Racism and prejudice incite violence. That is a fact that this country knows very well owing to its murky history of slavery, segregation, lynchings, persecutions, false accusations, discrimination against different ethnic groups and, now, with a president who exploits this racism as a political and electoral weapon. The examples multiply every day that Donald Trump occupies the presidency.
Saturday in El Paso, Texas, white racist Patrick Crusius fired an AK-47 rifle in a Walmart store, killing twenty- one people and injuring another twenty-six. The death toll is now 22. The twenty-one year old young man chose this place on purpose, it was no accident because, as he himself wrote in a manifesto, “this attack is in response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
But he does not even know his own history, because if he did he would know that Texas was Mexican territory far before it was part of the United States. And he would also know that his attack was in many ways “inherited” from those who perpetrated thousands of atrocities against the remainder of the Mexican population in the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth, at the hands of the white population and its new authorities, lynching equally men, women, children and elderly people, all of Mexican descent, with the goal of terrorizing this social group. Because, just as it occurs today at the national level with the official anti-immigrant rhetoric, they did not want to see them here anymore.
This is a fact that is spoken very little, as if Texan history wants to sweep it under the rug of U.S. history.
Very soon, the authorities will catalogue the massacre in El Paso as an act of domestic terrorism. The question of how he acquired the powerful weapon with which he carried out the killings is also a subject that has converted the United States into a nation where racial hate is always literally at the trigger finger.
Trump and his Republican accomplices took to Twitter to offer their hollow “condolences,” something that would be laughable if the topic were not so tragic. Their hypocrisy knows no bounds, but the rhetoric of hate and division has remained a registered hallmark of Republican “Trumpism” that will define them forever.
“Invasion” is one of Trump’s favorite terms when he talks about immigration. For him, immigrants are “criminals” and “rapists.” Minorities of color “should go back to the places they came from,” as he said about four Democratic congresswomen who are citizens of the United States, three of them born in this country. He has looked for all ways possible to keep Central Americans fleeing violence from soliciting asylum in the United States. He also separated immigrant families and caged brown-skinned children in inhumane conditions. But this is not limited to immigrants or Hispanics. Majority African-American cities, like Baltimore, Maryland, are places that in his opinion are “disgusting” and “infested with rats and rodents.”
It’s an accumulation of expressions of hate similar to those used by white nationalists and which one read in books about racism and discrimination that plagued this country in earlier decades, the same ones that some believed had been overcome with the idea that this nation had continued adapting in the historic evolution of multiculturalism and tolerance.
All throughout Sunday Trump’s accomplices defended him, declaring it is unfair to argue that the President’s rhetoric provokes violent attacks because they are committed by people with mental disorders. Trump himself blamed “mental illnesses.” Of course, that is always the first excuse when it comes to a white attacker, not when the skin color or religion are different and then the entire weight of the law —political, social, and legal— rains down strongly on one who has dared to emulate “Western law,” which defines both the advancement and the barbarism of this country.
But racism and the defense of white supremacy are not mental illnesses. They are what many Trump supporters defend, those who applaud him rabidly every time a refrain targeting someone is voiced in his campaign rallies, in order to continue maintaining the support of racism and xenophobia.
Thus, at this stage in the game we have no hope that Trump will face off unequivocally against this racist sector that supports him. This is a segment of his base that he does not want to lose. In fact, this is the group of followers who watched the election of the first African-American president in United States history, Barack Obama, in horror. The sector that during the eight years of Obama’s presidency saw their prejudice only intensify to the point of a pressure cooker about to explode. And at that point Trump makes his entrance, he who has become their anticipated “Messiah.”
This past week a group of colleagues from America’s Voice visited The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, which reviews the history of slavery and racism in this country. In the face of the photos and narrations about the treatment of slaves, lynchings, segregation, abuses and injustices, one would like to think that this country has learned from its history never to repeat it.
But reality teaches us the opposite. The target of these attacks has expanded. The methods have changed, but the prejudice and racial hate persist. What use, then, has this painful historical experience served to a country that is now seeing all that it supposedly learned go to waste?
The most terrible thing is that we have a president who exploits this prejudice with his incendiary and racist rhetoric, and will not stop using it even with this tragedy in El Paso and those that occur in some other part of the nation. In the face of the 2020 election one would anticipate that this same rhetoric will intensify, with political-electoral goals.
That is why it is urgent that Trump’s rhetoric not continue to be “normalized.” It’s also urgent to not lose sensitivity to the violence that generates this racial hate.
Maribel Hastings and David Torres