“We polled the race stuff and it didn’t matter.”

Greg Sargent at the Post talked to Eric Foner, which is a wise thing to do.

The New York Times reports that a wide range of Trump’s advisers privately urged him to call out the white nationalists directly, but he kept steering the conversation back to a breakdown of “law and order.” We’ve seen this refusal to give in to pressure to condemn racism before. Trump dragged his feet before disavowing David Duke’s support. And Joshua Green’s new book on Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannonreports that in August 2016, as Hillary Clinton elevated the issue of white nationalism to national prominence with a major speech, the Trump campaign internally decided not to go too far in renouncing it. Bannon told Green: “We polled the race stuff and it didn’t matter.”

Didn’t matter to their numbers, he means.

It is likely that Trump views this whole affair as being all about him — that is, as all about whether he will surrender to his foes. He seems incapable of grasping that amid such crises, his office carries with it certain very grave responsibilities to the American people.

There is a reason we generally want our presidents to speak out against racism against African Americans amid outbreaks of racial strife and violence. They are well positioned to remind the nation of our founding creed, and of our most conspicuous betrayal of it — of the historically unique experience of African Americans as targets of centuries of violent subjugation, as well as sustained domestic terrorism and deeply ingrained racism, which continues today.

Our original sin, as a friend put it yesterday.

We need our presidents to say “that racism is a deeply entrenched feature of American society that must be combated at every level,” Eric Foner, the renowned historianof American racial relations, told me. “Racism is the deepest inequality we face. There are many people who face problems in our society, unfortunately, but racism is the deepest one, and we have to confront and understand it.”

Foner cited previous instances of presidents stepping forward at fraught moments, pointing to John F. Kennedy’s June 1963 speech in which he embraced the civil rights movement, which had been putting immense pressure on our country’s leadership amid the Birmingham protests. “Kennedy, like Trump, had a significant base among white segregationists in the South,” Foner said. “Yet he went on television and said that this is a moral crisis for the nation and we need to face up to it.” Foner pointed out that John McCain, while running for president in 2008, had showed similar leadership when he famously condemned racist attacks on rival Barack Obama.

“The president is supposed to be, and sometimes is, a kind of spokesman for the nation,” Foner continued. “Trump has repudiated that role from the beginning. His inaugural address was completely focused on his voters. It made no effort to appeal to anybody who hadn’t already voted for him.”

As Jeffrey Goldberg points out, moments such as this outbreak of “radical white terrorism” are precisely when we need our elected officials to speak out, forthrightly and with no equivocation. But the rub here is that Trump clearly recognizes no obligation to the broader public of any kind as a function of the office entrusted to him. This isn’t just racism. It’s also his megalomaniacal inability to envision that his role might require duties above and beyond his desire to deepen his bond with certain supporters (which of course is all about him) or the fact that he doesn’t want to be seen surrendering in some vague sense.

That is of course a massive part of what makes him so very odious – his constant focus on himself, and his childish lack of shame about displaying it.

And none of this is going to change; it will only get worse.

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