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Trump presidency won’t increase white supremacists but will embolden them to be more daring

American History academics put the 45th president under the spotlight in Trump Watch Sussex podcast

Donald Trump’s presidency will not lead to a huge increase in white supremacist numbers but will embolden the movement to be “more daring” in their actions, a leading academic in US history has warned.

The University of Sussex’s Clive Webb, professor of modern American history, warned that the 45th president’s “demagoguery” and “bile” could inspire far-right groups in the US to carry out even more daring acts than the violence at Charlottesville this summer.

Professor Webb said that Trump had emboldened the far-right because they no longer believed they were fighting the US government. The president’s response to Charlottesville, in putting blame on both sides, may galvanise white supremacists to believe they can act with impunity.

He added: “We are nowhere near a situation like America in the inter-war era when the KKK can command millions of supporters and control the governorship of states.

“But the far-right is resurgent and with a president that espouses the kind of demagoguery and bile that characterises Donald Trump’s rhetoric, that can only serve to energise the far right not to necessarily massively increase its base but in making it more daring in its actions.”

The warning comes in the latest edition of the Trump Watch Sussex podcast released this week which was recorded at the University of Sussex with fellow US history academics Professor Robert Cook and Dr Melissa Milewski as host.

Dr Milewski said: "We started this podcast to get the backstory from academics and experts on events and issues related to Donald Trump and his administration. 

“This podcast is a response to the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia by white supremacists and Donald Trump's response that there was blame on both white supremacists and those protesting them.

“The white supremacists involved in the demonstrations and violence were protesting the removal of a confederate monument. In the podcast, we delve into why confederate monuments were built, what they symbolize, how African Americans protested confederate memorials in the 19th and early 20th century, the rise of white supremacist movements in the US today, and how Trump has used the contested history behind confederate monuments for his own ends.”

Prof Cook said there was a good case for taking down many of the Confederate statues and either destroying them or removing them to museums or cemeteries.

He described Donald Trump as “a hollow man” with no genuine interest or knowledge of US history but who was not averse to using the past for his own political gains and had no qualms channelling white supremacism and the views of its supporters if it promotes his own objectives and maintains his fan base.

Prof Cook said: “Controversy over the monuments will continue, not just over Confederate monuments but monuments for founding fathers who were slaveholders and Columbus monuments. These controversies are all generated by the modern culture wars.

“And they are linked to efforts on the part of right wingers in the US to sustain white supremacy. It is on the rise in the US today. Obviously Donald Trump is part of the problem here, so all progressives are beholden, whatever colour they happen to be, to be vigilant and critically scrutinise all attempts by demagogic politicians to use history for their own purposes.”

The Trump Watch Sussex podcast was launched this summer and is available on iTunes. To listen to the latest podcasts visit

Previous episodes focussing on students’ perspectives of The Donald, the balance of power within his cabinet and defining populism and how Trump uses it to his advantage are also available.

The next podcast will be available later this month featuring Dr Clodagh Harrington of De Montfort University and Dr Alex Waddan from the University of Leicester discussing how Trump is attempting the "De-Obamification" of American social policies by removing Obama's policy legacies in areas such as healthcare, LGBTQ issues and reproductive rights.

By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2017