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President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Duluth International Airport on Sept. 30, 2020, in Duluth, Minn.

Alex Brandon/The Associated Press

U.S. President Donald Trump is probably too self-centred to be a bona fide white supremacist. White supremacists, after all, are preoccupied with the notion of a superior white race; Mr. Trump appears mostly concerned with the superiority of one particular white septuagenarian.

That’s not to say the president’s views are incongruent with those of his more hooded supporters. A non-exhaustive list of Mr. Trump’s beliefs – that Barack Obama was a clandestine Kenyan migrant; that people from Muslim-majority countries should be banned from entering the United States; that U.S.-born Democratic congresswomen should go back to the “broken and crime infested places from which they came;” that a Hispanic judge could not be impartial because of his “Mexican heritage;” that Mexican migrants are rapists and drug dealers – could have been lifted from any skinhead’s social media pages.

But to label the president himself a white supremacist is to likely overstate how much he thinks or cares about a movement other than his own. Mr. Trump’s presidency and professional legacy have proven that his foremost allegiance is to himself, not his race. Indeed, a militant white supremacist would’ve exiled his daughter when she converted to Judaism, but a believer in a master race of one knew enough to use it to his advantage.

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That is why it makes sense that this president, forever in service to his own ego, would be reluctant to denounce even his most odious supporters, as he demonstrated during the first presidential debate this past week.

Invited by moderator Chris Wallace to condemn “white supremacists and militia groups” – a request that, for normal candidates, is an easy gimme, like asking candidates if they agree that kicking puppies is wrong – Mr. Trump initially danced around the invitation, claiming not to know any. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden then supplied the name Proud Boys, which describes a group of self-declared “Western chauvinists” who dabble in white nationalist rhetoric, to whom Mr. Trump glibly offered: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”

It was not exactly a denunciation. The group, whose members are also known for engaging in militia violence and disengaging in masturbation, took the president’s words as an invitation to mobilize. Some even incorporated the President’s words into their logo.

But by now, this sort of tacit (or perhaps, not-so-tacit) approval should be wholly expected of someone who, in 2017, struggled to condemn the khaki-wearing, torch-toting white nationalists who rallied in Charlottesville, Va., even after a woman was killed by a white supremacist who drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.

“You had some very bad people in that group,” Mr. Trump said at the time of the mob, which marched through the streets chanting “Jews will not replace us.” “But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” Mr. Trump’s remarks were celebrated by notable racists such as Richard Spencer and Andrew Anglin of The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website.

Mr. Trump had previously floundered in articulating a position on an endorsement from former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke (eventually, he did offer a clear repudiation) and would later pardon Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt for defying a judge’s order to stop racially profiling Latinos.

The thread that unites this gaggle of race-obsessed turkeys, beyond the obvious, was and is their outspoken admiration of President Donald Trump. MAGA hats peppered the Unite the Right protest in Charlottesville; Mr. Arpaio wooed Mr. Trump with a glowing endorsement; the Proud Boys have held rallies in support of the president. Mr. Trump, a hopeless megalomaniac (which is like a hopeless romantic, but with a mirror) simply can’t help but love the people who so dearly love him. It’s why he can get on with the evangelicals, despite reportedly calling them “hustlers” and scam artists, and even though he doesn’t exactly share or live by their beliefs. (That is, unless Jesus said something about using gas to clear peaceful protesters in order to pose outside a church, but I probably need to brush up on my Bible study.)

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The President knows that those who are aghast at his refusal to denounce the Proud Boys or various other neo-Nazis aren’t lining up to vote for him anyway. And clearly he doesn’t much care that his implicit or explicit approval of their beliefs – combined with his Nixonian dog whistles about disappearing suburbs and dire warnings of Black Lives Matter violence – offer them licence to take up arms in his service. In fact, Mr. Trump practically said as much when he implored his supporters to surveil polling stations to monitor for fraudsters and cheats.

The President’s ambition is doubtlessly centred on his own status and reputation, far more than the future of his race. But with his implied blessing for those preaching about a white America, he has made them one and the same.

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