It's Epidemic and Corrosive
March 1st 2019
This is Salt Lake City, a socially conservative town where public expressions of hate are usually on mute. So, when a sandwich-boarded zealot angered a young woman crossing the street, she quickly returned toting her response. Their altercation triggered a father pushing a baby carriage to run back with his own commentary. The reactive, in-your-face confrontation was loud, even physical, but stopped short of the hate violence intensifying across the United States. Unlike this scene in the dominantly white, Christian capital of Utah, many U.S. hate crimes can escalate fast.
Americans are far more brazen in their bigotries and increasingly likely to lash out, according to striking sets of data compiled by government, independent bipartisan groups, and pollsters. From 2016 to 2017 alone, hate crimes rose by 17% as the FBI verified a record 7,175 incidents. It's an impressive number in isolation, but grossly underreported. So-called Blue States—California, New York, Washington, and Massachusetts—have more progressive legislation on the books and post the highest number of hate crimes. But just how do more conservative states monitor hate crimes if there is no codified way to recognize it?
Hate is on the airwaves, it’s online, it’s in parks and prisons, and it’s clearly on the streets. But the public space where hate is most treacherous, perhaps most prevalent, is where millions of students live and learn: the college campus. Government statistics suggest that campus hate crimes have surged just as fast as the national average. The Chronicle of Higher Education monitors everything from the deluge of white supremacist propaganda (up 77%), to vandalism, intimidation, and outside hate groups preying on impressionable students. It dismisses the government stats as flawed with only 2% of colleges reporting, and insists the real number of incidents is far greater. Fresh research indicates American youth have one foot forward in education and another stuck in debilitating stress. Again, the data is staggering: nearly two-thirds of college students suffer from “overwhelming anxiety” and well over a third are hindered by depression. Indeed these and other results from the American College Health Association’s 2018 survey depict a deeply troubled American youth, struggling but not necessarily seeking help, given the lingering taboos around mental health. Clearly, a critical area of study is the relationship between campus vitriol and student well-being.
The debate about what brought Americans to this point is as fraught with accusations as the actual hate itself. But it is hate’s degrading impact on American democracy that gravely concerns Freedom House, a bipartisan global watchdog based in Washington, D.C. Founded as a reaction against Nazism in 1941, it has since called out countries that abuse basic civil rights and offered specific measures to reverse the declines. The newly released Freedom in the World 2019: “Democracy in Retreat” lists the usual rogue nations for egregious attacks on human liberty. But in a stunning departure, Freedom House condemns the United States for its direct and dangerous connections between the rise of hate and the battering of American democratic institutions. It’s “as serious as any experienced in living memory” the report warns, principally because of President Trump's assaults on the independence of the U.S. judiciary, the media, the rule of law. Freedom House admonishes the American public that their long-established bastions of democracy cannot take many more blows.
The damage is considerable. Regardless of their income, education, racial, ethnic, religious, gender or even political differences, Americans consider their democracy “weak,” and a greater number see it weakening further. This, according to the Democracy Project, a partnership between the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy & Global Engagement, the George W. Bush Institute, and Freedom House. Bush and Biden teamed up to help restore America's confidence in its institutions by delivering sound data, research, and bipartisanship. A stark takeaway from their latest poll: half of those surveyed believe the world’s strongest democracy could give way to authoritarianism.
Seeking the latest contribution to the conversation? See Deborah Lipstadt's just-published Antisemitism: Here and Now, especially her later chapters on navigating hate on college campuses. If you’re reading from the U.S., learn how to battle hate in your community with the Southern Poverty Law Center's guide to Community Reactions to Hate, and discover how to address the different types of hate rooted in your area. Examine the Anti-Defamation League's Hate Crime Map. If you’re a student, an educator, or know someone struggling on campus, tap into the resources of Active Minds, a group partnering with colleges and universities combatting hate and the stigma of mental health. If you’ve been the victim or witness to a hate crime see the Victim Services Division for localized support.