In the wake of Donald J. Trump’s surprise election victory, the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported that they have collected over 701 reports of hateful intimidation, harassment and violence within the United States. The majority of incidents have been anti-immigration related, but there has also been a sizeable minority of anti-black, anti-LGBTI, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents. Disturbingly, there has been a rise in white hate graffiti using the swastika and Ku Klux Klan iconography.
Responding to the rise in hate crimes since his election victory, President-elect Trump asked perpetrators to ‘Stop it’, which followed heavy criticism of his failure to condemn the influx in harassment. Throughout the election, Trump was criticised for running on a campaign of fear in which he was accused of pandering to the worst impulses and anxieties of American voters with a focus on white, non-college educated middle class males. Throughout the campaign, President-elect Trump raised fears about the threat of terrorism and connected it to Muslim immigration, as well as linking Mexican immigration to a rise in crime, drug use and rape. Trump ran on a campaign of racism against African-Americans as he expressed concerns over ‘inner-city’ violence—a charge that many thought was coded as a dog whistle towards African-American populations in areas linked to gang violence.
Throughout his campaign, Trump was endorsed or supported by openly far-right and white nationalist leaders and organisations, such as former Klan leader David Duke, the modern iteration of the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party and many associated with the Alt-Right movement. Since his election victory, many have speculated that Trump will scale back some his more extreme views and pivot to become a traditional Republican president; some have speculated that his campaign was nothing more than a cynical, strategic exercise in pandering the far-right purely for votes.
Regardless of whether Trump is genuine or merely taking advantage of the global trend of white backlash against multiculturalism, his victory enabled, emboldened and legitimised the forces of bigotry, hatred and white nationalism in the United States. His victory has been the force which has sparked this troubling wave of hate crimes across America.
What's most troubling about the recent spike in hate crimes since Trump’s victory is the language, tone and rhetoric being documented in these attacks. Attackers have employed rhetoric and slogans from Trump’s campaign as tactics, propaganda and justification for attacking and harassing Muslim, LGBT, Black and Hispanic citizens. Since Trump's victory, it seems as though the perpetrators' tone has shifted to reflect a validation of their bigotry afforded by the election result.
Trump’s victory has ushered in a tone shift in which the attackers of minority groups believe that this is a new chapter in America where Trump’s ascendancy to the White House legitimises their hateful beliefs as the new political orthodoxy. The voices of hatred and white nationalism no longer feel that they need to hide in the shadows, believing instead that Trump's election has elevated them into the mainstream.
Trump’s recent appointment of Steve Bannon as his White House chief strategist has raised concerns about his normalisation of the far-right. Prior to becoming the Trump campaign's chief executive, Bannon was the executive chairman of Breitbart News, an anti-establishment conservative media outlet known for embracing the Alt-Right movement and support of the Trump campaign. Bannon himself has been accused of holding white nationalist and anti-Semitic views and his appointment has since been celebrated by white nationalist groups as a major victory in having their voices heard in the White House. Bannon’s appointment casts severe doubt over the prospect that Trump will pivot to the centre-right and distance himself from the far-right voices that helped him win the oval office. The appointment of Bannon as a voice of the extreme far-right raises alarm for the Trump administration’s future agenda on the rights of minority groups, LGBT, women and the freedom of the press.
The rise in hate crimes since Trump’s victory speaks not of the man himself, but of the forces he has unleashed. Trump’s victory has ushered in a legitimisation of white nationalism, whether it be the rhetoric of justification by perpetrators of street violence who are pointing to electoral college results or the anti-establishment forces he has employed within his office. Trump’s victory has enabled a seismic shift in which those who hold extreme views have been emboldened to the point where they believe they are the new normal. If President-elect Trump is sincere in his goals to uphold the central pillars of the American experiment - fairness, equality, tolerance and dignity - then he will be quick to commit to joining the opposition and condemnation of these forces of hatred, dogmatism and violence.
Matthew Holding is the United States Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs.