Bad things happen when mainstream public figures engage in incendiary rhetoric that vilifies or scapegoats minorities. We have seen it time and time again in our history.
When Islamophobia dominates the airwaves, for example, we see an uptick in hate crimes against those perceived as Muslim. As a matter of common sense, you know the connection is there. But rarely can you draw a straight line between someone’s hateful speech and violence or intimidation.
In Donald Trump’s case, however, you don’t have to take it on faith.
Last August, the Boston Globe described what happened to a 58-year-old Latino man who was ambushed by two white men as he slept: “The homeless man was lying on the ground, shaking, when police arrived. His face was soaked, apparently with urine, his nose broken, his chest and arms battered.”
The man said he was awakened when the men started urinating on his head. Witnesses said two brothers, who were arrested, pummeled him with their fists and a metal pole before walking away laughing. One of the attackers told police he was inspired by Trump.
“Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported,” he said, according to the Globe.
Trump, of course, has repeatedly called for building a wall between the United States and Mexico to keep immigrants out. But he has gone much further, describing Latino immigrants as “rapists,” “drug dealers” and “killers.”
Trump’s first response to the attack was that his constituents “are very passionate. They love this country and they want the country to be great again,” before later condemning the attack.
But, what possible reason could Trump have had for not immediately — forcefully and without equivocation — denouncing such violence? Or immediately disavowing the endorsement of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke?
The Boston attack is just one incident, and no one can say with certainty that Trump was the cause of it. But a very disturbing pattern is developing.
At a high school in Indiana last month, students sought to intimidate their opponents by chanting, “Build a wall; build a wall,” during a basketball game against a school with a heavily Latino student body.
Just four days earlier, students in Iowa chanted “Trump! Trump!” during a game against a school with a diverse population. Violence has erupted repeatedly at Trump rallies. He has often shouted, “Get ’em outta here!” regarding protesters at his rallies.
Finally, Trump may be the most prominent provocateur right now. But he is by no means the only person in public life who trades in incendiary rhetoric. Blaming “the other” is an age-old game in politics (Jews, blacks, gays, lesbians, transgendered, Hispanics, liberals, etc.).
The fact that it sometimes works should be deeply troubling to all of us.
Jimmy Darsey, Hinesville