Had Jewish community centers and Jewish cemeteries been vandalized when I was a kid, I wouldn’t have been surprised. The neighborhood I grew up in was infiltrated by anti-Semitism creep. Though largely unseen, it needed to be experienced in order to be recognized.
I grew up near Yankee Stadium and often passed a Catholic high school during mid-afternoon. On more than a few occasions, I heard the taunt of “Christ killer”—and threats to do me harm—from guys in their blue blazers hanging around outside. I guess it was my schnoz and Semitic good looks that gave me away.
I lived in a mixed neighborhood, inhabited by a good number of Polish and German male immigrants who worked mostly at menial jobs. They had no love for Jews and their sons expressed it—in school and on the playground. I had to be careful about which blocks I walked on and be ready to defend myself. I guess I also wore my attitude on my sleeve: I cared little for them, as well.
Years later, a punch in the face in the middle of the night startled me awake.
“Hitler should have killed you all!” some southern dude with an upturned nose screamed at me, throwing fists wildly and reeking of cheap beer.
That was during advanced infantry training, overseas. A few days later, a staff sergeant demanded I meet him behind a string of tents so he could kick my ass after I told him to stop picking on a guy that he said “acted too much like a f....g Jew.”
But that was more than 50 years ago, and not only had I changed, but I felt the country had matured as well. Many social progressives, myself included, hoped that when Barack Obama became president it had signaled the end of racism and overt bigotry. Instead, we’ve seen a dramatic upsurge toward the poor, people of color, non-Christians, and those who march peacefully to the sound of a different drummer.
Yes, anti-Semitism is on the rise, as is hate of all kinds. It was evident during the presidential campaign and even more so now that Trump has assumed office. The instigators of this anger and aggression are mostly Trump devotees—people emboldened by his bitter, contemptuous campaign; individuals who hide behind false names and false news.
Trump’s candidacy and subsequent election brought prejudice and bigotry out of the shadows. In the last two months alone, 63 different bomb threats have been phoned into various Jewish community centers and synagogues and four different Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized. We’ve seen two mosques burned to the ground, one torched just hours after the Trump administration announced executive orders that comprised the so-called “Muslim ban.” And a radical anti-government group plotted (unsuccessfully) to kill hundreds by blowing up a large apartment complex housing Somali immigrants in Garden City, Kan.
News outlets and social media have reported numerous incidents of swastikas painted on walls at schools and places of worship, racist taunts, hate-fueled attacks on people with differences, and acts of gross intimidation toward the defenseless. In addition to bias attacks across a wide swath of America, hundreds of menacing phone calls and threats of bodily harm have been directed at reporters and news organizations. According to substantiated reports by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), groups of angry, aggrieved, economically struggling men—predominately white—feel freer than they have in decades to lash out at anyone who is unlike them.
The message of hate that was at the core of Trump’s candidacy, and dominates White House policy today, is lionized by many in Trump’s inner circle. It is causing real harm and alarm. One recent SPLC study makes known that out of 10,000 K-12 educators polled nationwide, 90 percent believe the election has created a negative climate in their schools and 80 percent of non-white students report that Trump’s election has raised serious fears in their lives. No particular locality is immune, though the politics of hate is especially on the rise in areas where economic hardship is confronting rapid social change.
Trump’s rhetoric, as well as that of his most ardent followers, implies that Caucasian Americans are the most deserving and must remain homogeneous and in control of this country. The “parasitic underclasses”—Muslims, immigrants, black people, brown people, LGBT people, Jews, and so on—must not be allowed to take unfair advantage of our “democracy” and take away our country.
Sadly, it can be predicted that white supremacists will keep lashing out, especially as the numbers of whites continues to shrink nationwide in an ever-more diverse population. Under Trump, the United States has entered a dark era.