With 458 delegates under his belt so far (and counting), Donald Trump is now more than one-third of the way toward receiving the Republican presidential nomination. Although millions of Americans both inside and out of the Grand Old Party are reacting to this prospect with justifiable disgust, millions more find nothing wrong with a frontrunner reluctant to condemn the Ku Klux Klan.
I don’t believe Trump is an American Hitler. At the same time, the experiences of the past few months have shown me just how dangerous he—and his supporters—already are. As I’ve discussed in the past, Trump has openly used racism to win political support, beginning with his ill-advised birther stance during the 2012 election cycle. Over the past few years, he has attracted white supremacists drawn to his bigoted rhetoric and appreciative of his hesitation to distance himself even from self-professed radicals.
What’s more, Trump has shown an open contempt for journalists and the protections of the First Amendment, as evidenced by his proclamation that he would “open up our libel laws so when [reporters] write purposefully negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.”
Trump’s contempt for both free speech and minorities is an incredibly ominous combination, as I can unfortunately personally attest to.
Although my articles have been attacked online by white supremacists in the past, my hate mail reached a new level once I began writing pieces critical of Trump. When I called him out for making anti-Semitic comments at a Republican Jewish Coalition event, Andrew Anglin of The Daily Stormer—one of the largest and most infamous white supremacist sites on the internet and an outspoken backer of Trump’s campaign–declared that “presently, Salon has a piece up by Jew parasite Matthew Rozsa, which they have reposted from the Jewish ‘Good Men Project,’ wherein a Jew condemns the Donald as an enemy of his evil tribe.”
Labeling me as “a Jewish ethnic activist so twisted he actually believes he can stump the Trump,” Anglin characterized my ideological multiculturalism as part of a sinister plot, writing “they understand that if Whites are allowed to have an identity, they will be like ‘hey, who are these people with the beady eyes and hooked noses who are controlling all of our systems? I’m not sure who they are, but they’re definitely not us. Maybe we should remove them? Yeah, I’m really starting to think it would be a good idea to remove these people.’”
The article circulated quickly between hate groups. One white supremacist promoted the piece by saying “this demonic kike is apparently upset that Trump made politically incorrect remarks about Jews,” while another showed a picture of me taken outside Lehigh University with the caption, “Look at this filthy Jew rat!” At the online forum Stormfront–which exploded in popularity following Barack Obama’s election in 2008, tripling its audience to more than 300,000 members–the piece was reposted with comments arguing that “this is exactly how the international Jewry declared war on Hitler and Germany and so started World War 2.”
Many of these Stormfronters wanted to make sure I read their remarks and so forwarded the links to my email address, which is how Anglin’s article found its way back to me.
At the time, I found this hyperbolic response rather amusing. As someone who was nearly murdered in an anti-Semitic hate crime when I was twelve, I’m adept at distinguishing between metaphorical sticks and stones and the real thing. I wrote as much in a follow-up piece for The Good Men Project, titled “Why We Should Laugh at Trump’s Nazis.” Anglin, not one for being laughed at, lashed out with a rambling article that meandered from further attacks on imagined Jewish conspiracies and “the Black communist agitator Martin Luther King” to a defensive rationalization of a botched Batman analogy. I read his response, chuckled, and then let the matter rest.
That is, until I began to really reflect on what Trump’s campaign is representing.
As I mentioned earlier, racist hate groups have proliferated in the aftermath of Obama’s presidency. Trump’s presidential campaign seems to be the ultimate manifestation of that reactionary backlash. Aside from the cult of personality surrounding his campaign, the only consistent theme behind Trump’s 2016 political brand has been his brazen race-baiting: Mexican-Americans, Muslims, and African-Americans have all been targeted, to say nothing of women.
Even if Trump never reaches the White House, his campaign’s rhetoric has gradually normalized the blatantly racist demagoguery of his supporters. This effect in itself is a very big deal. The last presidential candidate to win the Republican nomination without the support of the party establishment was Barry Goldwater in 1964. In the process, Goldwater wound up redefining the GOP according to the neoconservative principles that every subsequent candidate was required to adhere to for the next 50 years.
With Trump’s impending nomination, another realignment of historic magnitude seems to be taking place. Only this time, instead of forcing the party to adhere more consistently to a conservative ideology, Trump demands that it abandon ideology altogether in the name of racial tribalism. To the extent that Trump has expanded his appeal beyond the “angry white male/female” demographic, it is only to take advantage of the “strong man” persona he’s cultivated as a celebrity.
My experiences this winter are testament to an ugly reality. While Obama may still be our president, racist elements in our society are becoming bolder than ever before. Trump says that he’s going to “make America great again.” But an America in which either Trump or one of his movement’s successors ascends to national power would be a country driven by hate.
Although I have nothing but contempt for Trump and his racist supporters, I respect their right to free speech. I would rather live in a society that permits it that one that does not–even when some of the invective is directed at myself. It is clear that Trump and his backers do not share these values and would, if empowered, seek to squash the rights of non-whites (or anyone else, for that matter) who disagree. So I cannot afford to stay silent.
The stakes have become very high indeed. I don’t find Trump’s neo-Nazi fanboys particularly funny anymore.