EDITORIAL: Divider-in-chief fuels resentment and rage

York Dispatch Editorial Board
President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Donald Trump was fond of claiming, on the campaign trail, that he would be “a great unifier.”

Like much of what Trump has said, both before and since his election, this was not entirely true.

Trump has been the most divisive president in memory, perhaps in history. And his angry rhetoric is helping to fuel an unprecedented and ongoing increase in hate groups throughout the nation.

That’s according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been tracking such groups for decades. The civil rights organization’s annual “Year in Hate and Extremism” report painted a dismal portrait of a nation that is anything but unified:

  • A 7 percent increase in U.S. hate groups in 2018;
  • A 30 percent increase in such groups over the past four years;
  • A total of 1,020 organized hate groups nationwide — an all-time high.

White nationalists and similarly hate-filled organizations account for much of this jump. They have increased nearly 50 percent since Trump took office.

“White supremacist anger reached a fever pitch last year as hysteria over losing a white-majority nation to demographic change — and a presumed lack of political will to stop it — engulfed the movement,” the Center reported.

Pennsylvania has not been immune to this anger-filled surge. The SPLC cites 36 hate groups based in the state, including the H.L. Mencken Club in Elizabethtown and the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust right here in York.

Nor have such groups been under the radar.

Ku Klux Klan recruitment fliers were distributed in Dover Township and elsewhere in York County last summer, and racist fliers were left on cars in the parking lot of the West Manchester Town Center. Just a few months earlier, residents in the Philadelphia suburb of Hatboro awoke to find bags of candy attached to pro-KKK pamphlets on their lawns.

And these are relatively minor incidents. At the violent end of the spectrum are atrocities like the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh last fall, in which 11 people were killed and seven wounded.

Such incidents led the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to host several town hall meetings, including one late last year in West Manchester Township.

Speaker Hank Butler, a member of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, put his finger on one of the problems: “People are getting more confident in articulating hate.”

This is largely thanks to Divider-in-Chief Trump, his administration mouthpieces, and his reliable defenders in conservative media, who have beaten hate-filled drums of divisiveness relentlessly in that past two-plus years.

From failing to condemn white supremacists, to vilifying immigrants fleeing Central American violence and seeking to enter the country legally, to insulting entire African nations, the president has been a voice for malice.

Candidate Trump, almost laughably in hindsight, once claimed he would be a force for bipartisanship. He hasn’t even tried. His daily Twitter tirades are an exercise in unabashed animosity, awash in insults, threats, self-aggrandizement, mischaracterizations and division.

And his demonizing of immigrants — encouraged and magnified by his minions at Fox News and elsewhere in the conservative media — feed directly into the warped worldview of white nationalists and supremacists.

It is no wonder, nourished on a steady diet of inflammatory misinformation, that hate groups are flourishing. Sadly, heightened divisiveness may prove to be the president’s most enduring legacy.

“Regardless of Trump’s future political fortunes, Trumpism — a form of race-based populism — is likely to be with us for many years to come as the nation continues to come to terms with its changing demographics and the impact of globalism,” the SPLC report posits.

That’s a dispiriting prognosis.

We can only agree with John Eyster, a member of the York County Advisory Council to the state Human Relations Commission, who attended the recent Human Relations Commission town hall: “(W)e need complete change, and we need it quickly.”