The Border, The Squad, and The Donald
Similarities between our past and present are clear. Have we learned anything?
Posted August 14, 2019
We’ve been here before: a nation on the precipice of left against right, white against brown and black, sister against brother. When we’re in the middle of daily struggles, it may be hard to see the forest for the trees. But when we take the time to step back and view the entire landscape before us, it's clear that we’ve visited this site in our nation’s history - more than a few times. In fact, we’ve probably always been in this general location, we’ve just moved a little this way or a tad that way.
The Border War
We’ve been here before: sixteen years ago. That’s when we first read about and viewed photos of the horrifying tortures by some of our American prison guards at Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq war. And with recently documented events at our southern border facilities we find ourselves here once again; some American guards behaving badly due to stressful conditions forced on them by a broken system, and broken values.
In his 2007 book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, Phil compared the findings of his 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment with the events at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison —including being an expert witness for one of our MP prison guards. In essence, we learned that attempting to understand the situational and systemic contributions to any individual’s behavior does not excuse the person or absolve him or her from responsibility in engaging in immoral, illegal, or evil deeds, even torturing enemies on command by authorities.
Now, in our own backyard, many of the victims (detainees) of botched policies, especially the babies, toddlers and children, are no doubt psychologically scarred for life to some degree. And so are our American guards on duty there. A bad apple can ruin the entire batch, especially when they are all contained in a bad barrel.
Going further back, we’ve been here before during World War II when 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry—62% were US citizens—-were placed in internment camps across the West and Midwest. More than forty years later, reparations were made to internment camp survivors. Legislation signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 stated that our government’s actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”
The Squad and The Donald
We’ve been here before, too: people of color speaking up for civil rights and being mocked, belittled, and worse. While our race problems weren’t erased in 2008 because we voted in Barack Obama as our president, the hope many held was that we were finally on the mend. This was proven wrong—and far, far from the truth—in 2016. Now, in an unprecedented way, the current President of the United States, Donald Trump, is doing the mocking and belittling as he takes his rallying cry on the campaign trail where “Send her back!” (in reference to Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who came to the US as a Somali refugee 27 years ago at the age of 10) has replaced “Lock her up!”
To be clear, the term “The Squad” was coined by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York a week after the 2018 elections and is comprised of Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Representatives Ayanna Pressley Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All are women of color, representing a younger political generation, and are advocates of progressive American policies.
Trump has tweeted that the above representatives are a “Racist group of troublemakers,” and “I don’t believe the four Congresswomen are capable of loving our Country. They should apologize to America (and Israel) for the horrible (hateful) things they have said.” He further tweeted, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” We hope by now Trump knows that three of the Congresswomen were born in the US and that Omar is a naturalized US citizen, which makes “the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” our own United States of America!
Trump was rebuked by the House when a resolution was passed condemning these tweets as racist. Tellingly, only four Republicans voted in favor of it. After his racist tweets, Trump’s approval ratings have dropped 16% with Hispanic voters and 13% with African American voters. But his cult of loyal followers continues to approve of his white supremacy values.
Hateful rhetoric begets hate crimes
According to FBI tracking, although violent crime has decreased over the past two decades, for the past three years, the FBI’s annual hate crime report documents an increase in hate crimes nationwide. In the past nine months, 100 arrests of domestic terrorism suspects have been made, and most investigations of this kind involve some form of white supremacy—or hate crimes.
The figure is similar to the number of arrests made in the international terrorism cases and represents an uptick compared with the previous year. Overall, the FBI’s counter-terrorism division is currently investigating 850 domestic terrorism cases; about 40% involve racially motivated violent extremists and most in that group are white supremacists. The statistics are likely much higher, as we know that most hate crimes are not reported.
The Los Angeles Times reports that incidents targeting Latinos and Jewish people in California surged in 2018, an increase experts blame on vitriolic rhetoric over immigration and emboldened hate groups. Antisemitic hate crimes surged 21% from 2017 to 2018. Hate crimes against Latinos increased 18%. A report issued earlier this year by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism noted that Los Angeles recorded its highest number of reported hate crimes in nearly a decade.
