Juan Williams: Trump fans the flames of white grievance

If “identity politics” is a sprint into hateful, tribal and racial wars, then President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Congress eyes billion to billion to combat coronavirus Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary MORE is the champ.

Yet — and this is both mystifying and depressing to me — Trump fans never miss an opportunity to make excuses for him while accusing Democrats of playing “identity politics.”

After Trump’s explosive libel on four American citizens last week — telling a quartet of nonwhite congresswomen to “go back” home to “broken and crime-infested” countries — I marveled at how his supporters immediately joined hands to excuse the president’s leap into an ocean of identity politics.

ADVERTISEMENT

How can anyone make excuses when the president is tearing at the historic bond — “Out of Many, One” — that holds together our diverse nation?

But Trump loyalists are making so many excuses they look like contortionists as they try to escape the reality that his political brand is one giant, ugly exercise in identity politics. More specifically, white identity politics.

A USA Today/Ipsos poll taken last week indicated that 57 percent of Republicans agree with the president’s language about the four congresswomen. In fact, the poll showed a third “strongly” agree.

And a separate Reuters/Ipsos poll found Trump’s approval rating among Republican voters went up by 5 points in the days after he launched the racist broadside against the congresswomen.

How can that be?

The USA Today poll found 65 percent of Americans said telling minority Americans to “go back to where they came from” was racist. That included 85 percent of Democrats but also 45 percent of Republicans.

ADVERTISEMENT

Overall, 59 percent of Americans said the president’s tweet was “un-American.” Independent voters felt the same way, about 2-1 in opposition to the president’s words.

Those poll numbers are proof of strong, nationwide opposition to the tweet — even, to some extent, among members of Trump’s party.

But last week, his supporters’ willingness to look the other way on racial politics was on view in Congress.

Only four Republicans felt they could vote for a congressional resolution to condemn the president’s tweet as having “legitimized increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.” They were swamped by the 187 Republicans who voted no.

One of the four dissenting Republicans was Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdGun control group plans to spend million in Texas in 2020 Trump to attend California fundraiser with Oracle chairman The Hill's Morning Report - Nearing witness vote, GOP rushes to acquit Trump MORE (Texas), the only black GOP member of the House. He called Trump’s tweet “racist,” “xenophobic” and “inaccurate.”

The House Republicans’ cowardly display was followed up by a North Carolina rally where the president said the four congresswomen “never have anything good to say, which is why I say, ‘If they don’t like it, let them leave.’ ”

He really went after Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarBill banning menthol in cigarettes divides Democrats, with some seeing racial bias Progressive group leader describes why Warren would be better than Sanders Omar offers sneak peek at her forthcoming memoir MORE (D-Minn.), falsely accusing her of supporting terrorists.

That prompted a chilling, mob-like chant of “Send her back!”

The next day, the president said he was “not happy” when he heard that chant.

But the crowd’s threatening shouts are directly tied to Trump’s “go back home” tweet.

“This is the agenda of white nationalists … And now it's reached the White House garden,” Omar said at a press conference with the other Democratic congresswomen who were the targets of Trump’s tweet: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez cuts census ad with Lin-Manuel Miranda Bill banning menthol in cigarettes divides Democrats, with some seeing racial bias Industry group warns fracking ban could cost 7.5M jobs in US MORE (N.Y.), Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyOvernight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — California monitoring 8,400 people for coronavirus | Pence taps career official to coordinate response | Dems insist on guardrails for funding Bill banning menthol in cigarettes divides Democrats, with some seeing racial bias Progressive Democrat confronts Rep. Cuellar at parade, calls for him to debate her: report MORE (Mass.) and Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibBill banning menthol in cigarettes divides Democrats, with some seeing racial bias Omar offers sneak peek at her forthcoming memoir Sanders wins endorsement of top Muslim group MORE (Mich.).

This unsettling episode came a week after Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — California monitoring 8,400 people for coronavirus | Pence taps career official to coordinate response | Dems insist on guardrails for funding Overnight Energy: Murkowski, Manchin unveil major energy bill | Lawmakers grill EPA chief over push to slash agency's budget | GOP lawmaker accuses Trump officials of 'playing politics' over Yucca Mountain Hillicon Valley — Presented by Facebook — Federal court rules tech giants can censor content | Trump upends surveillance fight | Senate passes bill barring federal funds for Huawei equipment MORE (D-Calif.) said the administration’s plan to put a citizenship question on the census was the latest part of Trump’s effort to “Make America White Again.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Pelosi makes an important point. Trump’s use of "identity politics" is an ongoing story.

Recall that during the 2016 campaign, Trump questioned an American-born judge’s ability to be impartial in the Trump University fraud trial because of his Mexican heritage. Then-Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGaetz tells CPAC he won't take PAC money Paul Ryan says he disagrees with Romney's impeachment vote Trump doubles down on Neil Cavuto attacks: 'Will he get the same treatment as' Shep Smith? MORE (R-Wis.) called that smear the “textbook definition of a racist comment.”

Who could forget Trump saying there were “very fine people on both sides” when people stood against a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.? Or his lament that the U.S. was accepting too many immigrants from “shithole countries” in Africa and the Caribbean instead of “more people from Norway”?

And when you hear Trump-inspired chants of “build the wall,” keep in mind that the majority of illegal immigrants to the U.S. do not cross the border illegally. They overstay visas.

There is also no forgetting the racist lie that former President Obama — the nation’s first black president — was illegally elected because he was not born in the United States.

Earlier this month, the president hosted alt-right internet provocateurs — some with ties to white nationalist groups, some with histories of racist comments — at the White House for a social media summit.

ADVERTISEMENT

On CNN, Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state now running for the GOP nomination for Senate, could not say if he would support the president even if Trump declared himself to be racist.

At this point, it is hard to tell where the white nationalist movement ends and Trump’s racial politics begin.

It’s time to call out Trump supporters for what they are — people willing to excuse the inexcusable when it comes to his dangerous dives into identity politics. 

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel. His most recent book is "'What the Hell Do You Have To Lose?' — Trump's War on Civil Rights" (PublicAffairs Books).