On August 13, in Queens, an Imam and his assistant were assassinated immediately following service. I use the word “assassinated” because they were shot at point-blank range in the head. It was the latest in homegrown American violence, Islamophobia and xenophobia in America. The Huffington Post has a page documenting much of the violent rhetoric and actions taken against the Muslim community since the start of 2016. So far: 233 incidences. That’s just against adults. Kids have it worse.
Many of our schools and communities take bullying seriously. But with the rise of social media and the anonymity that hiding behind a screen can provide, bullying is now epidemic. I was bullied in grammar school, junior high and a bit in high school, but it was old-school bullying. I was usually the new kid in school because my family moved a lot, plus I was a drama kid and goofy and my clothes were mocked because I loved the color green. The bullying I receive luckily didn’t make me suicidal. Luckily as well, I’m white, Catholic and a US citizen.
Unluckily for the nation, the nativist, racist, sexist, xenophobic and bullying presidential campaign of Donald Trump has cranked up to 11 the predisposition among some to bully, to commit physical assault or to commit violent crime. For 14 months we’ve endured Trump’s name-calling, his mocking of the disabled, his misogyny toward women, his slander of an entire country by calling them rapists and criminals, and his belittling of opponents with nasty, childish nicknames: Little Marco, Low Energy Jeb, Crooked Hilary. These are slams unworthy of a 9-year-old with undescended testicles.
At every rally — except now, it seems, when his mouth is being restrained by a Teleprompter — Trump gleefully insults someone, something or some group. His supporters, bright as they come, claim that he “tells it like it is,” that he “isn’t politically correct,” that he “says what I think.” As various news outlets have reported, this is what they think. It’s as if Trump is a pasha in his palace, grinning as his jesters rip some loser apart, limb by limb. Videos like this are shot and go viral, which mainstreams mayhem and murder and young people can see it. Kids learn that if the crowd is with you, if The Donald is with you, then you are right to punch, kick or beat someone you dislike. The adults do it: so can you. Google the phrase “violence at Trump rallies”: spot the palpable anger, the barely contained rage he encourages.
The 24-hour news cycle also does it’s part — another way for kids to hear and absorb what Trump says. They hear Trump equate Muslims with terrorists and suddenly they think all Muslims are terrorists. They hear Trump equate Mexicans with rapists and suddenly they think all Mexicans are rapists. They hear that a Black Lives Matter protester should be roughed up, that women are dogs and fat pigs, and all of a sudden the white supremacist right-wing not only has a savior but new recruits. Kids see their Trump-supporting parents agreeing, nodding and saying the same things, so many of them will follow. Maybe Dad agreed when the Black protester got punched in the face by the White guy and Trump offered to pay the legal bills of the White punch-thrower. Maybe Mom rejoiced and celebrated when the Imam and his assistant took slugs in their brains. Kids watch and listen.
The people who run cable news are whores — to the ratings. There they go, showing rally after Trump rally in which “the other” is beaten, kicked, spit on, punched. The New York Times recently put together a compilation of the racist abuse heard at Trump rallies and it was beyond shocking. It was stomach churning. The vitriol and hatred spewing from the TV impacts young minds. Things are so bad that back in April, the Southern Poverty Law Center issued a report called “The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on Our Nation’s Schools.” It reads:
…the campaign is producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom. Many students worry about being deported.
In just the place where all kids should feel safe and protected — in school — there is fear and there is anxiety. Think about these figures, detailed in the report:
- More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students — mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims — have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.
- More than half have seen an increase in uncivil political discourse.
- More than one-third have observed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment.
- More than 40 percent are hesitant to teach about the election.
Also per the report, here is what teachers are up against:
In Oregon, a K-3 teacher says her black students are ‘concerned for their safety because of what they see on TV at Trump rallies.’ In North Carolina, a high school teacher says she has ‘Latino students who carry their birth certificates and Social Security cards to school because they are afraid they will be deported.’
It gets worse:
Some of the stories are heartbreaking. In Tennessee, a kindergarten teacher says a Latino child — told by classmates that he will be deported and trapped behind a wall — asks every day, ‘Is the wall here yet?’
And even worse:
Many children, however, are not afraid at all. Rather, some are using the word Trump as a taunt or as a chant as they gang up on others. Muslim children are being called terrorist or ISIS or bomber.
And even worse:
‘Students are hearing more hate language than I have ever heard at our school before,’ says a high school teacher in Helena, Montana. Another teacher reports that a fifth-grader told a Muslim student ‘that he was supporting Donald Trump because he was going to kill all of the Muslims if he became president!’
Kids can’t see the long term damage their cruelty will cause. What happens when high school students feel free to call out ugly and racist comments during a basketball game? This quote was from a story in the Washington Post:
“Build the wall!” That was the chant at a high school basketball game in Indiana last week, directed by kids from a majority-white school who held up Trump signs and yelled at the opposing players and fans, who were from a predominantly Latino school.
Trump does not care about the effect he has on the children of his supporters. When he does not denounce David Duke, when he accuses a Gold Star mother of being unable to speak publicly due to her religion, kids are listening. Last Monday, I listened to his so-called “foreign policy” speech. I heard no actual “foreign policy” in it. But I did hear more religious intolerance, more assurances that his administration will implement “extreme extreme vetting” of people wanting to immigrate to America (“extreme vetting” being insufficient), and once again there was his call for a religious test to enter the US. He said that one question would be “Do you support bigotry and hatred?” That would exclude The Donald right off the bat! Oh, the irony.
The damage this man is doing will take decades to simmer down. Once there is hate in your heart and you’ve been told it’s OK to act on it, it will be hard for some people to stop, or to teach their children that this is not the way humans should treat each other. I fear Trump’s ignorance and juvenile behavior is helping to raise the next generation of bigots with access to guns. And you know they will use them to murder the next Imam, someone who is “the other” or a candidate for President.