Like Plato, who called on Athens to stand by its enemies, Donald Trump asked his audiences Tuesday night to stand by Americans “who have committed tremendous acts of violence and destruction in our nation.”
Most of the violence Trump’s sympathizers inflict on Muslims and immigrants happened after he was elected. Polls show that a majority of Americans oppose that violence. And I would not endorse violence for any reason, never mind defending it.
I have to tell you that during the 2000 presidential campaign, many Americans blamed me for the hate crimes that plagued New York City. Thanks to my coverage of the events surrounding the World Trade Center attacks and the ensuing debates between me and George W. Bush, my reporting was cited as the reason why all kinds of murderous white men wrongly blamed me for their grudges against other groups.
I don’t want such an impression to be created again.
The same can be said for the millions of Americans I cheered for four years ago. From Boston to Louisville, from Miami to New Orleans, from Vancouver to Berlin, America’s social fabric has been bloody ripped apart by racism and Islamophobia.
Our political life is being marked by all kinds of disdain, from hostile slurs for Democratic senators to anti-Hispanic intimidation. Last year, I described the tremendous fears, anger and division in the nation.
Trump’s remarks about Americans who are violent or accused of violence should be called out. They should be left there, so that people hear and learn the truth about our culture and our society.
Trump is just like Plato in comparing the popular to the oppressed, who gave most of us the right to speak. But the poor and oppressed can’t speak because they are oppressed. What Trump is really telling his political fans is that the rich are privileged. How else can they stand back and cheer for those who oppose them? The truth is, these people are guilty of a crime — never has a ruler been so passionately (and wrongly) devoted to rooting out evil within.
“So I must urge these radical actors: Step forward, step forward,” he implored. “And as you step forward, will you shed your blood as you climb into the ranks of the American people?”
From 1920 to 1979, America was essentially enslaved. Bush Sr. said during one of the debates in 1992 that it was “days before freedom arrived in our land.” This characterization of the United States as a land of brutal poverty and forced servitude was right then and false now.
I have long said that if America is to go to grips with its political paralysis, it must root out Americans who attack others as immoral or mentally ill, and those who romanticize murder and domestic terrorism. Those who live in a glass world will never be able to see the forest. But that is precisely what neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other radicals do.
I have to say, in my post-2004 column, that I overstated the problem. I wrote of Klansmen, skinheads and Nazis who once kept open their magazines and used their phone numbers to wish people dead. I meant to say that these violent, virulent white people ran magazines that offered their views on racial purity and profited from page views on them. I made it seem as if those racists could be found in big cities.
My point was that racists’ views could now be shared by a much wider audience. And yes, there are other kinds of terrorists and hate mongers in America, a fact I’ve held to throughout my years reporting from abroad. If I seem to give voice to a handful of vicious white racists, that’s because many of them are quite loud, and it’s easy to miss them in an average news report.
I will never cease in fighting the barbarism of those who show violence or hatred or simple disdain for an American. This is why I thought it would be wrong to join with Donald Trump for his convention speech in Cleveland last summer.
It was calculated to excite his white supporters. His speech was in the worst tradition of American populism, an appeal to the raw emotions of resentment, emotion and propaganda. Some of those who cheered him are doing so today. It must be stopped.