Earlier in the year, someone, presumably a student, chalked “Trump 2016” in various locations around campus. The graffiti was met with a variety of responses on YikYak—from those who demanded it be washed away to those who claimed that this text should be protected under the First Amendment. However, the issue goes a lot deeper than the oft-quoted adage, ‘I can do whatever I want, it’s a free country.’ Rather, openly supporting Trump could easily be considered hate speech.
In the case of the campus graffiti, it wouldn’t have mattered if the chalked words said “Hillary 2016,” “Cruz 2016,” or “Bernie 2016”—vandalism is vandalism and Bates is private property and it is thus legally problematic to advertise any political candidate. The problem isn’t the graffiti (although that is, in fact, a legal problem). The problem is the message that these words send. The American Bar Association (ABA) defines hate speech as “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.” Donald Trump’s proposed policies towards immigrants and certain religious groups are hateful and include “rounding up” illegal immigrants and deporting them, and “temporarily” banning all Muslims from entering our country. Trump, who has claimed “Islam hates us,” has a habit of targeting specific groups, homogenizing them as “the”—as in, “the Hispanics […] are going to love Trump”; “Frankly, we’re having problems with the Muslims”; and “I have a great relationship with the blacks.” Trump has openly been supported by white supremacists, including the former Grand Wizard of the KKK. These statements, attitudes, and policies are so obstreperous, they’re impossible to ignore. In other words, one cannot possibly support Trump without also condoning his positions on minority groups.
After Ted Cruz and John Kasich dropped out of the race, leaving Trump as the Republican frontrunner, the Bushes and Paul Ryan, the highest ranking elected Republican, have announced that they are unable to support Trump because of his “bullying” tactics. And while neither have cited racism, it is clear that, even amongst conservatives, there is an obvious hostility to Trump’s targeted policies.
Returning to the topic of hate speech, it’s evident that Trump’s policies target individual groups and could make those groups feel threatened, clearly adhering to the ABA’s definition. On top of that, Trump’s supporters have a habit of misidentifying individuals, such as using an image of a Sikh soldier with a caption claiming he was Muslim in an article on “The U.S. Patriot,” a nativist news site. In fact, the rate of hate crimes directed at Muslims has tripled since 2015. And this Islamophobia includes not just followers of Islam, “but anyone who ‘appears’ or ‘sounds’ Muslim, including Sikhs and non-Muslim Arabs, and Hindus.” In one incident in Wichita, Kansas, a Trump supporter attacked a Muslim man named Khondoker Usama and a Hispanic man who didn’t give his name, using racial slurs against them and telling them that they were “trash” and that they “better go home.”
Trump supporters are quick to say, “When Trump says, ‘build a wall to keep out immigrants’ or, ‘ban Muslims from entering our country’ he means ‘control immigration,’” but they also have a dangerous tendency to sharpen his words. So, when Trump says, “round up” illegal immigrants, they feel the need to threaten any person who appears Hispanic with violence. And when Trump says he wants to ban Muslims from our country, they decide someone ‘looks’ Muslim, even though being Muslim does not indicate that a person belongs to any certain ethnicity, and thus must be harassed or threatened. Because of the multitude of instances in which Trump supporters have violently confronted marginalized groups, I argue that “Trump 2016” is a synecdoche for racism in America. Trump is the candidate supported by the most racists (that’s an actual fact) and if you support Trump, you are complicit in that. To quote Martin Luther King Jr., “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” Any person who supports Trump and claims that they are ‘only in favor of his economic policies,’ or that they “don’t agree with those ‘passionate’ supporters’ are passively accepting, and therefore perpetuating, the behavior of Trump’s racist fans, whom he has refused to denounce. “Trump 2016” emblazoned anywhere is an active threat against the communities targeted by Trump’s supporters and should be treated as such.