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More of This, Less of That

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Ordinarily, the far-right turns to terrorism when it feels powerless; the Oklahoma City bombing happened during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and all assassinations of abortion providers in the United States have taken place during Democratic administrations. During Republican presidencies, paranoid right-wing demagogy tends to recede, and with it, right-wing violence.

But that pattern doesn’t hold when the president himself is a paranoid right-wing demagogue.

“The fact that they’re still operating at a high level during a Republican administration goes against all the trending I’ve seen in 40 years,” Johnson told me. Donald Trump has kept the far right excited and agitated. “He is basically the fuel that’s been poured onto a fire,” said Johnson.

This past weekend, that fire appeared to rage out of control, when a young man slaughtered shoppers at a Walmart in El Paso. A manifesto he reportedly wrote echoed Trump’s language about an immigrant “invasion” and Democratic support for “open borders.” It even included the words “send them back.” He told investigators he wanted to kill as many Mexicans as he could.

Surrendering to political necessity, Trump gave a brief speech on Monday decrying white supremacist terror: “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy.” He read these words robotically from a teleprompter, much as he did after the racist riot in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, when, under pressure, he said, “Racism is evil — and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs.”

Back then, it took about a day for the awkward mask of minimal decency to drop; soon, he was ranting about the “very fine people” among the neo-Nazis. Nevertheless, on Monday some insisted on pretending that Trump’s words marked a turning point. “He really did set a different tone than he did in the past when it comes to condemning this hate,” said Weijia Jiang, White House correspondent for CBS News.

If history is any guide, it won’t be long before the president returns to tweeting racist invective and encouraging jingoist hatreds at his rallies. In the meantime, everyone should be clear that what Trump said on Monday wasn’t nearly enough. He has stoked right-wing violence and his administration has actively opposed efforts to fight it. Further, he’s escalating his incitement of racial grievance as he runs for re-election, as shown by his attacks on the four congresswomen of color known as the squad, as well as the African-American congressman Elijah Cummings. One desultory speech does not erase Trump’s politics of arson, or the complicity of the Republicans who continue to enable it.

Straight news stories and headlines should not be written like this, of course, but nor do they need to willfully ignore the mountains of evidence about what Trump is.

For example, you can actually talk to the people Trump is targeting and ask them how they feel about the statement Trump read like he was being held hostage:

Watching President Trump step up to a White House podium Monday to assert that “hate has no place in America,” many people in this Texas border city were dumbfounded.

“We were safe until he started talking,” John Smith-Davis, 47, a retired Army veteran, said as he mourned with his friends at a memorial near the Walmart where a gunman opened fire Saturday. “He made us a target with his hateful rhetoric.”

Veronica Sanchez, a 23-year-old dental assistant, put it more succinctly: “He has said enough.”

El Paso, whose 680,000 people are mostly Latino and mostly Democrats, has long viewed Trump warily — and his most forceful statement since the massacre that has now claimed 22 lives there did little to change that.

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