One-time and perhaps future presidential contender Marco Rubio on Wednesday struck a hopeful tone in the face of a new data showing an increase in hate crimes and anti-Semitism in the United States.
He dismissed suggestions that America is more divided than ever, quipping that the country is not as divided as it was during the Civil War.
But he warned against defining America as a culture determined by ethnicity – hinting at the rising nationalism within his own party.
“We cannot afford to take a single step back. And to allow and to accept hate speech in any form from anyone as an acceptable message ... would be a step back, not a step forward,” the Florida senator said Tuesday during a speech in Washington, D.C. to the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that combats anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination.
Rubio emphasized repeatedly that fighting hate crimes is a bipartisan issue, as an ADL poll found 84 percent of Americans believe the government needs to do more to fight anti-Semitism, and 49 percent said President Donald Trump didn’t do enough to discourage it on the campaign. Rubio did acknowledge that “hate-based violence and threats are on the rise,” citing incidents such as multiple Miami-Dade synagogues and Jewish communities being vandalized with swastikas, as well as specifically acknowledging needed protection for Arabs, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs.
The same ADL poll found 89 percent of Muslim Americans are concerned about violence directed at them and at Muslim institutions, and 66 percent said they feel less safe since Trump was elected.
Though Rubio cited actions of anti-Semitism in the U.S., legislation he has filed on the subject tends to focus on the issue abroad. He introduced two bills on the subject in January – the Combating European Anti-Semitism Act of 2017 and the Countering Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israel Activities at the United Nations Act of 2017 – neither of which would address his examples of hate crimes.
Rubio emphasized the need for a change in attitude over one in policy, saying – without naming specifics – people needed to remember that “ours is not a nation built on blood, but on soil.” In other words, people are American based on calling the U.S. home, not based on their ethnicity. The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not only limited to those born in the U.S., he said.
“The question before us today, on multiple policies before our nation and before our society, is whether that is still true and whether in fact that remains the unifying theme and cause of America,” Rubio said.