My daughter is in line at a local gas station buying a pack of gummy worms when a guy walks in wearing a “Make American Great Again” hat. The door hasn’t even closed behind him before he lifts both arms in the air and proclaims, loudly enough so that everyone in the store stops what they are doing to look at him, “Hallelujah! It is a great day in America! Donald Trump is president and he is going to make this country great again.” He looks around to see if any snowflakes want to disagree, but all he gets is a half-hearted “yep” from a guy inspecting the rotisserie hot dogs.
Two men in Portland, Oregon, are minding their own business, going about their day, when they encounter a man verbally abusing two women who appeared to be Muslim (one was wearing a hajib). When they and a third man attempted to intervene and calm the man down, he stabbed all three of them, killing two and badly injuring the third.
Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that these three examples are all representative of the typical Trump supporter. I sincerely believe that there are many people who voted for Trump who are now either regretting their vote, second-guessing it, or holding on to a sliver of hope that he will “get the hang” of this presidency thing, and might yet deliver on many, if not all, of his campaign promises.
What I am suggesting is that these incidents — as varied and randomly chosen as they may seem and in some sense are — cannot simply be dismissed as anecdotal. They represent expressions of confrontational hatred, an anger that was inflamed rather than quenched by the election of Donald Trump.
This is exactly what Trump — and the Republican Party — must answer for: exploiting people’s fears, anxieties, and frustrations by convincing them that the real enemy is not a complex network of factors, including globalization, automation, and a ruling class that battles viciously to keep profits up and wages down, but a whole litany of people who don’t look like them — the blacks, the Hispanics, the Muslims, and so on.
The result of nearly 40 years of supply side (or trickle down) economics is that the rich have gotten incomprehensibly richer, and the poor have gotten poorer and more desperate. Tax cuts for the wealthy do not trickle down, it turns out. The money simply accumulates at the top, while the middle class continues to shrink and the have-nots are left to fight it out in a hopeless — and false — battle that has been framed for them by haves. If you are struggling, they want you to believe that your problems are the fault of various minorities. Or the government.
They use the word “entitlements” as a rallying cry, but it is really a parlor trick. You see, government funds used for school lunches or food stamps, that’s an entitlement. But, cutting $800 million from Medicaid, as Trump has proposed — that would in part fund more huge tax cuts for the wealthy — well that’s just good business. Any type of help for poor folks, including children and the elderly, is bad, but corporate welfare that further enriches CEOs and the biggest shareholders is good. Good for the economy, and good for America. Never you mind that this amounts to a boon for the wealthy, while being practically worthless for the average worker. The economy may or may not be “stimulated,” but the working class most definitely does not come along for the ride in either case.
In those alt-right echo chambers, you will hear talk of the liberal plan to “redistribute the wealth,” when 10 minutes of objective research outside the alt-right dismal swamp would reveal that in fact the wealth has already been redistributed, from the bottom and the middle to the top. In the 1970s, the top 1 percent of America’s wealthy took home about 10 percent of all income. Today, that percentage has doubled to 20 percent. In the meantime, half of the American population — the bottom half — took home only 20 percent of all income in the 1970s, but that number is now down to a depressing 12 percent.
Take a minute and let that sink in, and then consider this: the top 1 percent of the population earns 81 times more than the bottom 50 percent. These are staggering numbers, so why aren’t we talking more about them?
Needless to say, there is good reason for the fear, anxiety, and frustration in America. There is even a good reason for the anger, but that anger is tragically misdirected. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there have been 1,064 reported incidents of hate-provoked attacks and “acts of intimidation” since the election of President Trump. Of those, 13 have since been debunked and another 26 were directed at Trump supporters, which leaves well over a thousand reports of hate-fueled acts perpetrated on others. Then think back on Trump’s campaign rallies, when he incited violence on several different, well-documented occasions.
Of course, these examples cited and tracked by the SPLC do not include the more casual, but nonetheless toxic, examples that infect every nook and cranny of our national discourse. How strange it is to view self-proclaimed Christians attacking another faith and spewing hatred in the ugliest possible terms, and then invoking Jesus in the next sentence.
It took Donald Trump three days to comment on the Portland attack — by tweet, of course — in a statement almost astonishing in its blandness: “The violent attacks in Portland were unacceptable. The victims were standing up to hate and intolerance. Our prayers are with them.”
My prayer is that our President will also stand up to hate and intolerance, rather than fomenting it. And that all Americans will ultimately reject all of this hatred, choosing instead to fight for justice and put a stop to this cruel and inexcusable war on the poor.
Before America can be made great again, it must first be made just and compassionate.