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Renée Graham

‘Donald Trump was elected president because of his racism, not in spite of it’

The Rev. Lambert Nieme, a priest at Saint Agnes Parish, attends a town select meeting Nov. 13 on racist graffiti found at Reading Memorial High School.
The Rev. Lambert Nieme, a priest at Saint Agnes Parish, attends a town select meeting Nov. 13 on racist graffiti found at Reading Memorial High School.(Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff)

In recent weeks, someone left a death threat for a 10-year-old Muslim girl at a Framingham elementary school. At Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School, swastikas were discovered inside bathrooms. Racist graffiti was spray-painted on the doors of a predominantly African-American school in South Boston.

This is Massachusetts. This is America.

What’s ailing our state is a snapshot of our festering nation. More than divided, we’re fractured and broken — and pouring from every fissure is hatred based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. And it has taken root in American schools.

For the third consecutive year, hate crimes rose nationwide last year, up 17 percent from 2016. In Massachusetts in 2017, there were 427 incidents, from vandalism to assault. That was a 9 percent increase. Too many of these heinous acts are happening in this state’s schools, colleges, and universities.

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We’re on the same dismal path for 2018.

On Thursday, anti-LGBTQ and anti-Semitic graffiti was scrawled on a residence hall door at UMass Amherst. The week before, white supremacist propaganda was discovered on campus. At Masconomet Regional High School in Boxford, Nazi symbols were found in the boys’ bathrooms. Reading Memorial High School has been hit with at least eight incidents of racist or anti-Semitic graffiti in recent weeks. Since May 2017, there have been more than 30 reported incidents at the town’s schools.

“It’s definitely harder to focus in school,” Maddy Liberman, a Reading student who is Jewish, told the Globe’s Cristela Guerra. “I’m sort of always thinking in the back of my mind, ‘Who would care about me, and who wouldn’t care, and who is even further down from that — who would hate me?’ ”

If the fish rots from the head, let’s start with the man leading the country. Donald Trump was elected president because of his racism, not in spite of it. In him, racists have someone who will never unequivocally condemn them or the violence they commit. Trump even calls himself by their name — “a nationalist” — and encourages his supporters to do the same, evoking every violent image of jackbooted intolerance.

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Trump’s brand of nationalism is white supremacy gussied up as patriotism.

We’re constantly reminded of what such rhetoric provokes. Last month, a white man, echoing Trump’s ugly conspiracies, killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue. That same week, a white man murdered two black people at a Kentucky supermarket. He first tried to enter a black church.

Unchecked hate garners a body count. Those seeds are planted early.

Last spring, dozens of smiling teenage boys from a Baraboo, Wis., high school gave a Nazi salute in a junior prom photo that recently went viral. (In the upper right corner, one teen refused to participate.) This past week, a city administrator insisted, “This isn’t who we are.”

History begs to differ. This is exactly who we are. And it’s getting worse.

During the intermission of a Wednesday performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” in Baltimore, a man shouted “Heil Hitler, Heil Trump.” The play concerns a Jewish family trying to preserve its traditions, while facing persecution in tsarist Russia. One man in the audience said, “I’ll be honest, I was waiting to hear a gunshot. I thought, ‘Here we go.’ ”

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All these acts of terror are perpetrated with the same racist goal — to dictate who belongs in America, and who does not. That’s the foundation of the Trump presidency. Often, people speak of racism as a scourge that will die off with older generations. If that were true, we’d have buried bigotry centuries ago.

Parents and schools — here in Massachusetts and around the country — must do everything possible to teach children the horrors of hate, and to speak up in fierce opposition to it. Is that enough to counter Trump’s racist animosity as a rallying cry? If more black children envisioned themselves as president after Barack Obama’s election, what disturbing ideas is Trump arousing?

Prior to the midterm elections, Trump falsely claimed there were “terrorists” among those in the migrant caravan. He and the GOP were determined, he said, to keep them out.

With your encouragement, Mr. President, the terrorists — white and getting younger — are already here.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.