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How the Trump and Right-Wing Media Hate Virus Spreads

A woman almost drowned a 3-year-old Palestinian American girl in Texas last month. What made her so filled with hatred?

Trump stands in profile at a podium, speaking to a crowd of people.
Brandon Bell/Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on November 2, 2023, in Houston.

She may never be the same.

On May 19, three American citizens were hanging out at their apartment complex swimming pool. A mom and her two children, a little girl, 3, and a boy who was 7 years old. Mom was Muslim, so she wore a modest swimsuit and a hijab.

This infuriated Elizabeth Wolf, a 42-year-old white woman, who, upon arriving at the pool, began loudly berating the young mother, using racial slurs to tell her she wasn’t welcome in white America. Wolf then jumped into the pool and grabbed the two children, who were playing in the shallow end, and tried to drown them.

With mom’s help, the little boy escaped with scratches from Wolf’s fingernails, but Wolf succeeded in dragging the 3-year-old girl into a deeper part of the pool and was repeatedly holding her head under water as the little girl began to drown.

A bystander intervened, jumping into the pool and rescuing the little girl; when police arrived and handcuffed Wolf, she screamed at the arresting police officer: “Tell her I will kill her, and I will kill her whole family.”

An eyewitness who was also in the pool with her own 7-year-old told a reporter for KDFW: “That was like 10 seconds, but it felt like forever. She was like, ‘Help me! She’s killing my baby, she’s killing my baby!’”

The little girl was so traumatized by the incident that she’s now afraid to leave her family’s apartment. Her PTSD may well affect her for the rest of her life. Can you imagine if that had happened to your child or grandchild?

The mom, whom news reports aren’t identifying to protect her from the other many violent racists daily encouraged by Trump and Texas Republicans, told the local media:

We are American citizens, originally from Palestine, and I don’t know where to go to feel safe with my kids. My country is facing a war, and we are facing that hate here. My daughter is traumatized; whenever I open the apartment door, she runs away and hides, telling me she is afraid the lady will come and immerse her head in the water again. Also, my husband’s employment is jeopardized, due to having to leave work to accompany me and our four kids whenever we have appointments and errands to run.

While hate has always been a part of the American landscape, the entrance of Donald Trump onto the American political scene has led to an explosion of hate crimes against racial and religious minorities.

That’s because hate is contagious. One scientific study of memes that can evoke violence found that those based on hate of “the other” were more than twice as “contagious” as those directed within the group itself.

Politicians throughout history intuitively know this, which is why Viktor Orbán trashes Roma people, Vladimir Putin trashes Muslims and gays, and Narendra Modi attacks Indians raised in the Islamic religion.

The politics of hate are cheap, easy, and effective, but generally modern American politicians haven’t employed them because history has shown how societally destructive they can be. Until, that is, Trump explicitly embraced white supremacy and white “Christian” nationalism, and the entire GOP chose to repeat the horrors that corresponded with the resurgent rise of the Klan in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Hate crimes in America had been on a steady decline starting in the 1990s, when the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program began collecting data on them, with the exception of bumps in anti-Muslim hate after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (initially misattributed to Muslim terrorists) and 9/11.

That continuous (with the exception of those two transient bumps) 25-year decline in hate crimes came to a screeching halt in 2015, when Donald Trump began his campaign of hatred, demonizing immigrants, Muslims, and Black people.  

The FBI reports that hate crimes showed a huge jump that year, rising 6.8 percent over 2014. The following year, as Trump became the GOP’s 2016 nominee and doubled down on his hate-filled rhetoric, saw a second explosion in hate crimes, up nearly 5 percent in one single year over 2015.

After Trump declared he was going to ban all Muslim immigration, anti-Muslim hate crimes went up 67 percent in 2015, and the quarter of the election, the fall–winter of 2016, saw a 25.9 percent increase in documented hate crimes over the same fourth quarter of 2015.

A University of North Texas study found that the counties that hosted a Trump rally in 2016 saw a stunning 226 percent increase in reported hate crimes when compared to counties in the same states that didn’t host a rally.

Hatred can be as contagious as infectious bacteria and viruses. It crosses social, economic, and family lines to infect its victims, and once exposure has happened and hate is allowed to grow within the host, it begins to corrode emotional and mental functions as well as negatively impacting the infected individual’s general physical health.

A fellow called in to my radio/TV program yesterday and went on a rant about how President Biden should be arrested for allowing “murderers and rapists” to enter the country illegally. He’d clearly caught the hate virus from Trump and his sycophants in right-wing hate media, echoing them word for word.

I explained that the safest communities in America, from border towns to big cities, were those with the largest undocumented immigrant populations, for the simple reasons that they don’t want to commit crimes and be brought to the attention of authorities who may deport them … and that they’re here looking for work and opportunity rather than chances to commit crimes (which they could just as easily do in their home countries).

He was completely unconvinced; an undocumented immigrant recently raped a teenager, and Fox “News” had pounded on the story for days; he kept repeating the story. Hate had infected him and, with continual reinforcement from right-wing hate media, reached its claws deep into his vulnerable psyche.

Trump’s most recent hate-filled abomination was suggesting to a delighted white “Christian conservative” audience that the UFC should throw immigrants into locked cages with professional fighters for entertainment. The “Christian” crowd laughed and applauded when he said: “I think the migrant guy might win. That’s how tough they are.… These are tough people. These people are tough, and they’re nasty. Mean. It’s incredible that they come [here to America] totally unchecked.”

There truly is no bottom when it comes to Trump and his willingness to use hate and sadism to try to stay out of prison.

Next January—G-d willing Trump is defeated and later imprisoned—we’ll have to engage the hard work of healing our nation from being daily bathed in hate these nine long years. Even today, we must begin the process with our friends and families.

It won’t be easy, but it’s vital work that will fall to all of us. It should include adding the study of hate and its political legacy to our civics classes, as Germany did after World War II.

Here in America in the 1940s, Time, Life, and Fortune magazines produced anti-hate films funded by the U.S. government to deal with the legacy of hateful American prewar support for Nazism and the Klan. The military itself produced similar films explaining how and why hate had destroyed Germany and brought us into the war as a result.

Our government should undertake a similar effort, in collaboration with major media companies that have sworn off promoting hatred. Hopefully, if we all engage, we can prevent any more 3-year-olds from becoming the victims of Trump’s, Fox’s, and the GOP’s use of hate as a cheap political weapon.