Since the U.S. election, some Americans have continually attacked others with vicious slurs, threats, and even physical assaults, many of them inspired by President-elect Donald Trump. He must denounce them immediately in the strongest and clearest terms. In response to a question during a television interview aired Sunday, he said “Stop it,” but they didn’t. It was not enough.
Trump has both the capacity and the duty to diminish the attacks, with more emphatic words, since many of the aggressors have been acting in his name, literally, by using it in their attacks. They seem to see the combination of the election and Trump’s rhetoric as a green light to harass and terrify people. In other words, Trump’s speech during the toxic presidential campaign was evidently dangerous, whether or not he intended that.
On Wednesday vandals painted a stall door in a Minnesota high school bathroom with “#GobacktoAfrica Make America Great Again,” “Whites only,” “White America,” – and “Trump.” On the same day in Philadelphia, “Trump” with a swastika replacing the T and “Sieg Heil 2016” were painted on an abandoned storefront. One woman reported being told by a man, mistakenly presuming she was of Mexican descent, “I can’t wait until Trump asks us to rape you people and send you back over the biggest damn wall we’re going to build.” A same-sex couple in North Carolina found a note on their car reading in part “Can’t wait until your marriage is overturned by a real president. Gay families = burn in hell! #trump2016.” On Friday, African-American freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania were unwittingly made part of an online group, in which they received photographs of black people being lynched, and mock invitations to future lynchings. One of the people sending those messages used the name “Daddy Trump.”
Other cases did not include Trump’s name, but were evidently inspired by his electoral campaign. Police in Ann Arbor, Michigan are searching for a man who witnesses said threatened to set Muslim woman on fire if she didn’t remove her hijab. On Wednesday, a wall at the side of a road in North Carolina was defaced with the message, in large white letters, “Black lives don’t matter and neither does your votes” (sic). A building at a baseball field in Wellsville, New York was spray painted on the night of the election with a swastika and the phrase “Make America White Again” – a variant of Trump’s campaign slogan.
In his victory speech, Trump did call for unity and healing. After a year and a half of his bitter and divisive rhetoric, however, one conciliatory speech and “stop it” are not nearly enough. If he truly wishes to bring Americans together, he must repeat that wish and work for it, by forbidding acts of violence and harassment in his name and clearly express disgust and moral outrage at hateful attacks of all kinds. Indeed on Thursday, Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway called on President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to decry violence by anti-Trump protesters in Oregon. No violent behavior in response to the election should be tolerated, of course, but the attacks by Trump supporters are much more frightening, numerous, and hateful.
If Trump fails to speak out very clearly, that will be seen by perpetrators, victims, and the rest of us as a tacit endorsement of violence.