By Tom Ehrich
Now we know.
Now we know – at least a bit -- what it was like living as a black in the South. And why 6 million southern blacks moved north after World War Two. And why African-Americans of all ages are uniquely sensitive to signs of racism.
As hate crimes accelerate in the days after Trump’s election, we also know something of what it was like living as a homosexual in the closeted era. Now that we have seen colleagues and neighbors have “faggot” spray-painted on their cars and homes, we know why long-since-out gay friends are wondering what comes next. Even if Trump tells his hate-filled followers to “stop it,” can the genie be stuffed back in the bottle?
Now that we have seen swastikas painted on houses of worship, we know why Jews have vowed always to remember the Holocaust and the days that preceded it, when polite Germans, like polite Americans today, said the mobs weren’t really serious, if indeed anything happened at all.
Now we understand why women don’t just chill about having a sexual predator in the Oval Office. And why an exuberant celebration like Pantsuit Nation has turned itself to serious political action. Nasty Women, unite!
Now we know – or maybe if we don’t know fully, we sense the assault’s impact, we catch the acrid wind of hatred. I doubt that any of us can ever know what the hated minority experiences. But one impact of these past days is that the stench is wafting through every community.
The pushback has come, too. Tolerant folks are teaching each other how to intervene when, say, a Muslim gets assaulted. People on social media are cataloguing every hate crime as it occurs. News media are reporting on them. Fact-checking has intensified. New bonds of solidarity are emerging. Haters are still going to hate, but they will face exposure and opposition at every turn.
At some point, leaders in the rural areas and suburbs where much of the hatred is boiling over will need to push back, too.
Every small town I have visited dreams of being discovered by a major industry, maybe even a high-tech firm. They have invested in industrial parks and digital infrastructure. They are desperate for new jobs. Leaders in these areas will discover that high-tech firms and overseas companies won’t think of launching satellite operations in towns where hatred is the norm. Nor will young professionals move there.
Suburbs, meanwhile, are getting steadily older. Who is going to buy my generation’s suburban houses when the yard signs blare “Trump” and when local schools are filled now, not only with drugs and entitlement attitude, but hatred of gays, blacks, immigrants, and girls?
Techs in Silicon Valley will live in trailer parks outside San Francisco rather than take a risk on Omaha or Topeka or Des Moines.
The tide, you see, turned years ago. Younger Americans have moved beyond bigotry as a casual norm. Urban residents take tolerance and multiculturalism as givens. People don’t move to Manhattan in spite of diversity, but because of it. Many – most, I think – middle-agers and older adults have turned the same corner.
Election results skewed odd because of prevailing frustration and disenchantment with the establishment. But that skewing wasn’t in the direction of hatred or any affirmation of the racist, sexist, anti-immigrant rhetoric of Donald Trump. He will figure that out, I think. So will leaders across the country. They have a conservative agenda, and it will do great damage to the nation. But it isn’t grounded in the hatred on display in this week’s vandalism.
Even so, the watchword is vigilance. Hatred prefers the darkness. So we shine a light on it. And we sympathize as best we can with its intended victims, and we stand in solidarity with them.