Attacks on minorities, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim rants, and open intimidation have risen. Is this a sign of things to come in a Trump-led US?
Washington: “This land is (not) your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York island,” is the message of the last six days, ever since Donald Trump was elected president by a divided country. His supporters are emboldened and increasingly acting out their secret dreams.
The spirit of Woody Guthrie’s famous song lies crushed by forces that Trump actively unleashed during his campaign. Attacks on minorities, racist graffiti, messages threatening lynching, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim rants, and open intimidation are on the rise, scaring immigrant children in schools, foreign students on university campuses and ordinary people of colour across the US.
High school students have walked down school lunchrooms shouting “white power” and “build the wall” in the faces of Hispanic students. In Minnesota, black students found “Go back to Africa” written on a toilet paper dispenser at school. A man in Michigan threatened to set a Muslim woman on fire unless she removed her hijab.
A church in the suburbs of the US capital had a sign advertising Spanish-language services ripped and replaced with “Trump Nation, Whites Only”. That it was in Montgomery County in Maryland known for its high achievers and high-income levels shocked the pastor.
Black students at the University of Pennsylvania found themselves in a group message from “Daddy Trump” that threatened violence with old photos of lynchings to make the point. The message apparently came from Oklahoma.
College and school authorities are taking unprecedented steps to punish the perpetrators. Administrators are writing pre-emptive letters to students on campuses that are still untouched.
More than 250 racist incidents have been recorded since election day by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the largest tracker of such crimes in the country. “The white supremacists out there are celebrating his victory and many are feeling their oats,” Richard Cohen, president of the organisation, told USA Today.
Yet equally, many white students are rallying around to protect minority students following the basic credo: If you are silent in times of oppression, you are on the side of the oppressor. “White silence is white violence,” is how one student described the “zeitgeist of the times.”
Hundreds of people showed up to escort Natasha Nikhama from class to class at Baylor University in Texas after she was abused with the “n-word”. “IWalkWithNatasha” became a popular hashtag on Twitter.
But the aftermath of Trump’s victory should hardly surprise anyone. The ugliness was baked into the election campaign. The candidate himself pandered to the worst instincts of his supporters, inciting them to violence against protesters and the media.
Trump rallies were a celebration of white power and no one else was welcome. They wouldn’t tolerate even supporters of another colour – a young Indian American wearing a Trump t-shirt was thrown out. “Make America Great Again” was nothing but code for Make America White Again – a line that is being sprayed with Swastikas on garage doors and bathroom mirrors since the verdict.
Trump the president-elect is trying to be different. After his surprise victory, he said he wanted to be president of “all Americans”. When pressed about reports of attacks, he said he was “so saddened” by the reports.
“If it helps, I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: Stop it.” While this late intervention is important, his wider message still is mixed and playing to the dark side.
In one of his first key appointments, he named Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist and senior counsellor at the White House. Bannon, who ran Trump’s campaign in the last phase, is widely known for his openly racist and misogynist views.
He is connected to the so-called “alt-right” movement led by a group of young extremists propagating white supremacy and conspiracy theories as normal fare. Bannon, in fact, gave the alt-right hate mongers a platform while he was the president of Breitbart News – itself an incendiary website – and expanded the fringe group’s reach.
A few headlines should be enough to give the flavour of what Bannon and his cohorts really feel about issues: “Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism Or Cancer?,” “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy,” “The Solution to Online ‘Harassment’ is Simple: Women Should Log Off,” “Data: Young Muslim Men in the West Are a Ticking Time Bomb, Increasingly Sympathising with Radicals, Terror,” and “Why Equality and Diversity Departments Should Only Hire Rich, Straight White Men.”
One wishes it were extreme satire but the alt-right makes traditional conservatism of Republicans seem mild. For the record, the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party welcomed Bannon going to the White House just as the KKK’s official newspaper had endorsed Trump’s candidacy.
Even the Republicans are outraged by Bannon’s appointment. As the news came on Monday, John Weaver, a Republican strategist, tweeted: “Be very vigilant America”.
But as an establishment Republican told me, “Bannon’s appointment is raw politics. You didn’t really expect Trump to throw him overboard after the election? The question is if Trump is really going to listen to Bannon or just keep him on his mantle piece.”
The fine point is not lost on those who are being attacked and are afraid to go out alone. Trump’s victory and the immediate aftermath have spurred record-breaking donations to the American Civil Liberties Union, a group fighting down in the weeds for the basic rights for citizens.
The question is can anyone put this genie back in the bottle?