Last Friday, a few blocks from my house, a long-established, family-style Italian restaurant unknowingly hosted a banquet for a large group of white supremacists. It was just a few blocks from the White House where hundreds of them gathered to hear hate speeches and shout “Hail, Trump!” Many arms stretched out in Hitler-style salutes.
Did President-elect Donald Trump immediately deplore the adulation of such a group, which wants to rid America of all citizens it doesn’t like, namely those who are black, Jewish, Hispanic, Muslim, or gay?
No, he did not. Instead, he tweeted that the sold-out Broadway play “Hamilton” is overrated (although he hasn’t seen it) and that the cast should apologize for begging Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who was in the audience for a recent show, to be fair to all Americans. Trump also complained in a tweet that it’s not fair that he has been ridiculed by the late-night comedy show “Saturday Night Live,” which has satirized every president since Gerald Ford.
Finally, at a meeting with The New York Times days later, after being asked directly about the admiring support for him from white supremacist groups, Trump said he disavows them.
In a one-week period after Trump won the Electoral College, despite lagging behind Hillary Clinton in the popular vote by more than 1.7 million votes, hate crimes in the United States rose 31 percent. That is almost one-third! Over that short period, the Southern Poverty Law Center said it had more than 700 complaints of intimidation and violence involving racial hatred.
There are hundreds of cases of Hispanic and Muslim parents saying their children are terrified they or their families will be deported when Trump takes office.
It’s one thing to accept what voters have done — elect Trump to be president. It’s quite another to stand by and say nothing when the number of hate crimes escalates dramatically, with perpetrators implicitly thinking they have been given permission to do this by the incoming president.
(Trump, appearing on CBS’ “60 Minutes” after his election, merely said about acts of hate, “Don’t do it.” For months, he has been much more impassioned about promising to “lock up” Hillary Clinton when he became president, a vow he has now realistically abandoned.)
Instead of decisively squelching the enthusiasm of hate groups, Trump has been meeting with his partners in his $1.5 billion empire in India, asking for an expedited permit for a business he owns in Argentina, suggesting foreign leaders stay in his expensive new hotel in Washington, D.C. (which they are booking to avoid offending him), and asking the British not to put up a wind farm that might diminish the views from his golf course in Scotland.
And he hasn’t even taken office yet.
According to Trump, he is exempt from conflict of interest laws. He thinks he can keep an eye on his business empire and run the country.
We are told daily by his adoring minions that Trump has embarked on the formidable task of bringing the country together. Really? In what ways? By making a proud apologist for bigotry his most senior adviser?
Being skeptical has nothing to do with being a “sore loser” or refusing to face reality. It has to do with defending our country’s values, even though we have often been far from perfect in doing so. (Think slavery. Think internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II.)
Words have consequences. Trump has for years spewed words that were hateful, and they terrified half the country — but not the whole.
The new bromide is that it is time to “normalize” Trump. We are all called upon to forgive and forget and give the new president our support, resting assured that he has all of our interests at heart. But we cannot and must not “normalize” the hate and xenophobia he has espoused. We cannot relax until we are confident he will not do damage to everything that is most meaningful to us.
We must fight back against the frightening rise in hate crimes. We must say something and do something when we are confronted by them.
Remember the words of Irish statesman Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good (people) to do nothing.”