If President-elect Donald Trump really wants to stop the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups that are celebrating his victory and encouraging hate crimes across the country, he should offer a detailed and unambiguous apology for the racial vitriol he himself stirred up during his presidential bid.
So far, he has not done that. What’s more, he has appointed Stephen Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News — an outlet that publishes white nationalist, anti-Hispanic and anti-Semitic articles — as chief White House strategist, one of the top jobs in the new administration.
Neo-Nazis and the KKK are having a field day. The head of the American Nazi Party and the former head of the KKK have both applauded Bannon’s appointment. They feel — with good reason — that their until recently off-the-wall racist ideas are rapidly becoming part of the American mainstream, and will even have a powerful voice within the White House.
On Sunday, when Trump was asked on CBS’ “60 Minutes” about the acts of racial violence that are popping up in his name, he said he was “very surprised” and “saddened” to hear that. Then, referring to those committing hate crimes, he added, “If it helps, I will say this right to the cameras: ‘Stop it.’ ”
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But that won’t be enough to undo the damage Trump did to racial relations in this country since he started his campaign in June 2015 with the false claim that undocumented Mexican immigrants are invading the United States, and that most of them are criminals and rapists.
In fact, illegal immigration from Mexico has been falling in recent years, from 6.4 million in 2009 to 5.4 million today, according to the Pew Research Center. And most studies show that there are proportionally fewer crimes committed by Mexican undocumented immigrants than by U.S.-born Americans.
Not surprisingly, hate crimes are rising. And according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), there have been more than 300 reported cases of racial harassment and intimidation since the Nov. 8 election.
NBC News independently confirmed several of these hate crimes, including the words “Trump nation, Whites only!” scribbled on the wall of a Maryland church that offers weekly Spanish-language services, and “Make America white again” slogans and Nazi swastikas painted on the walls of other churches and colleges across the country.
A new FBI “Hate Crimes Statistics” report released this week shows that the number of reported hate crimes rose 6 percent in 2015, with more than 5,800 incidents involving 7,121 victims. Those figures are expected to be significantly higher in 2016. According to the Anti-Defamation League, “the contentious tone from the 2016 election” has translated into an increase of hate crimes across the nation.
My opinion: Trump has created this monster. He brought all kinds of racist sentiments to the surface by basing his campaign on the premise that Mexicans are to blame for much of what’s wrong in this country, and by claiming for a long time — until he recently admitted that he was wrong — that President Obama was born in Kenya, a thinly veiled effort to de-legitimize the first U.S. black president.
Saying “Stop it” during an interview won’t be enough to put an end to this dangerous proliferation of hate crimes. This is not a taping of “The Apprentice.” This is serious stuff, that — unless it’s addressed seriously — will further embolden white supremacist groups and will unleash a spiral of racial violence.
Trump should start apologizing for his false 2015 campaign opening claim that most of the millions of Mexican undocumented immigrants are criminals and rapists. He should apologize for having said that federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was born in Indiana, is not fit to rule over the racketeering case against Trump University because “he’s Mexican.”
He should apologize for having claimed — without evidence — that Obama was not born in this country. And he should revoke Bannon’s appointment. There should be no place in the White House for somebody like him.
Mr. Trump, there is no excuse for not stopping this spiral of racial hatred in a more forceful way. You started it. You have to stop it!
Watch the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera
Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español