At the Tuesday night presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, Trump refused to directly denounce white supremacists. Trump mockingly told moderator Chris Wallace to give him a specific name of a group to denounce, and Biden chimed in, naming the violent far-right group known as the Proud Boys — and Trump subsequently insisted that the Proud Boys should “stand back and stand by,” and then he went on with his remarks. Many observers — including within the Proud Boys — interpreted the remarks as a de facto call to readiness for potential violence. Merriam-Webster (the dictionary company) posted the definitions of “stand back” and “stand by” on Twitter after the president’s remarks. The definitions underscore the implicit call to readiness in Trump’s comments.
As the dictionary company shared, “stand back” means “to take a few steps backwards” but “stand by” means “to be or to get ready to act.” With concerns swirling about whether Trump supporters might launch violent civil unrest in the event of delayed election results, Trump’s comments are worrying. He seems to refuse to acknowledge the serious, system-threatening problem with these issues. He acts like if, once upon a time, he said the words “racism is bad,” then that’s enough.
'Stand back': to take a few steps backwards
'Stand by': to be or to get ready to act #Debates2020
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) September 30, 2020
At the debate, moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if, in the event of delayed election results, he would “urge [his] supporters to stay calm during this extended period, not to engage in any civil unrest.” Trump refused to unequivocally say yes (when Wallace asked Biden the same question, the Democratic nominee did say yes). Trump insisted that if he sees “tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated” (which is not going to happen) then he “can’t go along with that.” His open-ended insinuations that he’d be okay with some kind of unrest follow his recent refusal during a White House press conference to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses. He has also, on other occasions, refused to commit to accepting the election results after Election Day.
Trump faced steep criticism for his new apparent call-out to the Proud Boys. Prominent progressive Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) commented:
‘Donald Trump is a white supremacist. People have been warning about this for a long time. They were ridiculed, called hyperbolic & radical – not bc they were wrong, but bc others couldn’t accept that our country elected a supremacist as President. This is fascism at our door.’
Donald Trump is a white supremacist.
People have been warning about this for a long time.
They were ridiculed, called hyperbolic & radical – not bc they were wrong, but bc others couldn’t accept that our country elected a supremacist as President.
This is fascism at our door. https://t.co/sahloCJt25
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) September 30, 2020
Check out Twitter’s response to Merriam-Webster below: