Update - August 16, 2017

President Trump's statements on August 15, 2017 refusing to address the morality of neo-Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists and focusing on reported violence by some counter-protesters has predictably been read by white nationalists as a green light to organize further demonstrations espousing racism, xenophobia, and discrimination. This is a direct abdication of his responsibility as president to lead the country in upholding the fundamental principles of equality and non-discrimination. His appropriate denunciation of white supremacists the previous day rings hollow.

Trump’s reluctance to repudiate hate groups reflects his administration's policies, particularly regarding civil rights, counter-terrorism, and immigration -- policies that often are derived from racist, anti-Muslim, and xenophobic sentiments. Elected officials, many of whom have forcefully criticized Trump's recent statements, should promptly act to reject these administration policies, several of which are identified below.

***

In a statement to the media on August 14, 2017, US President Donald Trump finally condemned racism and racist violence, including by “the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups.” His remarks followed a public outcry for his failure to speak out following the August 12 violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which an alleged white supremacist crashed his car into counterdemonstrators, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring 19 others. Two Virginia state troopers also died in a helicopter crash while monitoring the events and 15 others were injured in related clashes.

Since taking office, the Trump administration has severely weakened civil rights institutions and protections, changed US immigration and refugee policy based on dangerous generalizations about immigrants and Muslims as criminals and terrorists, and covertly and overtly encouraged racism and xenophobia. Trump’s statement can become a touchstone for the way ahead if backed by genuine and dramatic shifts in these administrative policies and practices that have exacerbated the climate of hate against racial minorities and immigrants in the United States.

A country’s leaders have a special responsibility to uphold the fundamental values of equality and nondiscrimination. And while freedom of speech and assembly are hallmarks of a democratic society, including even hateful and offensive expression that does not incite violence, leaders should consistently and robustly condemn expressions of prejudice. For Trump, this responsibility includes publicly and unequivocally rejecting support from individuals and groups that foment hatred in his name.

To build on Trump’s August 14 statement, his administration should reverse its decision to eviscerate the mandates and budgets of US civil rights institutions; end its attempt to exclude white nationalism from the federal government’s Countering Violent Extremism programs; end immigration and refugee policies based on anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant sentiment; and remove Stephen Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, administration appointees with known links to or a history of encouraging the white nationalist movement.

Going forward, the Trump administration needs to demonstrate leadership so that the US, state, and local officials can consistently and forcefully move to quell racist and xenophobic discrimination and violence wherever it occurs. Those who are targets of violence in the name of hate need to be confident that the government will be there to protect their fundamental rights.