IT TOOK President Donald Trump three days — and a tsunami of social media ire, including a lengthy Facebook post from newsman Dan Rather — to mention last week’s racist attack on a Portland, Ore., train that left two men dead. And when he finally did, it was a boilerplate tweet that in all likelihood was dashed off by some underling.
“The violent attacks in Portland on Friday are unacceptable,” read the tweet sent Monday. “The victims were standing up to hate and intolerance. Our prayers are w/them.”
“Them.” Trump couldn’t even be bothered to include the names of Rick Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, both stabbed to death allegedly by a white supremacist ranting anti-Muslim threats against two teenage girls, one of them wearing a hijab. A third man, Micah David-Cole Fletcher, was seriously injured but is expected to recover. Still, the most this administration could muster in the face of this horror was a single 138-character tweet.
Of course, no one believes Trump even wrote that tweet. First of all, it was sent from the official @POTUS account, not @realDonaldTrump, the president’s own Twitter handle, where he sends missives about North Korea, Russia, and especially “fake news.” Also, the tweet was dully reasonable and lacked Trump’s requisite multiple exclamation points.
This latest acts of terrorism occurred less than a week after Richard Collins III, a recently commissioned US Army second lieutenant, was stabbed to death on the University of Maryland campus by a young white man who belonged to “Alt-Reich: Nation,” a racist Facebook group. Collins was African-American. Jeremy Joseph Christian, the Portland stabbing suspect, wrote hate-filled posts on Facebook, and called Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh “a true patriot.”
To be clear, this isn’t just happening on Trump’s watch; it’s likely happening because Trump, as a candidate and nominee, demonized Muslims and disparaged Mexican immigrants. As president, his racist bombast has morphed into noxious policies, from his failed travel ban against Muslims and swift deportations of undocumented but otherwise law-abiding men and women, to gutting civil rights protections. Hate crimes have spiked since last fall’s election, and Trump’s divisive rhetoric is now registering an actual body count.
Hate and racism, of course, is America’s birth defect. Trump didn’t invent them. Between Sept. 11, 2001, and June 2015, when Trump announced his candidacy, white supremacists, antigovernment zealots, and other extremists killed nearly twice as many people as did Muslim radicals in this country, according to New America, a Washington, D.C., think tank and research center. And that was before avowed racist Dylann Roof murdered nine African-Americans attending a bible study in a Charleston, S.C., church, in 2015.
It’s not as though we weren’t warned. Citing the shaky economy and especially the election of this nation’s first African-American president, Barack Obama, a 2009 Department of Homeland Security report warned of a potential increase in white supremacists and extremism. At the time, then-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement, “We don’t have the luxury of focusing our efforts on one group; we must protect the country from terrorism whether foreign or homegrown and regardless of the ideology that motivates its violence.” Still, Republicans complained so vigorously — they claimed the report was an attack on conservatives — that the report was quickly rescinded.
Now we have as president a man who openly exploited this nation’s unhealed wounds and courted those who seek to make them even deeper. Lives have been lost defending values Trump can’t begin to comprehend, and he disrespects their sacrifice with a trite post he likely couldn’t be bothered to personally compose. If, as he once claimed, he wants to be the president of all Americans, he must roundly condemn the hate and terrorism of white supremacists, but he won’t. Instead, we’re stuck with a man who governs by tweet. Last week in Portland, Best, Namkai-Meche, and Fletcher heroically stood up to hate and intolerance, and something Trump is unwilling or incapable of doing as president.
Renée Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.