By Adam Cohen
He didn’t pull the trigger. He won’t be held criminally liable. And he can’t be sued.
But make no mistake, Donald Trump bears responsibility for the act of white supremacist terrorism that recently took the lives of 50 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand.
I’m not saying it was only him. There have been plenty of other aggressors over the years who are equally to blame. But the supposed leader of the free world has been making untrue, nasty mischaracterizations about Muslims and Hispanic people for years now, and words spoken from the bully pulpit of the US presidential podium carry unique, immense weight across the entire globe. If the person at that podium has made statements like “I think Islam hates us. There’s something there that-there’s a tremendous hatred there. We have to get to the bottom of it. There’s an unbelievable hatred of us,” you must realize that his feelings about Muslims go well beyond bigotry or xenophobia and proceed straight to racism.
Now, if racist statements are made by you and me, that’s bad enough. When they’re made by people with notoriety it’s certainly worse, because it reaches a wider audience. When they are made by the president of the united states, whose every utterance is chronicled by hundreds of news reporters as a Statement of Official United States Policy, it cannot come as a shock if some maniac with an automatic weapon hears that cry, concludes “the president says these people are awful; I’ve got to do something about it”, then grabs his gun and murders as many Muslims as he can.
So while Trump’s Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney goes on television to tell us that it’s ludicrous to conclude Trump bears culpability for this monstrosity, and many news analysts agree, I scream NO! Trump IS to blame! Part of a president’s role is to represent ALL Americans, fight for freedom of ALL religions, not just the ones he likes, and to CONDEMN ALL FORMS OF HATRED! And if you cannot meet that absolute bare minimum of a threshold, at least stay silent rather than emit signals that put people’s lives in jeopardy!
Apparently, this is too much to ask.
In fact, not only is it unsurprising that an assassin would be inspired by Trump’s words to commit mass murder, at this point it must almost be expected. Trump rails against George Soros, CNN, the Clintons and Obama; in response, one of his supporters commits terrorism by sending multiple bombs to all of them. Trump blames Soros, a Jewish philanthropist, for funding migrant caravans heading towards our border, repeating an age old conspiracy theory about Jews trying to take over the world; in response, a terrorist conservative descends upon a synagogue and kills 11 Jews. Trump repeatedly calls Islam evil; can we not now say that it is predictable that a Trump supporter would commit terrorist acts against Muslims?
Racist speech is hate speech; hate speech begets hate crimes, and hate crimes are basically terrorism. The bigger the megaphone of the user, the more powerful his position, and the more vile the racist language spoken, the greater the likelihood that someone will die.
Also unsurprising is the silence of most Republican politicians in light of the president’s outright racism. Either they have given up trying to chastise him, or given in to him as the moral trendsetter for their party. And considering the members of the GOP who have supported white supremacy or racism in the past – a partial list includes prominent Republicans Steve King, Steve Scalise, Paul Gosar and Matt Gaetz – you can make your own determination as to which choice they made.
Ah, but Mr. Mulvaney would have us ignore the president’s words. “Look at what we’ve done while we’ve been here”, he urges.
All right, let’s humor Mulvaney for a moment. Prior to receiving the nomination, Trump famously “call[ed] for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States….” Was this just some particularly nasty campaign rhetoric? Nope. In January of 2017, less than 2 weeks after Trump took office, he acted on this unfounded smear of Islam by enacting his first—his FIRST—Muslim ban. When this was met with both fierce resistance all across the globe and harsh rebukes in federal court, he amended it, twice, and ultimately got the Supreme Court to approve it (after his conservative Supreme Court Justice appointee Neil Gorsuch was approved to sit upon the high court and voted for it). Trump coupled this by bringing Steve Bannon, who ran the notoriously anti-Islam Breitbart website into his administration, along with Muslim hawk cronies Sebastian Gorka and Steven Miller. Though the former two are no longer at the White House, Miller, architect of the Muslim ban executive orders, is still there. Trump also cut programs responsible for investigating violent white supremacy terrorist groups at a time when data from federal agencies indicate they have killed many more Americans than any other “extremist movement”. Far more, it should be noted, than those supposedly wretched, evil Muslims. At the same time, hate crimes against Muslims have skyrocketed over the past two years. Maybe we should just ask: do Muslim lives matter to Trump?
