Memo to the President-Elect: It's Not OK

Memo to the President-Elect: It's Not OK
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The other day I received a call from a reporter with what seemed an odd request. He wanted my thoughts on the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and whether I believed that policy served as a precedent for the creation of a Muslim "registry" today. No, I said, I didn't think anything of the kind. And I thought it was well-known and widely understood that the treatment of the Japanese-Americans had been a mistake, and a stain on the nation.

Then the reporter explained his reason for asking. Carl Higbie, a "Trump surrogate" who had represented one of the largest super PACs in support of the GOP nominee, had linked the two policies in an interview with Fox News' Megyn Kelly. "We've done it based on race, we've done it based on religion, and we've done it based on region," Higbie said. To Kelly's credit, she immediately took Mr. Higbie to task. As she put it, just because we've done it doesn't make it right.

Later that day came the news - and images - of a swastika and "Go Trump" graffiti scrawled in a children's playground near my home. In other parts of the country there were reports of students heckled and harassed because of their background: high schoolers in Oregon chanting to Hispanic students, "Pack your bags, you're going home;" in Iowa City, a boy telling a 15-year-old Muslim girl in the school cafeteria, "Go back home." And this weekend the gentle-sounding National Policy Institute, a forum for white supremacists, held its convention in Washington, not far from the White House. According to the New York Times, its leader "railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German." Before the gathering was over, someone shouted "Heil victory!" Others joined in.

Donald Trump is not the author of any of this abhorrent behavior, and it may be that he abhors it much as I do, and chooses not to dignify such people with comment. It may also be, in some cases, that he is unaware. When CBS News' Leslie Stahl told him that people were harassing Latinos and Muslims in the wake of his victory, the president-elect said, "I am so saddened to hear that. And I say, 'Stop it.' If it helps. I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: Stop it."

That was the right message - but it was brief, and it was a response to only one question, about a single concern. The problem now is that incidents of hate speech and bigotry are multiplying, and in the absence of a clear, full-throated condemnation, the bigots and haters sense that this is their moment, that under a Trump Presidency such behavior is OK, and that the election results provide cover for their actions. Meanwhile, many other people wonder whether President-elect Trump really is bothered by such conduct. As the New York State Senator Daniel Squadron said at that children's park Sunday, "If hate is carried out in his (Trump's) name and he says nothing, it becomes his hate."

That's one way to put it. Here's another, from the Nobel-prize-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska. She wrote a poem called "Hatred" - and began it this way:

Look, how spry she still is,
how well she holds up:
hatred, in our century.
How lithely she takes high hurdles.
How easy for her to pounce, to seize.

So, President-elect Trump, please do yourself, and the nation, a service: Make it tougher for Hatred, and the Haters. Call the news media together, and say that you have a very important message for them, and for the country. Then tell these people, as you said in that CBS interview: "Stop it." Tell them to stop vilifying those with different skin color, those of another faith. Tell them they must never invoke Adolf Hitler or the symbol of his party, other than to make an example of one of history's greatest horrors. Tell them that bigotry is un-American, that these statements and actions are vile and dangerous and that you do not condone them. And when you say all this, say it with the passion that was evident when you were a candidate.

Tell them, in short: "It's not OK."

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