In the wake of the racially-motivated violence in Virginia as well as Trump’s condemnation of the attacks from ‘many sides’, new questions and criticism have arisen about the President’s relationship with the so-called alt-right. Thought to have emerged in the wake of Pat Buchanan’s failed bid for Republican Presidential nomination in 1992, the alt-right is comprised of individuals who are frustrated by political correctness, feminism, immigration and the ‘suppression’ of the white identity. The final characteristic frequently linked with the alt-right relates the movement to groups seeking white supremacy such as the Ku Klux Klan, thus making Trump’s willingness to be associated with and unwillingness to criticise the alt-right questionable. Therefore, one must seriously wonder why Trump was not able to solely criticise the alt-right for the blatant racially motivated violence that occurred in Virginia.
Indeed, it seemed obviously out of place for President Trump to refrain from using his vicious rhetoric that we have seen so frequently through his attacks of Hilary Clinton, John McCain, mainstream journalism and fellow Republican politicians. Instead, his response to the violence in Virginia appeared vague and unwilling to give his true opinion out of fear of receiving widespread criticism or losing support. After all, Trump’s campaign as an insurgency outsider nomination was often tied and supported by various alt-right groups which most commonly were linked with white supremacy. Support from these groups as well as Trump’s tailor-made policies and rhetoric to target white Americans enabled the President to gain 63% of the white male vote and 52% of the white female vote in the 2016 Presidential election according to the Independent. In this sense, it would be unsurprising that Trump would be unwilling to singularly condemn white supremacists and risk losing their votes and support, thus framing the President as a man willing to put his career aspirations over the lives of the electorate.
A second explanative factor to consider could be the President’s wish to not create further confusion and divides within his administrative staff. Although, Trump’s presidency has been marked by constant resignations or sackings of high level administrative staff, the dismissal of the disruptive Anthony Scaramucci from communications director after eleven days seemed to signify the end of the period of confusion. Therefore, when one considers the number of individuals tied to the alt-right within the Trump administration, most notably White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, it should be expected that Trump would resist outright criticising the movement. However, this argument again highlights the President’s intention to place unity within his administration over the recognition of the victims of the attacks in Virginia.
Reflecting upon these arguments, the violence in Virginia and the President’s response, one must truly question whether Trump is fulfilling the role of President. After all, as stated in the constitution the role of the President includes being the chief of state and chief citizen of all citizens of the United States. In this sense, the President is obligated to place the requirement to represent the electorate over his career aspirations and desires for re-election. Considering his comments in the aftermath of the alt-right violence in Virginia, one can conclude that Trump has failed to achieve this requirement.