Perhaps we should take some comfort in the realization that Trump’s proposed Muslim registry has not been enacted. Yet. That we know of. But just imagine a Christian registry. Or a JEWISH one (where have I heard THAT frightening idea before)?
When asked this weekend about the danger of white supremacist terrorists, Trump demurred, saying he didn’t think it was much of an issue, despite the mounting evidence, not to mention dead bodies, which clearly shows that it is a tremendous problem. But he also, while directly responding to a question about the shootings in New Zealand, echoed the murderer’s refrain that there is an “invasion” of outsiders seeking to take over white countries. Trump ignorantly, incorrectly, and unironically proclaimed, not for the first time, that there was an “invasion of drugs and criminals” occurring at the US southern border. Just to prove that his racism is not limited to Muslims, I suppose. After all, in Trumpland, Mexicans emigrating to the United States are “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Oh, wait, it’s not all bad: “And some, I assume, are good people.”
Then he tweeted—three times—in support of Fox television host Jeanine Pirro, who was recently taken off the air after making blatantly racist anti-Islam comments about Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. Trump claimed that the left was looking to “silence” Pirro. I will go on record right now, as a member of the “left”, and state that I am thrilled when anybody who profits from spreading xenophobia and intolerance is removed from their platform; it might just save somebody’s life. They can still use their First Amendment rights. Let them spew their brainless mutterings at the town bar. Trump also retweeted a conspiracy theory about Omar and other conspiracy theorists as well.
Racist speech is hate speech; hate speech begets hate crimes, and hate crimes are basically terrorism.
So when racist statements are married to racist personnel appointments, racist policies and continued racist actions, the conclusion is inescapable; the winks and nods to white supremacists have the imprimatur of the president of the United States. While he sends out people like Mulvaney to say otherwise, he doesn’t even try to hide it. Not anymore.
Mr. Mulvaney, the evidence is overwhelming: Donald Trump is a racist who hates Muslims.
Interestingly, most Americans don’t. A recent poll indicates that 60% of most Americans believe that Muslim Americans are just as patriotic as other US citizens. Now, the opinion of American citizens about a group of other American citizens should be wholly irrelevant. We are all supposed to be equal under the eyes of the law, and the Constitution endows us all with the same unalienable rights. A red-blooded American Christian is no different from a red-blooded American Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, atheist or any other citizen. But the results of that survey are mildly encouraging, in light of the increase of hate crimes occurring against Muslims. And while there is clearly much work to be done to counter the unjustified fear and ignorance some people have about Islam, at least this is a place to start.
For now, our country has a moral decision to make. We can either accept Muslims as Americans, unequivocally and without hesitation, or we can watch groups of US citizens being continually pitted against one another. We can embrace our Islamic neighbors or we can live with unadulterated bigotry because we are too afraid to extend our hands in friendship. We can start to celebrate our differences and understand how immigrants from all corners of the world have made America the magnificent nation it has become, or we can watch our communities become ravaged by terrorists who spread hatred through either their language or their bullets. Finally, we can vote for a party led by a racist, whose views apparently speak for his entire party, unchallenged, or we can vote for a party that has actually embraced Muslims, Hispanics, African-Americans, Jews, Christians, white people, the LGBTQ community-any person willing to make this country better-and given them a voice in Congress.
I make my choice this way: to my Muslim friends, As-salamu alaykum. I am with you. I have always been with you. I will be with you, always. I have celebrated with you, shared with you, prayed with you, and now I mourn with you.
And, as I did while at JFK during the Muslim ban, and have done since, I will continue to fight for your rights, your equality, and your value as vital contributors to our culture, because we cannot progress without you. So of course, I will vote for your rights; they are also my rights, and the rights of EVERY American, as we live and die together, in solidarity.
If you would like to combat the threat of white supremacist terrorism or support refugees at the southern border, please donate to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU or Lawyers for Good Government.