Yesterday, there were more bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers across the nation. One of them was in Chicago. My daughter goes to a Chicago JCC pre-school, and I expect it is only a matter of time until someone makes a threat against her school.
As a White Christian male, this is, as indirect as it is, my first experience with hate crime. If we simply withdrew our daughter from the school, the threat to us would go away. Thus, I cannot even pretend to know what this one experience, much less a lifetime of such experiences, must be like for Jewish families. It hasn’t been my reality. So what is happening at JCCs across the nation and how it affects my family—my daughter, in particular—is new to me.
I admit that I am scared, and I am angry, and have never been more so in my life. And when I listen to Jewish parents in my daughter’s school talk about the threats and about security measures in ways that reveal a lifetime of experience facing such evil, I know how frightened and angered they too are but also how resolute and courageous they are.
I realize that the feelings of fear and anger don’t change with more experience; what changes is how the experiences are talked about. Hearing those to whom the hate is directed, I wonder how those of us who are so often immune from such hate could ever begin to conceive what their experiences are like? And how it is that those who are immune can remain silent? How can we ignore such hate, whether it is directed at Jewish, Muslim, African-American, Latino, LGBTQ, or immigrant and refugee populations? How can we do that and claim to be decent, caring people? We can’t. More than ever, I know that to be silent is to be complicit.
For me, I am obviously most scared for my daughter not only because a bomb threat might eventually be directed at her preschool but also because the nation we live in more and more condones such actions. This is the country she is inheriting, and with it comes the tyranny of fear that is perpetuated by a few.
I am scared, too, for the thousands and thousands of children and their families that such hatred affects daily. And, in turn, I am angry. I am angry for the disruption in peoples’ lives that such hate brings. And as I experience it for the first time, as limited as that experience is, I wonder if I could survive these disruptions in ways that so many others must because of who they are—the color of their skin, their religion, their life choices and circumstances. I don’t know if I could, so I admire even more those who do.
For that reason, my anger must be productive. I must respond to the hate that is directed at others as strongly and loudly as I must respond to any hate my family and I could face. I choose to be an ally simply because to do otherwise would minimize the degree of separation between the haters and me.
So what can I do? I’ve asked myself that question many times over the past few days. I believe that much of the hate against immigrants, refugees, Muslims, Jews, African-Americans, Latinos, and LGBTQ that is happening today has been unleashed by the lies of one man. Don’t misunderstand me; I know the hate existed before Donald Trump. There is a history of it, and his lies are just the most recent manifestations of that hate. His lies have served to fertilize the ground on which the hate exists and made it possible for it to grow and reveal itself in the light of day. That is something I did not expect happening in the America I live in.
I, we, all of us must confront Trump and his lies, and demand that those who support him confront him, too, and hold him accountable. His lies and the lies that preceded him make hate possible. The truth is the strongest weapon we have against such lies.
We can begin by listing those lies that are disrupting and damaging people’s lives on a daily basis now. Here are just a few, and when I hear any one or more of these lies, I will respond with the truth as directly and passionately as I can:
First, it is a lie to say that Mexicans are over-running our country or committing more crimes than citizens. There is no evidence of this. The truth is they are working and paying taxes and raising families. And in the past, we as a country have found just and humane ways of addressing immigration concerns. We can easily do that again instead of spending billions of dollars to destroy lives and break up families.
Second, it is a lie to say that terrorists are pouring into the United States, and refugees are committing acts of terrorism. There is no evidence of this. The fact is most refugees are woman and children, and the truth is, a terrorist act in this country is most likely to be committed by a White Nationalist and/or mentally ill male. As a nation, we have always opened our arms to refugees and not to do so is immoral by any mainstream religious position you take.
Third, it is a lie that our inner cities are hellholes, and crime, as horrible as it is in some places, is at record highs. The fact is that spreading such lies does not alleviate the real concerns about crime that exist. The truth is such lies perpetuate division and reflect racist attitudes about African Americans and other minorities that are as old as this nation. And to suggest that tougher policing will solve the crime problem is a lie.
Fourth, it is a lie to say there was voter fraud in the last election. The truth is there is no evidence of a large number of non-citizens voting in any election. The fact is most illegal voting, which is itself incidental, is done by citizens. Evidence, however, shows that voter restriction laws are strategically keeping certain groups of citizens from voting—most often those very people at which hate is being directed. This is the truth. This is the collusion of power and hate that undermines American democracy.
And, fifth, it is a lie to say that the mainstream media produces fake news, and the media are the enemy of the people. The fact is the mainstream media does not get everything right, they report misinformation at times, but they do rely on evidence and a degree of impartiality that is the envy of free press supporters around the world. More often than not when they make a mistake, they report it and the mistake itself becomes part of the national debate. No free society can survive without a free press. The truth is that those who malign the press are enemies of the people.
All of these lies and more have created the environment where those with hate are compelled to act on their hate. The lies breed and perpetuate hate, and give cause for haters to act. That is why the lies cannot stand.
As I think about my daughter and wonder when her preschool will get the bomb threat call, I wonder how we as a nation got to this point. Then I realize that our history is filled with hate-filled actions that were bolstered by the lies of a few. In the past, in time, those who spoke and acted on the truth overcame the lies and hate. The biggest difference between now and the past is that the very essence of our nation is under attack today. Where in the past, we struggled toward the American ideal, confronting those who held us back from being the nation we claimed to be, today we are struggling to save that very ideal from destruction. Today, we are striving to preserve that, which by many people’s estimations, we had already secured.