Donald Trump came under fire yet again last week, this time for tweeting an image of Hillary Clinton, a pile of cash, and a Star of David bearing the slogan "Most corrupt candidate ever!" Critics quickly pointed out that the image had originally been posted on a white supremacist message board. Trump responded by claiming that the star was supposed to represent a sheriff's badge. On Tuesday, however, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke defended Trump's tweet.
Despite Trump's defense of the image, he deleted his tweet and subsequently tweeted an updated version in which the star had been changed to a circle. His social media director, Dan Scavino, also tried to fight accusations of anti-Semitism on Monday evening. But Duke noticed that the image had been changed, and tweeted that the initial image was "the hidden hand exposing itself" — something he welcomed.
Duke, who endorsed Trump earlier this year before extensive criticism forced Trump to disavow him, didn't stop there. He proceeded to congratulate Trump for "slipping some 'Red Pills' to the American people" and tweeted a screenshot of a Haaretz story about Jewish billionaires who are shaping the 2016 presidential election. It is highly unlikely that Trump and his campaign did not understand the anti-Semitic implications of the image they chose, and they gave their bigoted followers license to capitalize on their decision.
This isn't the first time that Trump and his supporters have attempted to justify bigoted actions and rhetoric. Back in March, a white Trump supporter punched a black protester in the face — and it was the protester who was taken to the ground by law enforcement officials. Last December, several Arab American and Muslim American activists, as well as others who were calling for racial equality, were "forcibly ejected" from a fundraiser at which Trump was speaking. Following the South Carolina primary, an exit poll showed that nearly half of the Republicans who turned out were in favor of immediately deporting all undocumented immigrants.
None of this is new. Many marginalized people could list numerous examples of bigotry that they have had to confront. But with his powerful platform, Trump is normalizing this oppressive behavior in public spaces. He is lending credibility to people who have always held racist, sexist, Islamophobic, xenophobic, and/or anti-Semitic views, and encouraging them to act on them. He is making it seem acceptable to call for a ban on Muslims, to refer to Mexican immigrants as "rapists," "drug dealers," or "criminals." He is capitalizing on fear of the "other" in the same way that his followers are capitalizing on his influence.
This is perhaps one of the most dangerous aspects of Trump's candidacy. His supporters will still be around even if he doesn't win the election, and they will likely feel empowered to do and say hateful things because Trump has been doing so for such a long time. He has faced very few tangible consequences for his behavior on the campaign trail, and has egged his supporters on in their violent actions against protesters. For this reason, we must actively work to dismantle the systems that enable people like Trump to maintain their power and influence, and act in solidarity with those whom Trump attempts to further marginalize.