After the mass shooting of 50 Muslims in two mosques in New Zealand on March 15, 2019, US President Donald Trump had the perfect opportunity to condemn white supremacy and Islamophobia.
But he has neither condemned the heinous attacks nor white supremacy and Islamophobia. His reaction was detached, offering sympathy to the “people of New Zealand,” while avoiding having to admit that the “people of New Zealand” in this case are Muslims. Murdered. In a mosque. By a self-proclaimed white supremacist.
Trump’s lack of any semblance of empathy is yet again a reminder that our president has priorities which are so impaired that at a time when we need leadership, moral and political, he fails to deliver on every level.
It would be astonishing if Trump’s supporters and political party, while always vindicating his actions and words as his “lapses” and brushing off any suggestions that he encourages and tolerates bigotry, do not acknowledge that he is failing completely in his role as a world leader. We have seen clearly in the Trump presidency that the title of being the president of the United States alone does not alone cut it in the global stage in terms of respect and leadership. The quality of a moral compass of our elected officials is what matters the most in gaining public trust and respect.
Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern immediately identified the attacks as a “terrorist attack committed by people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand and in fact have no place in the world.”
Trump, on the other hand, has called white supremacists “very fine people” in the past and stated that he thinks hate crimes are not on the rise. This completely contradicts the statistics from the FBI. According to the FBI, hate crimes in the United States have increased by 17 percent from 2016 to 2017. Thus, there has been a sharp rise since Trump was elected. Yet he chooses to side with the perpetrators when other world leaders have explicitly condemned white supremacy and Islamophobia.
We need to call a spade a spade. Sugar-coating the facts only leads to aggravating the problem and sending the wrong message. There is a veritable threat of white supremacy and Islamophobia. That is a fact. Added to this is the fact that Trump’s electoral base is composed of white supremacists who view people of colour and ‘other’ religions as an existential threat and the core problem to the miseries in their lives.
Trump has used the old political trick of diversion. In this case, it is the diversion of the attention and anger of the white supremacist masses (the bedrock of Trump’s base) to hating Muslims, Jews, African Americans, Hispanics, etc which fires up Trump rallies. Trump’s core argument has been that it is due to these ‘outsiders’ (even if they are born citizens of the UUS) that we face unemployment, jobs moving overseas, high rate of crimes, terrorism, drugs, etc. This technique has proven successful in that while he kept his base busy hating all immigrants of colour and devising ways to take revenge on them, he was able to wheel and deal in unscrupulous businesses which he is now being investigated for.
It is being widely argued that the New Zealand terrorist attack cannot be blamed on Trump directly. That is a matter of opinion about whether people should be held responsible for inciting and legitimising bigotry, hatred, xenophobia or for their silence when crimes due to these issues are committed or not.
Furthermore, it cannot be ignored that in his 87-page manifesto, the New Zealand terrorist referred to Trump as a “symbol of white identity and common purpose.” This is not the first time a white supremacist has claimed to have points in common with Donald Trump. Let’s let that sink in. What could white supremacists possibly have in common with Trump? The common denominator is ideology, of course.
Trump missed the golden opportunity to demonstrate leadership qualities after the New Zealand mosque shootings. By not condemning white supremacy, racist hatred and violence which has targeted mosques, churches, temples and synagogues time and time again, Trump has proven that in fact, he is actually legitimising all those things.
Thomas Jefferson, a founding father of the United States wrote: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship”.
Regretfully, what we are seeing today is not only an aberration of the principles of the freedom of religion, but of the beliefs of the founding fathers and what the United States constitution guarantees.
The writer is a teacher, writer, political columnist and member of the US Democratic Party.