WTF 2016: Remembering the Year We’d Rather Forget

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Make America Hate Again

In just the six days following the November 8 election of Donald Trump to the White House, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented 437 cases of “hateful intimidation and harassment.”

The unnerving flood of overt, post-election displays of racism, homophobia, misogyny and xenophobia follows a year in which hate speech was mainstreamed by a presidential candidate who tapped into deep-seated prejudices to fuel his run. Take, for instance, the race-based taunting that began to pop up at high school volleyball and basketball games across the country, as white students used Trump-themed chants to mock rivals from predominantly Hispanic schools.

Perhaps what’s so depressing about politics in 2016 is how much it underscored the degree to which prejudice will continue to steer the discourse.
In Texas, a state that has become a laboratory for trickle-down Islamophobia in recent years, we’ve already had hints of what this kind of “dialogue” leads to. Going into the 2016 election, public opinion polls showed that seven out of 10 Republicans in this GOP-dominated state “strongly favored” subjecting Muslims living in this country (even American Muslims) to “more scrutiny than people in other religious groups,” echoing one of the hallmarks of the Trump campaign. Indeed, we’ve become a state where public school teachers warn their students how Islam is “an ideology of war” or might call the Muslim kid a terrorist in class; where the cops get called if a kid named Ahmed brings a clock with too many wires to school; where people protest the opening of an Arabic immersion school; where armed, masked protesters will patrol outside a mosque to, in their words, “Stop the Islamization of America”; where state officials compare Syrian refugees to a pit of venomous snakes and joke about nuking “the Muslim world”; and where a state lawmaker might make Muslim visitors to her office swear an oath “to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws.”

As Trump’s swearing-in approaches, the public, hate-fueled reactions just keep on coming – from fliers posted around Texas State University urging people to help usher in Trump’s new “era of law and order” by reporting undocumented students, to the neo-Nazi pamphlets (which referred to immigrants as “animals”) that surfaced at a Houston apartment complex, or the hateful, racist letter sent to the Central Texas Food Bank, chiding the organization for giving freeloading “illegals” and “Africans” a helping hand.

For anyone who thought we’d started to shove hate speech into the shadows where it belongs, 2016 was the year it seemed to re-emerge loud, proud and emboldened. All after a presidential campaign that featured ample amounts of race-based taunting from the guy who ultimately won. Go figure. — MB

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