recent desecration of Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia and St.
Louis, nearly 100 bomb threats made against Jewish day schools and
community centers across the nation in just two months this year, and
last week's possibly racially motivated killing of a Kansas man of
Indian descent provide more evidence that America is witnessing a
surge of hate crimes.
Many people are asking why President
Donald Trump is not doing more to address these violent acts.
Although he should be showing leadership and making every effort to
quell this tide, he is not. Trump's first speech to Congress would
provide a perfect opportunity to make a forceful statement against
hate, should he choose to take advantage of it.
one is accusing Trump and his advisers of vandalizing Jewish
gravestones or gunning down immigrants. But that does not mean Trump
bears no responsibility for the ever-increasing toxic environment in
America. The man who inhabits the Oval Office is part of the problem
-- by helping to create an environment of hate, intolerance and
scapegoating, where people live in fear because of their race,
ethnicity, religion, immigrant status or sexual orientation.
Throughout the election season, the
Trump campaign fueled the fires of nativism, xenophobia and bigotry
with promises to build a wall on the US-Mexico border. Donald Trump
the candidate stereotyped Latino immigrants as rapists and murderers,
and vowed to round up undocumented immigrants and create a Muslim
registry reminiscent of Nazi Germany.
his rallies, he whipped the crowds into a frenzy and openly
encouraged acts of violence against protesters. And although he
claimed he had never heard of David Duke -- the former KKK grand
endorsed him -- candidate Trump enjoyed the support of white
nationalists and hate groups who made
on his behalf.
under the new President, white nationalists and their enablers such
Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller are crafting policies out of the
West Wing and writing speeches laced with Islamophobia and evoking
the "America First" theme that was freighted with
anti-Semitism when it surfaced among isolationists in 1940. While
Trump said he is "the
least anti-Semitic person that you've ever seen in your entire life"
and "the least racist person," the refusal of this White
House to mention the Jewish genocide on International Holocaust
Remembrance Day because others died, too -- as if to say "all
lives matter" -- speaks volumes.
many ways, Trump is reminiscent of the segregationist Southern
politicians of the 1950s and 1960s who kept their hands "clean"
on the surface while they enacted humiliating, unjust and oppressive
policies against African-Americans. They vilified and criminalized
black people, railed against civil rights and so-called race mixing,
and stood in front of the schoolhouse door with dramatic effect to
preserve Jim Crow. With a wink and a nod, they tacitly sanctioned the
acts of Klan violence that resulted.
world's greatest bully pulpit can be used to bring people together or
exacerbate tensions and sow the seeds of division. At this moment, it
accomplishes the latter.
the Trump administration wanted to demonstrate a true commitment to
reducing hate crimes, there are concrete steps it could take. First,
Trump should speak out more forcefully and decisively against hate
crimes and insist that this is unacceptable and will not be
tolerated. As the Anne Frank Center asked
in a tweet,
"(I)f you can respond to SNL immediately, why can't you respond
to #antisemitism immediately?"
can take a lesson from Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, who
issued a statement immediately
after the cemetery vandalism: "My heart breaks for the families
who found their loved ones' headstones toppled this morning. We are
doing all we can to find the perpetrators who desecrated this final
resting place, and they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of
the law," Kenney said. "Hate is not permissible in
Philadelphia. I encourage Philadelphians to stand with our Jewish
brothers and sisters and to show them that we are the City of
Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection."
is the type of leadership that quashes such expressions of hate and
sends a clear message that these acts are unacceptable. The White
House must take seriously the threat of white supremacist hate groups
and homegrown domestic terrorism.
one government program that counters violent extremism, Trump wants
solely on radical Islamic extremism and ignore violent white
supremacist groups altogether. Instead he should promise that the
Justice Department will investigate and prosecute all hate crimes.
This would require an attorney general other than Jeff Sessions,
someone who is not hostile toward civil rights and hate crimes
protections for LGBT people, and is not affiliated with
anti-immigrant and Islamophobic extremists.
Trump cannot make this about himself, but rather about a nation that
is in a bad way. It is insufficient to say he has a Jewish daughter
and grandchildren. After all, Thomas Jefferson had black children,
and he enslaved them. Trump must take hate crimes seriously, condemn
them and walk the talk with just and righteous policies that affirm
human dignity. That is impossible when the alt-right movement and
Bannon, the former leader of Breitbart, appear to be running the
This commentary originally appeared on CNN.com