America Letter: Hate finds new voice after Trump victory

Incidents of vitriol and harassment rise as Republican brings far right to mainstream

 People in Los Angeles protest the appointment of  former Breitbart News head Steve Bannon, as chief strategist of the White House. Photograph: David McNew/AFP/Getty Images

People in Los Angeles protest the appointment of former Breitbart News head Steve Bannon, as chief strategist of the White House. Photograph: David McNew/AFP/Getty Images

 

Donald Trump’s election as the next US president after a xenophobic and Islamophobic campaign has switched on a spouting tap of hate. He has emboldened Americans unsettled by the country’s changing racial tapestries to vent their anger publicly.

Trump’s strongest appeal to many of the 61 million Americans who voted for him was that he was not a politician and could speak his mind, so the more outrageous his statements about Muslims, Mexicans, the media and his opponents, the more convinced they were this was the candidate of change who could really shake things up.

The Atlantic writer Salena Zito described the Trump phenomenon in an article in September: “The press takes him literally but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”

The danger to the country’s social fabric is that some supporters take him both seriously and literally. The night before the November 8th election I stood inside the media pen watching Trump’s running mate Mike Pence fire up an estimated 11,000 people in a sports arena in New Hampshire at their penultimate campaign rally, with another attack on Hillary Clinton. The crowd responded with chants of “Lock Her Up! Lock Her Up!”

No shame

“Assassinate that bitch!” one man added with a shout near the press area. The same man happily posed as I photographed him minutes later, proudly holding his “Make America Great Again” sign. Since Trump’s election, any shame once associated with hateful statements or actions has evaporated, as that man showed.

In the five days after the election, the Southern Law Poverty Centre, the non-profit civil rights organisation that tracks hate groups, recorded 437 instances of hateful speech, verbal and physical harassment.

In New York state, three days after the election, someone spray-painted a swastika and the words “Make America White Again” on a wall beside a sports field. A church in Indiana was vandalised with Nazi graffiti with the words “Heil Trump”, an anti-gay slur and a swastika.

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, a young white man threatened to set a Muslim student on fire with a lighter if she did not remove her hijab, according to the University of Michigan. In Minnesota, the words “Trump”, “Whites only” and “Go back to Africa” were daubed on the walls of a high school near Minneapolis.

The University of Pennsylvania is investigating the source of racist messages sent to black freshmen. In Syracuse, New York, four pick-up trucks, including one with a Confederate flag – a symbol of slavery and oppression to some, a symbol of Southern pride to others – drove past an anti-Trump protest. In Durham, North Carolina, vandals wrote: “Black lives don’t matter and neither does your votes.” The incidents go on and on.

“After 18 months of a bruising campaign during which Donald Trump blew a dog whistle to ideologies on the radical right, the waters of racial resentment run very deep and the election has given people the green light to voice their opinions or act out,” said Ryan Lenz, editor of of the Southern Law Poverty Centre’s Hatewatch blog.

Palpable shift

“It is a nightmarish and troubling reminder that decades after the civil rights movement these ideas exist in our culture. This is not just rhetoric; this is a palpable shift in the landscape of American race relations.”

Trump addressed the intimidation of minorities directly in his CBS 60 Minutes interview last Sunday, imploring people to “stop it”. Yet the next day he appointed Steve Bannon – former executive chairman of the Breitbart News website that peddles anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT stories – as his chief strategist in the White House.

His appointment brings the “alt-right” (alternative-right) movement – a new term for white supremacy coined for the digital age – from the fringes of the American media into the inner sanctum of the Trump administration.

Trump’s election now means that there is nothing alternative about this shift to the right. He has turned it mainstream and his selection of Alabama senator Jeff Sessions as his attorney general and army lieutenant general Mike Flynn as his national security adviser on Friday confirms that. Sessions, who has pushed a hardline anti-immigrant platform during his two decades in Congress, was rejected for the lifetime position as a federal judge during the Reagan administration in the 1980s for using racially insensitive language, while Flynn has called Islam a “political ideology based on a religion” and even a “cancer”, and said that fearing Muslims is “rational”.

Now they will have the ear of the 45th American president on matters of criminal justice and national security, taking seats at the highest table of power in the US government.

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