Recent shocking statements by leading Republican presidential candidates have clearly shown how Christian nationalism truly means white Christian nationalism.
Case in point is Nikki Haley’s embarrassing display at a Wednesday town hall in New Hampshire. While Haley herself is an Indian American, she had already displayed her offensively dismissive views on white racism when, as candidate for South Carolina governor, she insisted the Confederate flag was “not something that is racist.”
Back in 2010, she described the Civil War as two sides fighting for “tradition” and “change.” Although she changed her mind about removing the flag after the horrific Charleston mass shooting by a white gunman at a Black church in 2015, her comments in 2010 are remarkably similar to her statement on Wednesday.
After a New Hampshire voter questioned her about the reason for the Civil War, she responded that “The cause of the civil war was basically how government was going to run — the freedoms in what people could and couldn’t do.” She rambled on about the role of government, individual freedom and capitalism until the questioner called her out: “In the year 2023, it’s astonishing to me that you answer that question without mentioning the word ‘slavery.’”
“What do you want me to say about slavery?” the clueless Haley responded before moving on to another question.
It’s not rocket science. Associated Press points out that South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union. Its Ordinance of Secession in 1860, recording the reasons for secession, opens with slavery and states that the “increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery” was the reason for leaving the Union.
Haley’s since tried to do damage control, later saying, “Of course the Civil War was about slavery.”
While Haley’s opponent Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tried to make hay by recirculating a video of Haley’s gaffe, he has made remarks about slavery that are just as objectionable. Earlier this year he notoriously defended Florida’s new education standards that require middle school teachers to instruct that people enslaved in America developed skills that “could be applied for their personal benefit.” DeSantis embroidered on this theme, saying, “They’re probably going to show that some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life.” (It belabors the obvious offensiveness to point out the fact that most of those enslaved in America did not live long enough to witness emancipation.)
As Haley deals with the fallout, presidential candidate Donald Trump at year’s end is busy denying that his grotesque remarks about illegal immigrants “poisoning the blood of our country” (not to mention denouncing Democrats as “vermin”) do not parallel the rhetoric of Adolf Hitler.
“I know nothing about Hitler,” Trump avers. “I have no idea what Hitler said other than [what] I’ve seen on the news. And that’s a very, entirely different thing than what I’m saying.”
What makes his denial even more outrageous is, of course, that his so-called “ignorance” merely compounds the problem. News media have documented how Trump has a long pattern of claiming “ignorance” on a number of occasions when seeking to minimize racist actions or remarks. For example, he downplayed former KKK grand wizard David Duke’s endorsement of him, has feigned ignorance of QAnon’s outlandish claims even as he retweeted them and claimed during a presidential debate that he didn’t know “who the Proud Boys are,” even as he instructed them to “Stand back and stand by.”
And who could ever forget his comment as president that there were “very fine people on both sides” at a “Unite the Right” rally in 2017 in Charlottesville, Va., where a white supremacist ran over and killed a protester. That rally was organized by supremacists to protest the city’s decision to remove a statue memorializing Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Trump in 2019 insisted that Lee was “a great general” and a “favorite general” of many in the White House.
Joe Biden later revealed that Trump’s remarks about the white supremacists at that rally is what prompted him to run for president in 2020. “With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it. And in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I’d ever seen in my lifetime.”
The threat to this nation is even worse today, as voting rights remain jeopardized, and as Trump openly runs on a Christian nationalist plank, that is, by definition, also white supremacist.
FFRF Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that develops and advocates for legislation, regulations and government programs to preserve the constitutional principle of separation between state and church. It also advocates for the rights and views of nonbelievers, endorses candidates for political office, and publicizes the views of elected officials concerning religious liberty issues.