Donald Trump’s presidency has created a political climate of deep division, putting marginalized communities in a dangerous position.
It is our responsibility to ensure this type of hate does not continue and to combat the current regressive policies being pushed by politicians, especially the bills being introduced in South Carolina.
While political division wasn’t uncommon prior to 2016, the extent that it has risen is a stark contrast to the campaign culture that came before.
Rates of hate crimes have risen, according to a new report from the FBI. There was an almost 20% increase from 2016 to 2019. In 2019, most of these hate crimes were motivated by race, ethnicity or ancestry.
Trump’s campaign and presidential term felt like a glaring “us vs. them” mentality, one that was different from that of previous presidents. This idea of liberals and immigrants ruining or harming the country gave his voters something to fight against and a hero to root for.
Trump's success in the polls in 2016 is credited to a self-proclaimed "silent majority," made up of the middle class or rural white cisgender population. He also boasted a hard stance against immigration and famous lines like “build the wall,” a reference to a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, which showed his distaste for immigrants.
This rhetoric divided the nation, and it was a big division. He also had an incredibly large partisan gap — more than any other president, according to the Pew Research Center.
Eighty-six percent of Republicans on average approved of Trump’s administration and work, while only 6% of Democrats approved. This gap of partisan approval, being the largest of any president, displays further division. With such a stark partisan contrast, the public has a harder time agreeing with one another, especially over the actions of the president.
Trump still has an extensive influence. An endorsement from Trump can be fruitful for a politician's career in certain circles, but his disdain for others can have consequences.
Tom Rice, a Republican who formerly represented South Carolina's 7th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives, lost his House seat in Congress during the midterm primaries after voting to impeach Trump for the events on Jan. 6, 2021. Trump then endorsed current member Russell Fry instead to fill Rice's position.
Trump's term also has a body count. At a 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, a man with anti-Semitic and white nationalist views murdered a woman when driving his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.
Trump was criticized for his response, especially to a situation that he has sown the seeds to create. In his response to the tragedy and violence, he empathized with both sides having bad aspects. This passes blame as opposed to addressing the issue head-on.
This is not what the nation needed to hear after having neo-Nazis march through the streets and murder someone. There needed to be a unified front against white supremacy, not a response that weakly spread the blame around.
Even after his presidential term, Trump found a way to bring further division. Jan. 6 was a gross display of the nation’s pent up mayhem and people’s estrangement from one another.
It was shocking to have an attack on not only our capital, but our sense of peace and democracy. It led to a loss of life, as seven people died in connection to the attack. It was a signifier of disrespect for our country's democracy and order.
His shameless encouragement of division and hatefulness has brought about hatred among our population. We can no longer discuss or debate without vitriol for one another, and there is a veil of seeing the “other side” as inhuman.
Trump encouraged this division and egged it on, knowing it served as fuel for his campaign.
“He gave a lot of angry people a direction to point their anger in,” Thomas Sinclair, the president of USC's College Democrats, said. “Angry people meet other group of people, other group of people shys away and the divide gets bigger.”
We've seen this anger turn towards some of the most vulnerable groups of people in our country. Recently, Tennessee banned public drag shows, and now there are bills in the S.C. Senate to ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth.
There are no winners in a divided country. All it does is further the agenda set by Trump and his supporters on Capitol Hill. It is our responsibility to deny them that satisfaction.
"Both sides need to be willing to sit down and talk. They need to be willing to make compromises, and they have to enter those conversations willing to seriously listen," Sinclair said.
We need more discussion, rather than hateful action. One can combat this with a gentler treatment of each other. Trump's entire movement was built off of hate and distrust of one another, so with more kindness and understanding, perhaps we can knit our country back together.