Here is one of Donald Trump’s tweets (i.e. official statements) in the aftermath of the alt-right terrorist attack on Charlottesville:
We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!
First of all, I’d been under the mistaken belief for a couple days that the ineffectual wallflower called John Kelly, the new White House chief of staff, must be having someone edit Trump’s official communications, because there were fewer than usual appalling grammatical, stylistic, and syntactical mistakes in Trump’s tweets. I was wrong.
I’m not opposed to ALL CAPS, but when that device is used, it should be used to some end; what it Trump trying to say with ALL in his tweet? “Lets” should of course have an apostrophe, since IT’S a CONTRACTION. And the frivolous exclamation point is back — Trump’s tweet has the character and cadence of a toddler-pageant cheerleader routine: Give me a U! Give me an N! Give me an I … T … Y!
But as usual, Trump’s most glaring mistake is substantive. He wants us to condemn “all that hate stands for.” That would be nice, except that hate doesn’t stand for anything; it just is.
When we use some variation of the term stand for, we typically refer to some terminal value that is irreducible to any subrepresentation. If I am asked, “What do you stand for?” and I answer, “Truth, justice, and the rule of law,” what I mean is that those values — truth, justice, and the rule of law — are the most fundamental elements of my character or ethos or mission; they cannot be extrapolated, dissected, or subcategorized further.
And what about hate (or, more precisely, hatred)? We know what it is: an all-consuming rot that fills the empty void inside someone who swapped out his or her soul for the demons of self-loathing sometime during or before adolescence. That’s what it is. And that’s also what it stands for.
It is, in other words, irreducible to anything other than itself. So in the sense that we normally use the term, it doesn’t stand for anything.
Rather, people stand for it — people like homophobes, xenophobes, Islamophobes, anti-Semites, and oh — also white nationalists, neo-Confederates, Nazis, and alt-right bigots of every stripe — you know, the people who attacked Charlottesville.
And that is why Trump bemoaned hate, pretending that hate stands for something else — because he was too chickenshit to call out the people who stand for hate.
And that, of course, is because those people are his base.