The Newly Emboldened American Racist

04/05/2016 11:07 PM AEST | Updated 06/05/2016 1:59 AM AEST
Mike Blake / Reuters
Supporters of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump gather for a campaign rally in Costa Mesa, California April 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake

I live in a political bubble. A lovely, liberal, northeastern bubble. The majority of my friends and family are Clinton supporters, and the rest favor Bernie. One or two Republicans I'm close to voted for Kasich in the primaries. I'm pretty sure there are a few closet Trump supporters in my life -- and on my Facebook friends list -- but as long as they stay in the closet, we're good.

It's what's outside my bubble that keeps me up at night, especially now that Donald Trump has been anointed the presumptive Republican nominee. It's what keeps me writing on and on about this election.

I have to thank Mr. Trump for opening my eyes to the American ugly I didn't want to see. I needed a wake up call. I'm not closed off in some strange, futuristic liberal world. I live in a diverse community with a mix of political and social viewpoints, and I consistently read newspapers and websites with differing ideologies. I know my American history and I know what racist people have been saying about President Obama for the last eight years. I've watched the videos of young black men shot by cops. And I've listened to the calls for racial justice on college campuses. I've worked on a college campus where I was the minority, and my students have spoken and written about their experiences. Throughout my life I've heard stories from my Jewish friends about the nasty comments they've endured. So yes, I understand how deeply racism and bigotry run through American culture -- as much as any educated, white, Protestant person can really understand it -- even if I don't hear it in my home or my backyard.

But what I didn't understand until this election, until I started paying closer attention to the voices of ordinary Americans, is how terrifying it is to read what some of them write on public forums, or to hear them say out loud what they really think about other Americans. The racists and bigots of America have always been out there. There have always been hideous trolls on the Internet. But now they are emboldened in a big way by the bellicose Donald Trump. He's opened Pandora's box, and nobody can shut it.

Imagine if you will, for a moment, being Malia Obama this week, thrilled to be going to Harvard, excited about the prospects of a gap year. She's a 17-year-old high school senior, doing what millions of other 17-year-olds -- like my own daughter -- are doing now. They're deciding on schools and making plans for their futures. They have big dreams, and an optimistic outlook. I just hope Malia didn't read the comments following the story about her college plans on Fox's website. It got so bad Fox had to shut down the comments section.

They called her "little monkey," and "little ape." One poster hoped she would get AIDS.

"I wonder if she applied as a muDslime..or a foreign student..or just a Ni@@," wrote another poster. That one got the most likes.

The comments go on and on.

The astonishing thing is that some of the posters used what appeared to be their full names. No shame in being a vile, racist, pig. Not when the possible future leader of the free world doesn't know to disavow the KKK, shouts plans to build walls and keep Muslims out at every rally, calls other candidates nasty names and disparages women. The presumptive nominee for President of the United States eggs on the racists and the bigots. He gives them voice where they had none.

Take the case of Julia Ioffe, a prominent Russian-American writer who published a researched article in GQ Magazine about Melania Trump. It wasn't a particularly flattering profile of Donald's third wife. And that made Trump's supporters very angry, because freedom of the press is not to be tolerated in Trump's America.

Within hours of the article's publication, Ioffe, who is Jewish, received a call from an anonymous caller who played part of a Hitler speech into the phone. Someone posted photos of her head superimposed on a mug shot from Auschwitz. Someone sent her a photo of a cartoon man with a large nose, kneeling down as a bullet blasts through his brain.

The comments go on and on. But Trump has been mute.

Ioffe says her family left Russia 26 years ago to escape anti-Semitism. And she says she's experienced these kinds of attacks before: in Vladimir Putin's Russia.

No wonder Trump and Putin like each other. They are two sides of the same wooden nickel.

Look: I'm going to write this again and again, right up until Election Day. You cannot view this election solely as a choice between two platforms, two parties, or two personalities. This election is about much bigger issues. It's about the way way we look at people, and talk about them, and care for them. It's about the soul of America and its relationships to the world. If you care about that, you cannot vote Trump, or stay home, or vote for a third party spoiler.

How can this man, who has fomented so much anger and hate, represent the United States to the world, and to its own people? How will minorities feel safe in the U.S. if he is president? How can this country stand to be even further divided? The chasm is already too wide.

In his victory speech after Indiana, Trump said, "we're going to love each other, and cherish each other." But the hate will go on and on, if Trump is president, a possibility that moved one giant step closer to reality Tuesday night. And if that happens, none of our bubbles will be able to save us from ourselves.

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