I missed the conference of white supremacists in Washington last weekend.
I was hosting my daughter’s bat mitzvah.
But I have a pretty good picture of what happened, because other journalists attended last Saturday’s gathering of alt-right leader Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute at the Ronald Reagan federal building.
Attendees shouted “heil” and “Lugenpresse,” a Nazi term meaning “lying press.” Some of the few hundred attendees applauded neo-Nazi website, the Daily Stormer.
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White nationalists and protesters clashed violently outside the downtown Washington gathering and inside and outside a family restaurant, Maggiano’s, in northwest Washington.
The scenes seemed as if from another time and place, but in Donald Trump’s America, they are here and now. If Trump doesn’t do something more forceful to disown neo-Nazis, they will continue their brazen march into the mainstream.
The New York Times quoted Spencer at the conference saying, “we have a psychic connection, or you can say a deeper connection, with Donald Trump in a way that we simply do not have with most Republicans.”
“America was, until this last generation, a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us,” Spencer said.
Spencer told Politico the alt-right was “a head without a body” and “the Trump movement was a body without a head.” Now, “I think, moving forward, the alt-right can, as an intellectual vanguard, complete Trump.”
The selection of Sen. Jeff Sessions and Stephen K. Bannon to top administration jobs emboldened white nationalists.
Bannon, who boasted his Breitbart News outlet was “the platform for the alt-right,” was praised lavishly by Spencer. The Post quoted Spencer as saying Sessions – tapped to be attorney general – is “eye-to-eye with us” on immigration. (Sessions tried to restrict legal immigration.)
Shortly after the election, Trump said his supporters who were harassing Muslims and Latinos should “stop it,” and he told the New York Times Tuesday he disavows the white supremacist groups.
But they aren’t stopping. One example: a Brooklyn city park recently was defaced with swastikas and “Go Trump!”
While white nationalists met in Washington and clashed with protesters, Trump was engaged in a Twitter fight with the “Hamilton” cast. He demanded the actors apologize for urging Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who attended the show, “to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”
Rather than quarrel with that unobjectionable message, perhaps Trump could listen to the George Washington character in “Hamilton” sing “One Last Time”:
“Like the scripture says: Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.”
This passage, from Micah 4:4, is in Washington’s letter to Newport, Rhode Island, Jews in 1790. The rabbi recalled these words during my daughter’s bat mitzvah.
“Happily,” Washington wrote, “the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
“May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants – while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
Please read Washington’s words, Mr. Trump, and repeat them to Richard Spencer and his ilk as you brush the white nationalists off your coattails.
There is room for cooperation with Trump. But cooperation is difficult, if not impossible, when a president sanctions bigotry.