Editorials

When Donald Trump is a role model, hate speech happens

Melissa Walker adjusts the hair of her son, Habib Rahman, 12, in front of his middle school in Rockwall, Texas. Children are processing the outcome of a presidential election that often attacked minorities and immigrants.
Melissa Walker adjusts the hair of her son, Habib Rahman, 12, in front of his middle school in Rockwall, Texas. Children are processing the outcome of a presidential election that often attacked minorities and immigrants. The Associated Press

During the height of the presidential campaign, with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at each other’s throats, Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire was asked during a debate whether she considers Trump a role model for kids.

“Absolutely, I would do that,” she said. A day later, she took it back, but the American people didn’t. Instead, knowing the venom Trump spewed on the campaign trail about minorities and women, Americans still voted him into the highest office in the land.

Now, like it or not, the crude New York businessman-turned-politician is a de facto role model for children. Last week, we found out exactly what that means.

The day after the election, teachers in some middle schools and high schools across the nation started reporting a rash of race-based bullying. Even students in California, the bluest of blue states, weren’t safe.

First, dispiriting photos, videos and stories began surfacing on Facebook. Black students reported finding racial epithets scrawled on their lockers, and being chased and spit on. In the critical swing state of Michigan, a Latino student uploaded footage of students chanting “build the wall.”

In Woodland, social media posts from Latino students described their peers telling them “we’re more American than you.” At Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, where almost half of students are English-language learners, kids were terrified that immigration agents were coming to school to deport them.

“I saw parents crying in the parking lot. There were teachers crying,” Katie Sypnieski, a teacher at Rosa Parks Middle School, told The Bee’s Diana Lambert. “There was a lot of shock, grief and anger and, from the kids, fear.”

These aren’t isolated incidents, either. They’re part of a troubling trend, according to a survey from the Southern Poverty Law Center. Two-thirds of teachers who responded said that Muslim children and children of immigrants fear what will happen to their families after the election.

There also has been an uptick in hate crimes against Muslims, according to the FBI.

Americans are hopelessly divided over the outcome of the election, with some of us convinced that Trump will lead us to ruin and others sure that he will bring blue-collar jobs back to the United States. But on one thing, we should all be able to agree.

The hateful and divisive rhetoric that so poisoned our national discourse shouldn’t be allowed to take root in our schools, especially coming out of the mouths of our children to bully their peers. Parents must step up and talk to their children about tolerance.

Incoming first lady Melania Trump was right a few weeks ago, when she said she would make it her mission to end cyberbullying if her husband was elected because “children and teenagers can be fragile.”

“They hurt when they are made fun of or made to feel less in looks or intelligence,” she said. “This makes their life hard and forces them to hide and retreat. Our culture has gotten too mean and too rough, especially to children and to teenagers.”

For days, that message seemed lost on her husband and his running mate, Vice President-elect Mike Pence. But when pressed by CBS' Lesley Stahl for an interview that aired Sunday on “60 Minutes,” Trump finally told his supporters to stop harassing minorities.

“I would say don't do it, that’s terrible, because I'm going to bring this country together,” he said.

The president-elect says he wants to be a president for all Americans. His comments were a good start. Now he must keep it up.

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