Brian Levin, executive director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, stated “the increase in reported hate crimes against Jewish people and Latinos isn’t unexpected, as heated political rhetoric and long-perpetuated stereotypes focused on select groups often can translate to a rise in crimes committed against them. However, antisemitic rhetoric has been much more sustained and precipitous nationwide — and specifically in California, where there is a large population of Jewish people.”
Antisemitic incidents around the nation have been steadily increasing since 2013, with the biggest all-time annual jump coming in 2017, when the tally climbed 57% to 1,986, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Hate crimes against Jews grew by an alarming 37% in the same period, according to a separate FBI analysis.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director and chief executive, stated that America’s charged political environment has played a role in the steep increase in antisemitism. “Things are polarized in ways we haven’t seen in recent memory. People are on edge in part because they are following their leaders,” he said. “When leaders at the highest levels use incredibly intemperate language and repeat the rhetoric of extremists, we shouldn’t be surprised when young people—let alone others—imitate what they see.” One is reminded of the white supremacists recent rallying chant of “Jews shall not replace us!” in Charleston, South Carolina.
Social media plays a major role in the increase in hate crimes. Law enforcement officials describe the internet as an accelerant that speeds up radicalization. Hence, social media companies face increased scrutiny for the platforms they provide. Online access supplies info on how to plot and carry out attacks while remaining invisible to law enforcement. It’s much easier for those on the far right to find and link up with like-minded extremists
What can we do?
The national unrest and division stoked by President Trump may cause us to feel depressed and like there’s nothing we can do to change the retrograde course he has set for our country. Not so! What we need are everyday heroes to begin acting wisely and collectively.
How can YOU be a hero? Start with small steps in your personal life and locally, then expand your focus. Here’s how:
● Make somebody feel special today. For example, learn their name, look them in the eye, shake their hand, or give them a justifiable compliment.
● Ask questions, never follow the rules blindly. We teach our children to obey authority but let’s teach them to obey “just” authority and defy “unjust” authority.
● Always ask yourself, what is my ripple effect? What have I done today that will influence other people in a positive way?
● Get active in local, state, and even national politics. With the 2020 election around the corner, it’s not too soon to help out your chosen candidates, even if it’s with a small monetary donation. Most important is give your time to help get out the vote of your family, friends, and neighbors.
Heroes are sociocentric. The enemy of heroism is egocentrism. In other words, when I think about me I'm never focused on you. Let’s consider our new job in life, every day, wherever we go, to make a small difference in our big world. It's not about me; it's about YOU. Transform your compassion into socially engaged actions to help others. Let's change our perspective from me to WE, just as our Founding Fathers intended. The time is ripe for Inclusion to supplant Exclusionary doctrines—regardless of who advocates them.
Zapotosky, M. (July 2019) "Wray says most FBI terrorist investigations this year involve white supremacy." Washington, DC: Washington Post.
Editorial Staff. (February 2019). "FBI report shows hate crimes increased nationwide; remained elevated in Colorado." CO: Longmont Observer.
FBI Statistica Research Department (April 2019). "Crime in the United States - Statistics and Facts." Washington, DC.: FBI
FBI (Fall 2018). "2017 Hate Crime Statistics." Washington, DC.: FBI
Fry, H. (July 2019). "Hate crimes targeting Jews and Latinos increased in California in 2018." CA: Los Angeles Times.
Myre, G. (May 2019). "FBI is investigating 850 cases of potential domestic terrorism." Washington, DC: NPR.
Bush, D. (July 2019). "What Americans think of Trump's 'Go back to your country' tweets." VA: PBS News Hour.
Bonn, T. (July 2019). "Poll: Trump approval rating drops among minorities after 'go back' remarks." Washington, DC: The Hill.
Boorstein, M. and Pulliam-Bailey, S. (July 2019). "Trump appears to attack 'The Squad' on behalf of the Jewish people. Here's what that sounds like to Jews." Washington DC: Washington Post.