Last month I participated in a press conference that I dearly wish had not been necessary. Its purpose was to bring to light the toxic atmosphere that was created in our nation’s schools during the 2016 campaign, in addition to forcing us to confront the fact that more than 800 hate incidents occurred in just 10 days after the election. Both issues were illustrated in “The Trump Effect” and “Ten Days After”, two timely reports by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). If you care about our children or the future of our country, these reports are required reading.
The findings should be chilling to all our fellow Americans, and are alarming to those of us who work in communities bearing the brunt of this vitriol. Hate incidents have taken place in public and private spaces, in schools, places of worship, and the workplace. More than 90% of teachers surveyed saw a negative impact on their students’ mood and behavior in the aftermath of the election; 80% reported an increase in anxiety and concern among students who are LGBT, Muslim, Black, Latino, or part of immigrant families.
The election took an especially large and devastating toll on children, especially those who are either immigrants themselves, such as DREAMers, or have immigrant family members. One-third of the hate incidents the SPLC spotlighted happened to immigrants or people perceived to be immigrants. And of the more than 1,500 specific verbal threats reported by teachers, a full three-quarters were either about “deportation” or calls to “build the wall.”
Kids being mean to each other is as old as time, but it strains credulity to believe that the harsh tone and rhetoric of this election has not seeped into our schools. If children are saying “deport” and “build the wall” in school, it is pretty clear where they got that language. Yet, to date, we have not seen the president-elect take responsibility or even address what is going on in his name.
While President-elect Trump is a prolific tweeter, he has not used this platform to reach out to the communities who are being negatively affected by this kind of rhetoric. He has not said or tweeted anything to acknowledge what is happening, or to assuage the legitimate concerns and fears that exist in these communities. In fact, he has not directly spoken to or tweeted at the 53% of people who did not support his candidacy—even though come January, he will be president of 100% of us.
He has not said or tweeted anything to acknowledge what is happening, or to assuage the legitimate concerns and fears that exist in these communities.
The night he was elected, Trump said he wanted to be a president for all Americans, and to bind the wounds of division. It was those words that gave our organization a modicum of hope, and made us eager to hear what the president-elect would say or do following his victory. A month later, we are still waiting on the president-elect to talk about how he will fulfill those pledges. Meanwhile, appointments of highly divisive figures, such as former Breitbart executive chairman Steve Bannon, cast further doubt as to his interest and ability to actually bring us together.
Words matter. How can children be expected to understand the admonition of Trump’s inner circle and Republican leaders to not take Trump’s tweets “literally?” Trump’s tweets may just be media gamesmanship, but for our kids, Trump’s words are deadly serious, and have already brought real-life pain and suffering to them and their families.
The absence of calls for unity and outreach to our communities also speaks volumes, especially when coupled with tweets that promote false claims of improper voting that continue the demonization of a community that started the very first day of the Trump campaign.
No one person can bind the nation’s wounds and bridge our differences. It will take all of us. But it needs to be reflected at the top, especially given the pivotal role the president-elect had in helping to inflict those wounds and broaden those divisions.
President-elect Trump, our country expects to see meaningful leadership from you in bringing Americans together, and an end to the bullying being done in your name or emboldened by your rhetoric. It’s time to make your move.