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Sonali Kolhatkar

Don't Be Fooled by Trump's Talk of ‘Unity’

Sonali Kolhatkar
Columnist
Sonali Kolhatkar is a columnist for Truthdig. She also is the founder, host and producer of \"Rising Up With Sonali,\" a radio and television show that airs on Pacifica stations KPFK and KPFA and will begin…
Sonali Kolhatkar

A family member in Hyderabad, India, waits on Tuesday for the arrival of the body of Srinivas Kuchibhotla from the United States. Kuchibhotla was fatally shot in Olathe, Kan., Feb. 22 in an alleged hate crime. (Mahesh Kumar A. / AP)

The killing of an Indian man named Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Olathe, Kan., on Feb. 22 has heightened concerns over hate crimes against people of color in Donald Trump’s America.

Kuchibhotla was a tech worker at the GPS manufacturer Garmin. He was out for drinks with his friend and fellow Indian techie, Alok Madasani, when a 51-year-old white Navy veteran named Adam Purinton allegedly gunned him down after yelling, “Get out of my country.”

Purinton had confronted the two men earlier in the evening, demanding to know if they were in the U.S. illegally. Kuchibhotla and Madasani, like many Indian nationals in the U.S., were filling a great demand for high-tech workers and were in the country on work visas.

While the Trump White House initially dismissed any links between Kuchibhotla’s killing and the president’s divisive rhetoric about Muslims and immigrants as “absurd,” Madasani’s father, Jaganmohan Reddy, attributed the incident to a new wave of hate. He told The Washington Post, “The situation seems to be pretty bad after Trump took over as the U.S. president. I appeal to all the parents in India not to send their children to the United States in the present circumstances.”

On Tuesday, the same day the FBI announced it would investigate the incident as a hate crime, Trump finally mentioned the killing in his address to a joint session of Congress, saying that it reminds us “that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.”

But the condemnation rang hollow, even though he began his speech claiming to bring a “message of unity and strength.”

Trump’s minimal acknowledgement of the Kansas shooting is no surprise, given that the incident does not fit within his narrative of immigrants as dangerous and American citizens as innocent. Had the roles been reversed and a brown-skinned foreign national fatally shot a U.S. citizen, the victim’s family would have been on display at Trump’s address Tuesday. But the Kuchibhotla family was not invited, nor was their son’s name even mentioned. Instead, Trump trotted out four relatives of people killed by undocumented immigrants as props for his speech.

Trump’s words are unlikely to have much effect on the safety of Americans (studies have found that immigrants commit fewer crimes per capita than native-born U.S. citizens and that sanctuary cities are safer). In fact, they are likely to fuel the exact opposite: violence by U.S. citizens against immigrants and those perceived to be foreigners.

Unless Trump offers proof that fomenting violence against brown-skinned people is not his intention, we can only judge him by his words and assume that he condones and encourages hate crimes.

In Trump’s upside-down world, the dominant group is the most victimized: straight white men like him. The rest of us are all potential criminals. To Trump, those who are truly the most vulnerable people in American society—undocumented immigrants, people of color, Muslims and transgender children and adults—are the predators, not the victims. His White House has no plans to protect them and has instead unleashed forces, both official and unofficial, to attack them. Refugees are barred, immigrants are deported, Muslims are demonized, transgender children are left without protection to use the restroom of their gender identity, and so on.

Even George W. Bush, once the least popular president in modern history, is embarrassed by Trump. Bush, who rarely speaks to the press anymore, said, “I don’t like the racism, and I don’t like the name-calling, and I don’t like the people feeling alienated.”

Just weeks after Trump’s inauguration, many of his own supporters are aghast at his policies. A Syrian-American family in Pennsylvania that supported Trump was shocked when their relatives, who were emigrating to the U.S. with valid green cards, were deported after landing in the country. Residents of a small town in Illinois that overwhelmingly voted for Trump are upset that their friend and neighbor, Juan Carlos Hernandez-Pacheco, is facing deportation. “I knew he was Mexican, but he’s been here so long, he’s just one of us,” said one resident. Farm owners in central California who voted for Trump are now worried that his policies will affect the cheap labor force of undocumented farm workers their businesses rely on.There are many other examples of buyer’s remorse among Trump voters, including those who are worried about their president taking away the health insurance they’ve come to rely on, and Caitlyn Jenner, who is upset over Trump’s revocation of federal guidelines on transgender student rights. Indeed, there is a Twitter account dedicated entirely to retweeting the regrets of Trump voters.

I have no sympathy for Americans who voted for Trump. He was very clear throughout his campaign about his agenda and how aggressively he would work to achieve it. It is telling that many Trump voters do not want to publicly identify themselves. A self-described “Silicon Valley liberal” named Sam Altman, who traveled around the country interviewing Trump voters, relayed that “almost everyone I asked was willing to talk to me, but almost none of them wanted me to use their names.” The desire for secrecy suggests that these Americans are ashamed over having picked a president who has unleashed so much racism and hate in the nation. But they should publicly own their actions and face the responsibility they bear in helping to bring Trump into the White House. The blood of Srinivas Kuchibhotla is on their hands, as well as Trump’s.

Trump and his supporters are also responsible for the less publicized examples of how the U.S. has suddenly become a much more unwelcoming nation in the past few weeks. These include:

A U.S.-born NASA scientist named Sidd Bikkannavar who was detained at a U.S. airport and asked to turn over his phone and the code to unlock it.

An elderly couple from Calgary, Canada, were stunned to have to undergo fingerprinting and have mug shots taken simply for crossing through the U.S. from Mexico to their home.

Beloved Australian children’s author Mem Fox was aggressively interrogated at a U.S. airport and wondered if she would ever return to the U.S.

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, who won his second Academy Award for best foreign film—this time for “The Salesman”—refused to attend the ceremony in protest of Trump’s “Muslim ban,” which includes his home country. Farhadi chose not to apply for an artistic waiver to the ban.

Syrian cinematographer Khaled Khatib was barred from entering the U.S. to attend the Academy Awards for his film “White Helmets,” which also won an Oscar for best documentary. Khatib has a valid U.S. visa.

Juan Garcia Mosqueda, an Argentinian citizen who was a legal resident in the U.S. for the past 10 years while he ran an architecture and design studio in New York, was deported to Buenos Aires for no apparent reason.

Henry Rousso, a French Holocaust historian, was detained at a Houston airport for nearly half a day, with no reason given for his detention.

Members of a women’s soccer team from Tibet were denied visas to travel to Dallas for a tournament because, apparently, they had “no good reason to visit the U.S.”

The result of Trump’s vision is that America will rapidly become a pariah nation for visitors who do not want to risk being humiliated or targeted. If this is what Trump’s voters desired when they cast their ballots for an openly bigoted candidate, their wish is quickly coming true. Travel publications already are reporting a “Trump Slump,” a significant drop in visitors to the U.S. since this president took office.

Kuchibhotla’s mother has vowed not to let her younger son, who was also working in the U.S., return to this nation, and who can blame her?

At this rate, the U.S., already an international laughingstock because of the election, will be seen as an undesirable destination around the globe. Not only will the travel and tourism industry suffer, but so will the economy as a whole, given the extent to which immigrants—legal and undocumented, high-tech and low-wage—contribute. In attacking nonwhite Americans and tacitly encouraging his followers to do the same, Trump is attacking America itself.

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