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Trump must follow Obama’s example on race
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Trump must follow Obama’s example on race

In the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, a Muslim woman wearing the traditional hijab head covering is accosted by a man who accuses the woman, an off-duty police officer, of having connections to Islamic terrorists. “Go back to your own country,” the man shouts.

In Boston, two brothers who beat a homeless Hispanic man tell police that, “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported.”

In the month since Donald Trump’s election as president, attacks on many minority religious and ethnic groups have dramatically risen, and the ascendancy of the Republican candidate, who campaigned on a platform of open hostility toward Muslims and Mexicans, is seen in minority communities as fueling this increase in apparent hate crimes. Trump’s appointment of Stephen Bannon, formerly executive chairman of the right-wing Breitbart News Service website, as the president-elect’s senior counselor, has only increased concern in minority communities.

According to statistics compiled by the FBI, the New York City Police Department, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, the incidence of bias crimes, against people and property, is up across the country since Trump’s election. Common targets are Hispanics, Arabs, Muslims, African-Americans, members of the LGBT community, and Jews.

In the tri-state area, home of the country’s largest Jewish community, Jews have become especially vulnerable. The New York Police Department reported this week a 115 percent increase in hate crimes in the last month, the majority of them, 24 of 43 incidents, against Jews.

While Trump has mildly condemned this post-election outbreak of intolerance (“I think it would be a shame,” he said, according to The Boston Herald), his electoral victory is seen as strengthening prejudice among some of his rabid supporters.

While no one accuses Trump of harboring anti-Semitic feelings — he has an Orthodox Jewish daughter and son-in-law, and has spoken forcefully in favor of Israel’s interests, his supporters point out — his strident tone during the campaign, singling out Mexican immigrants and Muslims, has created an unhealthy atmosphere.

A hopeful byproduct of this current wave of intolerance is an increase of interfaith activities by such organizations as the New Jersey-based Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, New York’s Jewish Community Relations Council, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, and the newly formed Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, founded by the American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America (For more, see “Jewish-Muslim relations in age of Trump”). These initiatives stress cooperation between Jews and Muslims.

In a 60 Minutes interview just after the election, Trump called on people to “stop” hurtful actions committed in his name or in his cause. But as a powerful speaker, soon to be become the most powerful political leader in the world, he can do more. 

Barack Obama, early in his presidency, faced a similar crisis of conscience. His pastor from Chicago, Jeremiah Wright, drew heavy criticism for a series of intemperate statements about what he called the racist nature of U.S. society.

Obama first tried to dissociate himself from Wright’s incendiary remarks without cutting ties to his old friend, then, in a speech in Philadelphia, finally condemned Wright and resigned from Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ. Obama said he was “outraged” and “saddened” by Wright’s behavior. “Words that degrade individuals have no place in our public dialogue, whether it’s on the campaign stump or in the pulpit,” he told Charles Gibson of ABC News.

Strong words. Necessary words. The type of words that Trump needs to say about the people who act hatefully and illegally in his name.

Trump can speak in strong, unambiguous terms. He can stop praising the “passion” of his followers. He can give a speech clearly denouncing the direction in which the country seems to be headed in the month before his inauguration.

Trump has shown that he has a strong voice. Now it’s time for him to raise it. 

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