On Monday, less than a week after Donald Trump won the presidency, I received a piece of anti-Semitic hate mail. It was addressed to me personally, at my home, where I live with my wife and two daughters, aged 3 years and 6 months.
In the past, I might have kept quiet. Not now. I decided to publicize it.
The letter was postmarked Nov. 10 — two days after Election Day. There are plenty of reasons to believe that was not a coincidence.
Throughout his campaign, Trump has sent signal after signal to his supporters that it was okay to rough people up and harass them if they got too “politically correct.” His strategic adviser, Stephen Bannon, helmed an internet publication, Breitbart.com, that has celebrated white identity politics and traded in slurs on Jews and lesbians, not to mention feminists and, in one story, Pope Francis and Sweden.
Clearly, the sender is unhinged. But if there is one person like this out there, there are probably more. All it takes is for a few crazy people, feeling validated by careless campaign rhetoric and ill-considered appointments, to do some real damage. This was somebody figured out that I am Jewish (even though that’s never been a part of my public identity) and figured out how to get my address.
I’m scared. Not because I received a single piece of hate mail, or that I’m worried that a person with a return address in Tucson is coming for me. But he might go to a synagogue in Tucson. We now have a president whose election ushered in a day of hate crimes, many conducted in his name. Since his election, about 300 hate crimes have been reported. This is not normal. This is not acceptable.
Since I’ve gone public with my hate mail, I’ve been asked repeatedly by friends: “What can we do for you guys?” My standard response has been: Stay vigilant. Don’t let this be normalized.
But there’s more. For one, I’d say donate to institutions that will defend against hate crimes and stand up for basic civil rights. The Southern Poverty Law Center. The Anti-Defamation League. The NAACP. The ACLU. These institutions need our support.
And pay for good journalism. This is so important. Journalists need our support. We’re going to depend on them to keep us informed not only on what the heck the Trump administration is up to, but what the heck is going on this country. Hate crimes are on the rise. We need journalists out there telling the stories, keeping steady drumbeat: This is not normal. This is not acceptable. This is not normal. This is not acceptable. And here are the people and pictures.
Perhaps most importantly, we need to be talking to each other about what’s going on in this country. We cannot be afraid to call out incidents we see, and to flag them for political decision-makers and leaders in other positions of power. We need to create a public record.
I know almost half of voters in this country voted for Donald Trump to be the next president. For months, data has made clear that many Trump supporters exhibit racist attitudes. But I refuse to believe that everyone who voted for Trump was motivated by racism. If that’s the case, then it’s hopeless: Those of us who are not white and Christian might as well leave this country now while we still can.
But I don’t believe it’s hopeless. A tolerant America is still worth fighting for. And many Trump voters were merely voting Trump because he was the Republican, and they were Republicans. In a two-party system, there are only two viable choices, and if you are a Republican and you want to stop Hillary Clinton, Trump is your only viable choice.
Now much depends on these non-racist Republican voters and their representatives in Congress. They must stand up for fundamental decency.
I know, throughout the campaign we saw how pusillanimous Republican politicians were in standing up to Trump’s racist rhetoric. But at the time, Republicans could have justified their cowardice by thinking that he couldn’t possibly win, so why pick the fight? He had supporters, and there was no reason to antagonize them.
But now the stakes are higher. Trump is about to become president, after running a campaign that appears to have emboldened crazy racists like the man who sent me and other Washington Jewish journalists the anti-Semitic hate mail. If we don’t stand up for decency now, when will we? The longer we shrug this kind of stuff off, the more it becomes normalized. It’s time for Republicans who don’t want this to be their America either to demand it not be.
And finally, there’s something Donald Trump can do. Big league. If he really wants to be the president for all Americans, he can give speeches condemning violence against minorities and women and immigrants.
He can acknowledge that while there may be many people who feel frustrated by what they see as a stifling attitude of “political correctness,” there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to deal with this. There are certain fundamental norms of human decency, and our society depends on them.
And he can tell us that in Trump’s America, law and order means making sure everybody follows the law, and that hate crimes will be punished according to the law.
I’m not holding out much hope of Trump doing this on his own. But all of us should demand something like this. Once hate crimes become normalized, it’s hard to rebuild the norms of fundamental human decency. And without those basic norms, it’s really hard to maintain a multiethnic democracy based on the fundamental agreement that people are created equal.