It looks like the first play in the Bannon, Ailes, Conway campaign playbook is to trot Trump out onto a stage, flank him with American flags, and have him read (off a teleprompter, no less) an apology for “causing personal pain” during the “heat of debate.” This is the umpteenth time that Trump’s campaign has tried to roll out a new version of Trump, who stays on message and keeps all that nasty hate tamped down until after the election. I don’t buy it and neither should anyone else. Dust away the stage trimmings and it’s the same Trump, as Pete Townsend said, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”[i]
Dust away the stage trimmings and it’s the same Trump, as Pete Townsend said, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”[i]
Trump delivered his lines with about as much sincerity as a chastened teenager who’s been caught sneaking back into to the house at 3 AM, still tipsy and stinking of cigarettes. He all but gave a wink and a nod to the audience as he said “believe it or not I regret it”, although the “it” he was referring to is still unclear. The audience in Charlotte, NC laughed and cheered has he talked about “saying the wrong things,” because isn’t that what they love about Trump? Part of his appeal is that he is an unashamed apologist for the Alt-Right. He encourages people to engage with and take pride in giving voice to the worst parts of their nature. Fear. Anger. Hate. He revels in inciting emotions that lie at the base of the lizard brain, the part that is usually tempered by rational thought and critical inquiry.
But this ambiguous statement of “regret” wasn’t for those scared men and women who fear their diminishing white privilege and bemoan living in a world where it’s no longer okay to call your buddy a “fag” because he bowled a spare on league night. No. Trump and his newest cadre of campaign managers know that his voting base doesn’t give a fig about his insulting language toward Muslims, Blacks, Women, and the LGBTQ community. According to some of his supporters his rhetoric of hate is part of his charm. The apology was for moderate Republicans who get that icky, tingling feeling every time Trump opens his mouth and stokes the fire of white nationalism and populism a little higher. Trump is trying to get back on message and soothe the fears of those who find his language and the violent actions of his followers frightening.
The apology was for moderate Republicans who get that icky, tingling feeling every time Trump opens his mouth and stokes the fire of white nationalism and populism a little higher.
The lack of specificity in Trump’s apologetic statement is the key to why it rings false. He didn’t say “I’m sorry I insulted a Gold Star mother for feeling profound grief when she saw her dead son’s picture” or “I regret encouraging a foreign power to purposefully and with malice aforethought interfere in an American election.” Trump hasn’t said to Black Americans, “I regret the decades of bigotry, hate, and economic oppression that the companies I own have enforced on you, your families, and your community.”[ii] Trump has stated that under his leadership, he will have Black Lives Matter investigated by his Attorney General and called the non-violent, civil rights movement a “threat” that is “essentially calling for the death of police.”[iii]
Trump’s regret sounds hollow and unspecific because it is hollow and unspecific.
The follow up punch to Trump’s one-two of getting back on message was his assertion that in his administration “every American will be treated equally.” Except, of course, those folks whom the RNC’s platform seeks to strip of their civil rights, like LGBTQ Americans. He hasn’t walked back his comments on Muslim Americans and the proposed McCarthy-era “ideology tests” that are part of his immigration policy.
Finally, let’s not forget exactly who Trump has hired to manage his campaign. Steve Bannon is chairman of Breitbart News, a news network that the Southern Poverty Law Center said endorses “all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the “Alt-Right.”[iv] Roger Ailes is advising Trump in advance of the presidential debates. Ailes is the founder of Fox News and made headlines for sexually harassing women and creating a culture of sexism and fear at the network. Lastly we have Kellyanne Conway, the Republican pollster, who also served as pollster for the anti-LGBTQ group the National Organization for Marriage and spoke at an anti-LGBTQ hate group summit in 2014.[v]
What I find tragic is that there are folks out there who will buy what Trump’s selling. They will point to his speech in Charlotte, NC on Thursday as the beginning of a “new” Trump, but all a statement of regret does not erase continued adherence to a platform of exclusion and hate.
About the Author: Jenn Kowalski is a Licensed Social Worker with a Masters in Social Work from The Ohio State University. She writes about living with chronic illness, politics, health, and social issues in her blog 2 for Take Away. She is a white cis-woman who identifies as pansexual. For more about her please click here and for more about Jenn’s experience with Lupus & Fibromyalgia click here
[iii] Jeremy Diamond, “Trump: Black Lives Matter has helped instigate police killings”, CNN.com, July 19, 2016. Retrieved August 19, 2016.
[iv] Stephen Piggott, “Is Breitbart.com Becoming the Media Arm of the Alt-Right?” Southern Poverty Law Center, April 28, 2016. Retrieved August 19. 2016.
[v] Rachel Percelay & Erin Fitzgerald, “After Media Spends Months Pretending Trump Is LGBT Friendly, He Hires Head Of Bigoted Website To Run His Campaign,” Media Matters for American, August 18, 2016. Retrieved August 19, 2016.