Can Trump control the wave of racism he has released?
The consequences could hardly be greater, because there are signs the country is on the cusp of a new wave of racial violence. Arie Perliger, who wrote an authoritative report on rising violence by right-wing extremists while teaching at West Point and who now is director of security studies at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, says the recent violence in Charlottesville and elsewhere "is just the tip of the iceberg."
There have been a few hundred such incidents of domestic terrorism annually in recent years by far-right-affiliated perpetrators, but the previously gradual increase in violence is accelerating under Trump, for three reasons. They feel the election validated their worldview and indicated popular support for their views; they believe the Trump administration will be more tolerant of their actions; they are frustrated that, so far, Trump's agenda has been largely thwarted.
And now, Charlottesville. "Here, for the first time ever, they were able really to penetrate the American political system. Suddenly their views are less marginalized, and the president himself says there are fine people there," Perliger tells me. "For 100 years, nobody could imagine an American president saying that. That he's willing to endorse the leaders of the Confederate side of the Civil War, for them that's an indication that their agenda has some seeds of support."
Trump has much say over whether these seeds take root. The new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that 9 percent of Americans believe it's acceptable to hold Nazi or white-supremacist views. But because Americans make so many judgments through a partisan lens, any position Trump takes drives most Republicans to embrace the same position. In a SurveyMonkey poll, when respondents were told that Trump had said people on both sides in Charlottesville were responsible for the violence, Republicans reflexively agreed, 87 percent to 11?percent.
Bannon was all about exploiting this, using the campaign and presidency to stoke racial grievances, to convince people that immigrants and "globalists" were to blame for their troubles.
But now Bannon is outside the tent, doing what LBJ talked about. Trump is the one who matters. He can do what George W. Bush did, honorably, after 9/11, preaching tolerance. Or he can prove beyond any doubt that his "natural tendency" is as base as Bannon believes it to be.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.
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