The civil rights and the human relations fields are unique in being arenas in which everyone is an expert. Having worked in this field for over forty years, I have yet to find someone who doesn't have an opinion about how race, inter-religious and inter-ethnic relations are faring.
In a diverse society such as ours, we all have experiences with other groups which entitle us to be mavens and to give expression to those feelings.
To make the field more fraught, there is inevitably an overlay of political attitudes that color people's assessment of the state of inter-group relations. Those on the left tend to paint a grim picture to spur the unmotivated into action to forge a better world. Those on the center right tend to focus on the progress that has been made in recent decades and dismiss evidence of intolerance as anomalous.
It is unusual to find a pundit who has a world view who transcends the orthodoxies of his political prism to offer a refreshing, honest and profoundly accurate assessment of trends in the world of intergroup relations, yet it happens.
The Washington Post has a superb column by Michael Gerson, former speech writer for President George W. Bush---"The Trump era is a renaissance of half-witted intolerance." It is a perceptive and revelatory assessment of how prejudice and bigotry work and how President Trump promotes an environment of intolerance.
Gerson rightfully dismisses the distraction of Trump's occasional rhetoric of acceptance of differences and tolerance. Today offered an example of Trump's sleights of hand. He pardoned an African American boxer who died in 1946, a feint towards tolerance; an act that suckers in far too people who miss the bigger picture of what Trump is causing.
Gerson makes clear that Trump's bigotry is not accidental or incidental, "Whatever else Trumpism may be, it is the systematic organization of resentment against outgroups. Trump's record is rich in dehumanization." For Trump resentment and the singling out of minorities is "an organizing principle and it has resulted in a series of radiating consequences."
Gerson explains the impact of Trump's invidious bigotry. It "has given permission for the shameful expression of shameful sentiments." And the increasing expression of bigotry has revealed the depressing silence of people who know better who ought to be forcefully rejecting the resentment and hate. It has revealed "the cowardice of a much broader faction within the GOP---those who know better but say little."
This truth is applicable beyond the GOP.
There are "civil rights" leaders in our community "who know better" yet ignore Trump's malign actions for personal or institutional reasons. Among the most prominent local apologists is the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Rabbi Marvin Hier. As a student of the Holocaust, he certainly knows what can happen when minorities are stigmatized and made the target of resentment by political leaders. Yet Hier simply chooses to ignore the lessons of history that his museum offers; like many leaders of the GOP, he can't seem to rush to Trump's side often enough, visibly acquiescing to his "half-witted intolerance."
Gerson asserts correctly that Trump's attitudes have also made the Republican party more xenophobic and granted permission to the fringe elements that have plagued the right for decades (McCarthyites in the 50s, John Birchers in the 60s); "Trump has not only given permission to those on the fringes; he has also changed the Republican mean to be more mean."
From Charlottesville and the neo-Nazis that Trump had trouble condemning to the fans of Alex Jones that he sidles up to, to the 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets that were sent from some 3 million Twitter handles in 2017, to the incidents of incivility and violence that fill the news nearly every day-----Trump has empowered extremists to feel unburdened and unshackled, they have truly become "more mean."
Gerson's analysis is chillingly accurate and a reminder of the dangers of Trump beyond an incompetent foreign policy, the subversion of environmental protections, the erosion of democratic norms and constitutional protections, and whatever other realm he chooses to devastate; for all its other malfeasances, the Trump era is tragically also "a renaissance of half-witted intolerance."