By Rosetta Miller Perry
During Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign there were multiple incidents of hate groups openly embracing his campaign, with everyone from Klan representatives to members of Neo Nazi organizations publicly supporting him. Trump periodically tried to distance himself from them with timid, lukewarm comments, but it was obvious he never fully separated himself from these groups. Then, after only a few days in office, he appointed as a close adviser Stephen Bannon, someone with a long history of racist and anti semitic rhetoric as an executive at the vile publication/website Breitbart.
Now, with Trump only in office a few weeks, the nation is seeing what happens when hatemongers feel empowered by those in office. On Monday there were 11 Jewish community centers across the country that received individual bomb threats. This comes on top of the 69 co-ordinated threats that have already occurred against Jewish centers in over 27 states, as well as one Canadian province. ALL this has happened since early January, dovetailing with the inauguration and formal ascension to the Presidency of Donald Trump.
These calls have been uniform in that each time a disguised voice claims that “a large number of Jews are going to be slaughtered by some explosive device.” Fortunately, thus far, no bombs have been discovered, and in each situation the centers have been safely evacuated. But now there are reports that some parents are pulling their children out of local Jewish centers out of fear, and others are no longer utilizing their services.
In addition, St. Louis police Monday reported vandals had damaged dozens of headstones at a Jewish cemetery in the University City neighborhood over the weekend. Nearly 170 graves were defaced, something that officials called a “horrific act of cowardice,” and the worse they had seen in the cemetery’s 125-year history.
For those who wonder why the Tribune would cite something happening to Jewish community centers, the stench of hate and bigotry affects us all. Does anyone truly think that people who would do this to graves and community centers wouldn’t also extend that treatment to Black churches and cemeteries?
The Southern Poverty Law Center reported last year a dangerous surge in activity among white supremacist hate groups, one that was directly sparked by a lot of the rhetoric emanating from the Trump campaign. The fact that Trump has gotten cozy with publications like Breitbart, and has folks like Bannon actually shaping policy is a prime reason why these racists and bigots feel there’s nothing wrong with making bomb threats and defacing graves.
The situation has gotten so bad even Trump now feels obligated to say something about it. He made his first visit Tuesday to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where he made promises to combat the spate of anti-semitic incidents, and the general surge in bigotry that has been triggered by some of his supporters,
“Today and every day of my presidency I pledge to do everything I can to continue that promise of freedom for African-Americans and for every American,” Trump said, calling his tour “a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry and hatred and intolerance.”
“We’re going to bring this country together. We have a divided country that’s been divided for many, many years, but we’re going to bring it together.” He also called the attacks against the Jewish community centers “horrible and painful and a very sad reminder of the work that must still be one to root out hate and prejudice.”
If the President is serious about this, the Tribune commends him for at least acknowledging the problem. But if he truly plans to attack it, there are some immediate things he can do. First, while it is understandable he wants to surround himself with supporters, if he’s going to address this nation’s racial problems and polarization issues, he needs to be willing to meet with those who didn’t back him in the last election.
At the African American museum, conspicuously absent were any representatives from either the NAACP or Urban League. Only South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott was present among Black elected officials. Whether Omarosa, Scott and Ben Carson want to admit it or not, they can’t speak for all Blacks, and they don’t even represent a majority or plurality within Black communities nationwide.
Secondly, when he has these “listening sessions” that reportedly are aimed at hearing and assessing strategies to benefit the Black community, once more the invitation list must be larger than just those who backed him. The Tribune isn’t sure exactly how he defines the term “Black leaders,” but we’re pretty sure that there need to be a lot more people actually elected to their positions by Black voters as opposed to folks who hopped on board a situation to boost their personal profiles.
Third, the President needs to sever ties with all reactionary organizations and individuals, starting with Bannon and anyone else connected to Breitbart. For all his railing about “fake news,” no publication puts out more inaccurate, slanted and distorted material under the guise of news than Breitbart. They are the least credible “news” organization in the country, no matter where on the political spectrum one might be. Their “articles” are little more than right-wing propaganda, and one of their main editorial leaders has just been caught on video endorsing and supporting pedophilia, hardly the type of thing that a President should have any links, ties or association.
Fourth and finally, if the President really wants to see these threats and vandalism stop, as well as the general toxic climate of hate and racist rhetoric ended, his policies, actions and attitudes must do more than just give lip service to inclusion and empowerment. They must be some action. Thus far, he’s been mostly interested in things like immigration bans and eliminating NPR and the National Endowment for the Arts. Where’s the focus on infrastructure reform, job expansion, increased economic opportunity for everyone, and numerous other things that affect far more people than trying to limit access to America from nations with Muslim-majority populations?
These are tough, often ugly times, and the President can either be a positive or negative factor in dealing with them. So far, other than occasional rhetoric, he’s done little to convince the bigots he doesn’t implicitly support their actions. Nor has he shown he won’t tolerate their behavior.