Donald Trump has a Klan problem, and its name is David Duke.
Within hours of Trump’s shrieking, hysterical acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last Thursday, Duke—America’s leading white supremacist—tweeted his unconditional approval for the GOP nominee while announcing his own candidacy for the U.S. Senate from his home state of Louisiana.
Duke’s tweet read, “Great Trump Speech, America First! Stop Wars! Defeat the Corrupt elites! Protect our Borders!, Fair Trade! Couldn’t have said it better!”
In a separate statement about his Senate bid, Duke added, “Thousands of special-interest groups stand up for African Americans, Mexican Americans, Jewish Americans, et cetera, et cetera. The fact is that European Americans need at least one man in the United States Senate—one man in the Congress—who will defend their rights and heritage.”
Duke—for those with short memories—is a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who served three years in the Louisiana House of Representatives and 15 months in prison for tax fraud. In the meantime, he has run unsuccessfully for just about every public office you could imagine, including two previous bids for the Senate. In the popular imagination, he is a perennial candidate for America’s racist-in-chief.
Here in 2016, Duke is such a flamboyantly toxic and antiquated character that he would hardly be worth our time, except that—for those with even shorter memories—he has demonstrated a real knack for tethering himself to Donald Trump in a way that Trump cannot quite shake.
Back in February on a radio program, Duke implored white listeners that “voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage”—suggesting, in effect, that Trump is the candidate of and for white supremacists in America.
To the surprise of possibly no one, Trump’s response to this problematic endorsement was pointedly—and tellingly—incoherent.
Initially, Trump appeared to be caught off-guard by Duke’s unsolicited support, reflexively telling a roomful of reporters, “I disavow, OK?” However, two days later in a satellite interview with Jake Tapper, Trump performed a 180 by claiming not to know anything about Duke and his background and taking umbrage at being put on the spot “to condemn a group that I know nothing about.” (That group was the KKK.)
Finally, the next morning on The Today Show, Trump asserted—incredibly—that his earpiece hadn’t worked properly and he couldn’t really understand what Tapper was asking him. From there, he reverted to his original disavowal of Duke’s support, insisting his view on the matter had never wavered—a claim proved demonstrably false by a cursory review of Trump’s own words.
All of which is to say that it took Donald Trump the better part of a week and a series of elaborate linguistic back flips to distance himself from a man who used to burn crosses for a living—a feat that any normal candidate could’ve performed in a matter of seconds. Then and now, the whole episode begs the question: What in holy heck in this cretin up to?
In previous iterations of this Trumpian game of rhetorical rope-a-dope on explosive social topics, we have been compelled to wonder whether the Donald is a supreme cynic or a supreme dolt. Whether a) he is attempting to dupe the American public about the inner workings of his mind, or b) he is a dead ringer for the old Groucho line, “He may talk like an idiot and look like an idiot, but don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot.”
At this point, let’s say it doesn’t matter. Let’s assume—as John Oliver has posited—that there is no functional difference between feigned bigotry and actual bigotry, and thereby conclude that, for all intents and purposes, Donald Trump means what he says.
Which would mean, in short, that he is a bigot. That by wanting to prohibit all Muslims from entering the United States, he believes Christian lives matter more than Muslim lives. That by denouncing brutality against police without even mentioning brutality by police, he believes white lives matter more than black lives. And that by attempting to deport all illegal Mexican immigrants and building a big, stupid wall between our country and theirs, he believes…well, that most Mexicans are murderers and rapists, apparently.
The extraordinary ugliness of these positions seems entirely self-evident to most sentient beings—including most Republicans—but the Republican National Committee cannot abide the full implications of Trump’s consistently outrageous remarks about every religious and ethnic minority under the sun.
Why not? Because if they did, it would mean that David Duke is right, and that Trump has adopted white supremacy as his party’s central cultural identity.
Shortly after Duke announced his Senate run, RNC chair Reince Priebus tweeted, “David Duke & his hateful bigotry have no place in the Republican Party & the RNC will never support his candidacy under any circumstance.”
Wise and noble words, but how exactly does Priebus account for them? What standard of decency has Duke violated that the party’s presidential nominee has upheld? What racist, prejudicial statement has Duke made lately that Donald Trump, in his own way, has not? If Duke’s hateful bigotry is anathema to Republican Party values, why did that party’s voters anoint a candidate for commander-in-chief whose entire appeal is rooted in hateful bigotry?
By supporting Trump’s candidacy while simultaneously denouncing Duke’s, Priebus and the RNC are practically begging us to call BS, and we are duty-bound to oblige them. They might (and do) argue that Trump doesn’t really represent Republican values and that their formal support for him is purely in deference to the will of Republican primary voters, but then again, what else could define the true values of a party than the values of its electorate?
Nope. So long as Trump continues to exist in his present form—so long as he doubles and triples down on a platform of purging America of every type of human species that white men like him don’t approve of—he and David Duke will be a two-for-one deal in American politics, and the GOP itself will grow more fanatically prejudiced by the day.
We should note that yesterday—48 hours after the fact—Trump himself told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press that he disavows Duke’s support “as quick as you can say it.” In case that makes you feel any better, realize that Trump didn’t trouble himself explaining just what it is about Duke that he finds so objectionable—possibly because if he did, he would be making a rod for his own back.