Things are very bad. They’re very bad in America, and even worse in much of the world, thanks to the global rise of hate-fueled politics. Yet nearly two years after the election that delivered a proud bigot and pathological liar to the Oval Office, supporters of the lying bigot defend their man, acting as if there’s a debate to be had over whether the liar-in-chief’s behavior had anything to do with a week soaked in the blood of bigotry, beginning with the murder of an African American Kentucky couple by an apparent white supremacist (after he failed to gain entry to a black church), and ending with the massacre of 11 Jews in their place of worship by an anti-Semite.
In between, another act of domestic terrorism against the United States of America—the attempted pipe-bombing of a former president and top members of his administration, among others—failed only through the incompetence of the would-be bomber, and the package-scanning protections afforded public officials.
Despite the fact that hate crimes have soared since the ascension of Donald J. Trump to the White House, media figures still indulge the notion of such a debate.
There is no debate to be had on this count. There are facts. According to researchers at the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino, hate crimes rose by 12 percent since 2016 in ten U.S. cities. And, the researchers write, “In 2016, the last year with FBI totals available, hate crimes were up 11.7 percent compared to 2014.”
I suppose you could argue that a causal connection has not been proven, but please.
Of all targeted groups, African Americans remain highest on the list. Incidents of anti-Semitic hate, according to the Anti-Defamation League, rose 57 percent in 2017 when compared with the year before.
You could try to make the case that it’s a mere coincidence that these crimes are on the increase, even as the president of the United States calls for the imprisonment of his opponent in the last presidential election—the same president who, as a private citizen, called for the execution of black men falsely charged with the rape and beating of a white woman in Central Park, even after they were exonerated by DNA evidence following years of imprisonment.
The same president who, as he prepared for his political campaign, advanced the racist falsehood that the nation’s first black president was ineligible for office.
The same president who, during his campaign, retweeted false crime statistics alleging that African Americans commit most homicides of white victims.
The same president who has banned citizens of a handful of Muslim-majority countries from travel to the United States.
The same president who has torn the children of Latinx asylum-seeks from their mothers, and locked them in cages.
The same president who, as a reality-show star, laughed that he could do anything to women that he wanted, even “grab ’em by the pussy.”
The same president who appointed to his Evangelical Advisory Board Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, an organization identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBT hate group.
The same president who, as a candidate, retweeted posts from a neo-Nazi Twitter feed, and who, since taken office, has falsely accused philanthropist George Soros of conspiracies, knowing full well that the Democratic donor’s name has become anti-Semitic code for many among his resentful base.
Even a year after the deadly clashes instigated by neo-Nazis and other white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, mainstream media are struggling to catch up to the story of a confounding maze of connections between far-right hate groups, and the many ways in which some political and business leaders leverage that hatred to consolidate their own power.
However shocking the display of swastikas and Confederate battle flags was amid the violence that overtook Charlottesville in August 2017, it was too easy to dismiss that deadly demonstration as an elaborate cosplay by pathetic creatures, on the basis of the ridiculous spectacle of paunchy men bearing homemade shields. The president famously saw some “very fine people” among them.
In the dizzying pace of the news cycle since the 2016 election, it seems that media are only now catching up to the current state of America, and many of their reporters are at pains to explain what they’re seeing, because they’ve never seen so much of it happening at one time.
The norms of civility that had developed by the end of the 20th century have been broken by this president, smashed to the ground, unleashing the id forces of haters throughout the nation. This is how violence can escalate from low to high levels at record pace; the tipping point is the breaking of such norms. When people believe they will be ostracized for expressing their hatred, they tend to keep it under wraps. When they feel encouraged to express it by the leader of the richest nation on earth, violence is almost sure to follow.
And when a mainstream media outlet does dare ask, as The Washington Post did in this headline, to what degreee the president bears responsibility for fostering an environment that encourages haters to take violent action against perceived foes, the pushback from the right is fierce. It is not for nothing that the president seeks to intimidate members of the news media, both at his rallies and in his tweets. It’s also not for nothing that the would-be pipe-bomber sent two packages to CNN, a frequent target of a president who has dubbed news reporters as “the enemy of the people.”
Yet still many reporters discuss the president and his actions as if the norms of yesteryear were still in place. Too few mainstream news outlets have reporters who understand the far-right players in U.S. politics, or have sources within those movements—the neo-Nazis, the neo-Confederates, the anti-immigrant militias, the so-called “alt-right.”
Until they do, they will never fully understand Donald J. Trump’s rise to power—or the America they never knew existed. These movements are no longer on the fringes. They have a friend at the heart of power.