After the Pittsburgh shooting at the end of October in which 11 people lost their lives, 70,000 people signed a letter demanding that Donald Trump should “fully denounce” white nationalism. This led me to ask the question: does Donald Trump’s infamously controversial language encourage hate crimes?
I asked students on campus of their view on the matter. I found most point to Trump’s rhetoric towards Hispanics and Muslims, citing his ‘Muslim ban’ and the speech in which he accused Mexican immigrants of being drug-dealers and “rapists”. Just as crucial as his divisive speech is the fact that hate crimes rose from 6,121 reported events in 2016 to 7,175 in 2017, which some may say suggests a correlation between the occurrence of hate crimes and Trump’s election.
Whilst Trump is often hot headed, phrasing some matters in a very controversial way (chiefly in order to attract attention), he does highlight some legitimate issues. In terms of Hispanics, he’s right in suggesting they have high crime rates: in 2010 the Hispanic homicide rate stood at 5.73 per 100,000 in comparison to 2.52 per 100,000 for white people. And Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ came more from a desire for national security than hatred towards Muslims. In a study by Pew Research 12% of US Muslims said they believed violence towards civilians in the name of political, social, or religious reasons is sometimes justified. That said 14% of the general US public also believe this. Many radicalised young people go abroad to seek training and resources, and so the ban, whilst clumsily composed, arose from a desire to try to prevent this worryingly high percentage from acquiring the skills necessary to orchestrate any sort of attack on the US.
But is Trump too sympathetic with white supremacist and even anti-Semitic activities?
Well his daughter, Ivanka, had to convert to Judaism in order to marry Jared Kushner, so I think it is pretty safe to say Trump is not an anti-Semite. In terms of the demands for him to renounce white nationalism, he already has. After the white nationalist attack in Charlottesville just over a year ago he clearly stated he did not endorse or support white nationalist beliefs, and has even described the Pittsburgh shooter as a “maniac”. Trump went further when he suggested he’s in favour of the shooter receiving the death penalty. It’s hardly a supportive sentiment.
Trump’s strategy isn’t hate-driven, but it is irresponsible. He regularly uses controversy to galvanise support by antagonising large or particularly vocal groups in society, and then claiming he’s defending American values. The media backlash and the taking of his speeches out of context may well trick some people into believing he endorses these kinds of crimes. Ideally the string of controversial statements would come to an end. But that seems unlikely, so I’d rather see the media smarten up and start investigating some of these issues instead of playing Trump’s game and fuelling this social divide.