The rise of Donald Trump has changed everything. Facts are false. Reporters are traitors. Political adversaries are unpatriotic. And, perhaps worst of all, racism and bigotry have stepped out of the shadows into the spotlight.
This election we saw an unprecedented amount of racially coded and anti-Semitic remarks and attacks targeting Jewish and black political figures.
Jewish candidates running for office have come under attack from Republican opponents, depicting them as money-hungry and greedy — a classic anti-Semitic stereotype.
In Pennsylvania, Republican State Rep. Todd Stephens ran ads of his opponent, Sara Johnson Rothman, holding stacks of $100 bills. It also dropped her maiden name, Johnson, leaving only the one she took when she married her Jewish husband, Scott Rothman.
In a close race in the state of Washington, Republicans illustrated Democratic candidate Kim Schrier, who is Jewish, holding a stack of $20 bills.
And in Connecticut, a Republican State Senate candidate sent out mailers that painted his Jewish opponent, Democrat Matthew Lesser, as a greedy candidate clutching a fistful of $20 bills with a crazed look in his eyes.
And on and on it goes, with too many examples to count. Similarly, black candidates and political commentators were subjected to bizarre and offensive remarks.
In Florida, Republican Governor-elect Ron DeSantis faced fierce backlash in August when, in a Fox News interview, he said of his election: “The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda.” His opponent, Tallahassee mayor, Andrew Gillum, is black. President Trump’s agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, also had something to say about the Florida governor’s election. At a rally for DeSantis, he described it as “so cotton-picking” important.
In a heated Fox News exchange, commentator and unabashed Trump supporter, David Bossie, said to black Democratic strategist, Joel Payne, “You’re out of your cotton-picking mind.”
Comments like these hark back to an era I thought we had evolved from. Donald Trump and his ilk have helped the United States political environment devolve to a less inclusive and darker time.
As would be expected, virtually all of the Republicans who made these comments claimed their remarks had nothing to do with race or religion or the centuries-long stereotypes and insults about African Americans and Jews.
Let us not forget the long history that such sentiments represent. If non-Jewish candidates were depicted as money-hungry, crazed people, these attacks would be merely tasteless because of the lack of history attached to them. But these are precisely some of the harmful and wrong anti-Semitic stereotypes that were banished from the mainstream decades ago. So when Republicans use these very same attacks against Jews, it is impossible to separate them from that history.
The same goes for the remarks about African Americans. The long history of terrorism that African Americans were subjected to in this country involved comparing them to monkeys and using phrases such as cotton picking. So when only black candidates are subjected to such rhetoric, it is equally impossible to separate from that history.
At worst, these various comments were made with black and Jewish stereotypes explicitly in mind. At best, they were made with black and Jewish stereotypes lurking in the subconscious.
Either way, they have no place in politics. Many people castigate these race-baiting candidates or operatives, yet continue to support them. We cannot let political leanings stifle our innate sense of decency. While there is nothing new about racism or anti-Semitism, this normalization of hatred must be stopped in its tracks. Trump has made open prejudice in politics acceptable again — a throwback to an undemocratic era.
MICHAEL A. KESHMIRI is a College senior from Stockholm, Sweden studying political science. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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