Donald Trump is shedding his campaign promises as easily as a male stripper sheds his clothes — most famously his often-stated intention to investigate and lock up Hillary Clinton. He may be disappointing many of the gullible voters who believed his every blurt and boast, but he seems to still be in good standing with at least one of his constituencies: white nationalists.
Last weekend, 200 of those folks (or should I say volks?) gathered at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington to celebrate their European heritage and the victory of Trump. One of the group's key leaders, Richard B. Spencer, gave an after-dinner speech in which he used a derogatory term coined by the Nazis to describe the American news media. Fortuitously, a few card-carrying members of that media were in the room to record his words.
According to an account of his speech in the Atlantic, Spencer said, "America was until this past generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us."
He topped off his remarks with this tribute to Trump's rise: "Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!" In response, several people in the enthusiastic crowd jutted out their right arms in a Nazi salute.
Trump says he does not return the affection shown by the white nationalists. In a meeting with New York Times reporters and editors on Tuesday, he disavowed alt-right extremists, but, when concerns were raised about his controversial appointment of alt-right hero Stephen Bannon as his chief advisor, Trump said he is confident Bannon is not a racist. "If I thought he was a racist or alt-right or any of the things, the terms we could use, I wouldn't even think about hiring him," he said.
Trump has a way of saying whatever is convenient for him at any given moment — for instance, telling the New York Times interviewers their newspaper is a national treasure after excoriating the same publication in front of his foaming-at-the-mouth supporters during the campaign. So, saying with confidence that the guy who will have his ear in the Oval Office is not a bigot is another on-the-fly assertion that he may or may not actually believe. Objectively, though, it is not true.
While Bannon may not be a racist, he certainly is a creature of the alternative, anti-establishment conservative movement that includes white nationalists. He joined the Trump campaign while taking a leave from his job as executive chairman of Breitbart News, an online operation that Bannon himself has described as "the platform for the alt-right." According to the Anti-Defamation League, "under [Bannon's] stewardship, Breitbart has emerged as the leading source for the extreme views of a vocal minority who peddle bigotry and promote hate."
As long as Bannon has a key role in the Trump administration, white nationalists will feel as if they have easy access, if not an open invitation, at the White House.