How the poisonous nature of Donald Trump’s candidacy has trickled down to our schools and warped the minds of a younger generation is the subject of this column, “Donald Trump Is Making America Meaner” by The New York Times’ columnist Nicholas Kristof. Kristof highlights how someone given a national platform can alter the nation’s fabric for the worse simply by setting an example of bigotry and intolerance.
He begins by citing the example of Forest Grove, a town outside Portland, Oregon near where Kristof grew up. Formerly a “charming, friendly and welcoming community,” the town Kristof fondly remembers has now been riven by Trump-inspired hatred and outspoken malice towards Latino and Hispanic schoolchildren, espoused by those who now fancy themselves as newly “liberated” by Trump’s rhetoric from the constraints of so-called “political correctness:”
All across America, in little towns like this one, Donald Trump is mainstreaming hate.
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[I]n the middle of a physics class at the high school one day this spring, a group of white students suddenly began jeering at their Latino classmates and chanting: “Build a wall! Build a wall!”
The same group of students had earlier screamed “Trump, Trump, Trump!” at students of Latino and Hispanic heritage. One unfurled a banner in the school which said “Build a Wall,” prompting a walkout of Latino students.
“They say, ‘We’re going to deport your ass,’” said Melina McGlothen, 17, whose mother is Mexican. “I don’t want to say I hate them, but I hate their stupidity.”
Ana Sally Gonzalez, 17, said a school club had put up posters criticizing racism, and they were then marred by graffiti such as “Go back where you came from” and “Trump 2016.”
Put yourself in the place of these kids for just a moment. Imagine what it must be like to have to experience the outpouring of threats and abuse for some imagined offense that boils down to the color of your skin, all ginned up and stoked by a heedless politician looking for votes. Then imagine having to go back to that school every day and face those same kids, or having to walk by Trump signs in their parents’ yards.
This is just one little town of many across the country whose schools have felt the jarring impact of unfettered bigotry, brazenly displayed by near-children who are doubtlessly influenced by their own parents’ smoldering hate and resentments. Kristof cites to a report issued in April by the Southern Poverty Law Center titled “The Trump Effect” (previously Diaried here), chronicling the corrosive effects of Trump’s racially-tinged rhetoric on our nation’s schools, and a study conducted in May by Georgetown University finding a similar pattern of anti-Muslim violence arising almost exactly in tandem with Trump’s ramping up anti-Muslim rhetoric in his campaign:
The Trump-inspired malice seems ubiquitous. A Georgetown University study found a surge of anti-Muslim violence, from murders to attacks on mosques, coinciding with Trump’s hostility toward Muslims. In March, a man attacked Muslim and Latino students in Kansas, shouting “brown trash” and “Trump will take our country from you guys.”
Kristof also cites the outpouring of Anti-Semitism he and other writers have had to endure after authoring pieces critical of Trump (Kristof himself is not Jewish, but that didn’t stop Trump supporters from assuming that he was, suggesting that he be “sent to the ovens” for writing what they perceived as a “typical Jewish hit piece.”)
The devastating impact of Trump-inspired racism on young people caught in the crossfire of Trump’s cynical manipulation of Americans’ worst impulses is a subject largely ignored by a media focused on “outrageous” soundbites and the winners and losers of the “latest news cycle.” But Kristof points out that Trump’s pollution of our national discourse is not going to end with his (increasingly likely) defeat in November. The damage is likely to be a chronic, damaging coarseness of our culture, one whose harm can’t be quantified by any survey or poll.
But in November, after the ballots have been counted and the crowds have gone home, we will still have a country to share, and I fear it may be a harsher and more fragile society because of Trump’s campaigning today.
This will be Trump’s most enduring and disgraceful legacy.