (both former slave owners) will be the next to be torn down. The towns and cities that have decided to remove their civil war statues are doing so because these monuments were erected as part of a “Jim Crow” series of laws that legalized making African Americans second class citizens. 

The civil war ended in 1865, but the construction of civil war monuments peaked between 1910 and 1920 as a potent symbol justifying the new laws that enforced segregation. In many cases, the monuments were deliberately placed on sites that had formerly been slave auctions, in effort to intimidate the populations that were the descendants of those former slaves. Robert E. Lee, the Confederate General whose statue in Charlottesville the protestors came to “protect” would, in fact, never have given his consent to one representing him. He was against erecting any civil war monuments, believing they would “keep open the sores of war”. 

Before the civil war, Lee said that he wished he owned all the slaves in the country so that he could free them, to avoid the conflict. After losing, he said that he “rejoiced” that slaves were emancipated and insisted Americans behave as one country, again. It’s a sad irony that a monument he would have abhorred has been used to defend white supremacy attempting to disguise itself as “Southern heritage”.

Most liked tweet, ever

There’s little doubt that Robert E. Lee wouldn’t be a Trump supporter if he were alive today, having said: “I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.”  Prior to Trump’s angry performance at his first presidential address at Trump Tower, the president was greeted by hundreds of furious protesters. Many indicated that his earlier condemnation of neo-Nazis was “too little, too late”. His combative tone seemed to be lashing out at those crowds as well as the media gathered inside, rudely dismissing one journalist as “fake news.” 

Trump’s spectacle was in stark contrast to his predecessor’s immediate, unifying reaction to the Charlottesville rally. Former President Barack Obama’s 13 August tweet has become the most liked tweet ever on social network. He quoted Nelson Mandela’s 1994 autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion…”. He accompanied the quote, which was split into three tweets, with a photograph of himself smiling at toddlers of several races looking at him from the window of a day care facility. Obama’s tweet, which has been, so far, liked more than three million times, is a touching reminder of the true power of the presidency. Unfortunately, Trump uses his bully pulpit literally—to bully.

Real alt-right v imaginary alt-left 

Alt-right is a self-described term used by white supremacist Richard Spencer, who is considered the leader of the growing movement. It describes many groups that are united both by their shared beliefs in white supremacy and their faith in Donald Trump. They include hate groups, like neo-Nazis and many other radical fringe groups who see diversity as “code for white genocide”. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors the activities of domestic hate groups, including the KKK, say that there are currently 917 hate groups in the US which are active and growing. Trump said that there were good people on both sides of the rally, but it is very difficult to find them amongst the alt-right.

Having come up with the idea of an alt-right, this group has labelled all opposition “alt-left”, but this is an invented term suggesting that an equivalent group exists. Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity has used the term frequently, but, there simply isn’t any such united movement. There are groups such as anti-fascists (Antifa) who use militant and radical methods during protests, including physical violence. Other groups that oppose white supremacists are Black Lives Matter protestors. Many protestors opposing the alt-right are simply individuals, like Heather Heyes, the protestor whose funeral will take place today. They are, as she was, strongly motivated to stand up against racism. 

Today, Bernie Sanders tweeted: “The violence in Charlottesville was not caused by the ‘Alt-left’ (whatever that may be). It was caused by Neo-Nazis and white supremacists.” Star Trek actor George Takei wrote: “Trump’s trying to invent an “alt-left’ as scary as Nazis. But if standing up to white supremacy makes someone alt-left, then count me in.”

Should Trump Come?

Massive protests would be a certainty if Trump is awarded the honour of a state visit to the UK. He would add the trophy of meeting the queen to his treasure trove of accomplishments, and what would the UK gain? A possible future trade deal? Even if Trump were able to keep any such promise, having him come isn’t worth the shame of sanctioning his behavior. Should May look the other way, hoping for the best or cancel the invitation?