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How white supremacy morphed into white 'victimization'

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

Finally on Monday, Trump delivered the sort of statement many had waited for. "Racism is evil," he said from the White House. "And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans."

That's better. What does it matter? A lot.

Trump, too, has said that a president's words against hatred and violence mean a lot -- when the president was named Barack Obama. "Anyone who cannot name our enemy," Trump said in a campaign speech last August, "is not fit to lead this country."

At that time, Trump was talking about using the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism." Even Attorney General Jeff Sessions, hardly a liberal on such matters, declared the Charlottesville killing to be domestic terrorism.

Worse, the "Unite the Right" rally was linked at least in spirit to President Trump by some of the event's biggest boosters.

"We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump," said former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke earlier that day. "That's why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he's going to take our country back."

Duke knows his audience. During Barack Obama's first presidential campaign, I wrote a column mocking Duke for blogging, "Obama is a visual aid for white Americans who just don't get it yet that we have lost control of our country."

Obama hadn't even gotten elected yet. Duke sounded like the last whimpering voice in a trail of populist haters.

But he knew what Trump appears to have figured out. A large body of white Americans feel as left out and aggrieved as a lot of nonwhites do. Duke's trick since the 1970s was to morph the language of his movement from white supremacy to "white victimization."

A sense of victimization is a powerful organizing force, especially in the age of Twitter. Vast audiences of otherwise alienated individuals can be reached and inspired and rallied to a cause -- or inspired to take things into their own hands.

When a deranged black man killed five police officers in Dallas, allegedly inspired by Black Lives Matter, conservatives called for condemnation of that entire movement. We need to hear similar rage about the other side. Words do matter.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

(c) 2017 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

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