I experienced firsthand how hate breeds hate. Last year, at a news conference in Iowa, when I tried to ask Donald Trump about his immigration policy, he told me, “Go back to Univision” — hate-laden words. After Trump ejected me from the room, one of his supporters outside the hall yelled, “Get out of my country!”
I’m convinced that one reaction led to another. Had Trump not kicked me out so dismissively, his backer wouldn’t have felt compelled to order someone who is as American as he is to leave the country. Hate, after all, is contagious.
Since Trump launched his bid for the Republican presidential nomination last June, I’ve noticed that expressions of hate against immigrants on social media are becoming more common. Every time I offer an opinion, write a column or sit for an interview, my Twitter and Facebook accounts swarm with attacks and expletives. Their vehemence is unlike anything I’ve experienced in my 33 years in the United States.
It seems that Trump’s hateful rhetoric has created a safe space for trolls. His wrongheaded comments trigger and somehow sanction the prejudices of many Americans. This phenomenon is called the theory of activation, which I learned about in an excellent article written by Sanam Malik, a researcher at the Center for American Progress. “When public figures in influential positions appeal to hate, something particularly pernicious occurs,” Malik writes. “They legitimize socially unacceptable behaviors and normalize hate, thereby encouraging violence.”
From the start, Trump legitimized contempt for undocumented immigrants. The day that he announced his candidacy, Trump famously declared, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best … they’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Months later, many Americans still echo Trump’s falsehoods. (And they are indeed falsehoods: An overwhelming majority of undocumented Mexican immigrants in the U.S. are not drug dealers, criminals or rapists.)
But Mexicans aren’t the only group that Trump has attacked. During the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris last year, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Then, in a CNN interview in March, he said, “I think Islam hates us.”
There’s that word again—hate. We know that words matter. They have consequences.
In the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris, the number of hate crimes against Muslims in the United States tripled, according to an analysis from California State University, San Bernardino, cited in The New York Times.
That’s why it’s incendiary for a presidential candidate to stoke fear against a particular group, as Trump has done with Mexican immigrants and Muslims. Who knows how many Trump partisans will follow his lead and repeat his rhetoric—or consider carrying out violent acts against a particular group? Sadly, I don’t see any decrease in that kind of speech.
Trump is conducting one of the most divisive campaigns I’ve ever covered as journalist. As we get closer to Election Day, we journalists must pose tougher questions and challenge Trump constantly. And we must denounce expressions of racism and sexism, wherever they originate.
We had better not repeat the same mistakes we made in the runup to the Iraq War in 2003. Journalists should have stepped up the pressure on President George W. Bush to reveal more information about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction. And we should have demanded that his administration state the plans for Iraq after the U.S. invasion. More than a decade later, after countless deaths in Iraq and throughout the region, we continue to see the effects of an ill-advised military adventure, partly enabled by a lack of journalistic oversight.
Something similar happened in Venezuela in 1998. That year, Hugo Chávez won the presidential election with very little resistance or questioning from the press. After his election, Chávez got hooked on power and ruled as a strongman until his death in 2013.
Like Trump, Chávez relied on hateful rhetoric to advance his political career. For Trump, it’s Mexican immigrants and Muslims, while Chávez targeted his political opponents and anybody who didn’t agree with him.
Trump is using hate to advance his campaign. It’s contagious, and very difficult to extricate from the heart.
Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is the host of Fusion’s new television news show, “America With Jorge Ramos,” and is a news anchor on the Univision Network. Originally from Mexico and now based in Florida, Ramos is the author of nine best-selling books, most recently, “Take a Stand: Lessons From Rebels.”