Hannah Arendt coined the phrase “the banality of evil” in reference to Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann, who seemed to her less deliberately evil than an ammoral man superficially thinking in Nazi clichés and obedient to superiors. “Eichmann failed to exercise his capacity of thinking, of having an internal dialogue with himself, which would have permitted self-awareness of the evil nature of his deeds. This amounted to a failure to use self-reflection as a basis for judgement, the faculty that would have required Eichmann to exercise his imagination so as to contemplate the nature of his deeds from the experiential standpoint of his victims,” explains the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Many in the media–both reporters and conservative commentators–are repeating Eichmann’s banal behavior in response to another evil: Trump is empowering neo-Nazi and White Supremacists who constitute some of his most active and dedicated supporters. Many in the media seem incapable of grasping the evil, and instead make comments bereft of curiosity about the obvious threat standing right before them. Fortunately other media sources, such as the New York Daily News, Mother Jones, Fortune, and CNN’s Ruth Ben-Ghiat, have shown determination to expose Trump’s evil support.
Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists Supporting Trump
Repeatedly reporters have shown an incredible inability to notice possible neo-Nazi and White Supremacists before their very eyes:
- An NBC reporter talked to a Trump supporter after Palin gave her endorsement on 20 January 2016. The reporter failed to take notice or raise questions about the supporter’s jacket: A reproduction of a tunic worn by the Nazi Waffen SS with the pattern known as the M44 Dot.
- A 15 March 2016 report by PBS on a “Tar Heel” family supporting Trump ignored Grace Tilly’s large tattoos often associated with neo-Nazis and White Supremacists. Once the rather obvious tattoos were pointed out, PBS meekly posted that “she insisted the tattoos are religious in nature and have nothing to do with a neo-Nazi theme or white supremacy.” As the Daily News reported, “One, a large ’88’ on her hand, is a widely known neo-Nazi code for “Heil Hitler.” The letter “H” is the 8th letter of the alphabet.”
- The identity of one man who assaulted a protestor at during a March 2016 Trump rally was originally missed by many reporters. The Daily News, however, correctly identified him as “Reviled racist Matthew Heimbach.” The News continued: “Another demonstrator, Molly Shah, watched as Heimbach tried to recruit other attendees to his cause. ‘I watched him for hours recruit Trump supporters with five of his buddies,’ said Shah. ‘They later attacked the group I was with. The Neo-Nazis threw punches and kicked us. I am still awake now because my body is sore.’” Salon reported that David Duke instructed his followers to “Go in there [to Trump campaign headquarters and rallies], you’re gonna meet people who are going to have the same kind of mindset that you have,” Neo-Nazi recruiting among Trump supporters and staff has mostly gone unreported.
- Trump’s organization has monitored and repackaged material from accounts associated with White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis. Yet many in the media depict these as discreet events or stupid stumbles by amateur Trump staff. Claremont professor and conservative pundit Charles R. Kesler reduces Trumps racism to innocent faux pas: “Trump does speak sometimes in unfortunate ethnic and other generalizations . . ..” Trump supporter Representative Pete King (R-NY) says Trump is “careless in what he says, he’s reckless in what he says,” but bizarrely absolves him of racism. However, research highlighted by Fortune magazine suggests that this activity is deliberate, with several components of Trump’s campaign activity monitoring extremist sites for material of potential use.
- Aside from using material created by Neo-Nazis, CNN’s Ruth Ben-Ghiat noted that Trump has tweeted photos of Waffen SS soldiers (likely reenactors, some in the previously mentioned M44 Dot camouflage pattern) “overlaid by an American flag, with a portrait of himself saying, ‘We need real leadership. We need results. Let’s put the U.S. back into business!’” As the Anti-Defamation League noted, Waffen SS soldiers (perceived as Hitler’s elite “supermen”) are popular among neo-Nazis. While the campaign claimed the image was a mistake, it is difficult to see how an obvious image of Nazi soldiers could have been selected by accident.
Andrew Anglin, founder of the neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer, observed, “Whereas the odd [racist Twitter account] White genocide [re-]tweet could be a random occurrence, it isn’t statistically possible that two of them back to back could be a random occurrence. It could only be deliberate…Today in America the air is cold and it tastes like victory.” Despite the campaign’s denials after every incident, continuous promotion of Nazi and neo-Nazi-material suggests Trump’s campaign staff has either been co-opted by neo-Nazis and White Supremacists, or the staff is deliberately seeking their support.
- Vastly underreported have been other numerous incidents, such as Trump supporters giving Nazi salutes or screaming anti-Semitic pro-genocidal slogans. Both the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai B’rith and the Southern Poverty Law Center have repeatedly warned of Trump’s solid White Supremacy support. And the Alt Right hasn’t hidden this. The influential racist Jared Taylor stated in mid-2015, “If Mr. Trump loses, this could be the last chance whites have to vote for a president who could actually do something useful for them and for their country.” White Supremacist Joseph Kay declared, “[U]nder President Trump, Americans need not worry that common criminals will be celebrated thanks to their skin color while white police officers are demonized for doing their jobs. I believe that this unstated promise helps drives the passion for Donald Trump. He is a modern day [defender of White Honor].” One Klan leader was blunt, “The reason a lot of Klan members like Donald Trump is because a lot of what he believes in, we believe in. We want our country to be safe.” Racist Andrew Anglin calls Trump “Glorious Leader.” Yet many in the media and the conservative commentary community are ignoring the extremist Trump base being empowered by his political machine. Instead, they treat each incident as separate event and don’t investigate, or even show curiosity, in the larger pattern.
Gather Together to Greet the Storm
By failing to point out — or even to notice — the evil before them, media outlets are making evil seem banal. It isn’t: Trump’s evil spreads and is already infecting children. “I just got a call from my son’s teacher giving me a heads up that two of his classmates decided to point out the ‘immigrants’ in the class who would be sent ‘home’ when Trump becomes president,” Evelyn Momplaisir posted on Facebook. “High school students have begun using Trump’s mere name and visage at sporting events to mock rival Hispanic athletes and supporters,” reported Vice in March 2016. If Trump wins, his extremist supporter will believe their views have been vindicated, and horrific racist and anti-Semitic violence could be unleashed nationwide. And they will have the levers of power. Jared Taylor predicts:
“If there actually is a Trump presidency, he will attract, at all sorts of levels in his administration, people who do think the way we do. Even though they’re not publicly associated with racial dissidents, or white advocacy. He will attract people who read our web pages, who listen to our podcasts, and they will work in all sorts of very, very useful ways in all levels of his administration to bring about sensible policies.
I think I can also imagine that some of them, they will be caught out, oh, saying rude things about blacks or rude things about Mexico, and there will be little scandals here and there. But there will be a great number who will infiltrate his administration, his campaign, his advisers in ways that cannot but be extremely useful both to Trump and to us.”
Many of our nation’s reporters and conservative commentators, it seems, are like Arendt’s Eichmann. They are not malevolent, but seem constitutionally incapable of moral judgement necessary to grasp the evil before their eyes. Many in our media and conservative pundit class are uninquisitive, unthinking, and file banal paragraphs when screams of warning and moral outrage are clearly justified. The media and its commentators must awaken to the evil before them, and begin to alert potential Trump supporters who they would empower should he prove victorious.