Jussie Smollett’s Attack Is a Symptom of the Trump Era

Empire actor Jussie Smollett was hospitalized after being attacked by two men hurling racist and anti-gay slurs in Chicago’s wealthy Streeterville neighborhood early Tuesday morning.

According to GoPride, a Chicago-based LGBT online news outlet, two men wearing ski masks targeted the black and openly gay Smollett, 36, shouting “Aren’t you that f***ot ‘Empire’ n*****?”

The men poured an unknown chemical substance on Smollett and wrapped a rope around his neck- a longtime symbol of white supremacist lynchings- before fleeing. After their rampage, the attackers cheered “This is MAGA country!”

Jesse’s attack, while horrific, is hardly an aberration. While high-profile atrocities like the massacres of black churchgoers in Charleston, Jews in a Pittsburg synagogue, or gays in an Orlando nightclub grab headlines, less noticed are the steadily increasing day-to-day attacks on people of color, LGBT people, and religious minorities.

Since 2015, the latest FBI data shows hate crimes have risen year after year. There was a 17 percent rise in hate crime reports between 2016 and 2017 alone. Those statistics only count the crimes law enforcement volunteers to tell the FBI about, the actual number is likely higher.

This spike comes after a 24 percent decline in hate crimes from 2008 to 2014. When Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign in 2015, descending from an escalator before telling the crowd below that Mexico was sending drug dealers and rapists into the United States, he opened Pandora’s Box. As his support climbed with each lie and each hateful utterance, his fans took notice. They became more comfortable openly expressing their bigotry.

Trump routinely panders to this group of supporters. The most notable example of this was his reaction to the deadly attack in Charlottesville, Virginia. Following violent clashes between Neo-Nazi sympathizers and counterprotesters, the president appeared unusually sympathetic to the racists. “You also had some very fine people on both sides,” the president remarked after a white supremacist plowed a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a young woman and injuring dozens more.

Trump will often use his platform to highlight stories of crime committed by minorities, particularly if there is a tie-in to illegal immigration. He was extremely vocal about the deaths of Mollie Tibbetts and Kate Steinle – both white women. Both cases involved defendants who happened to be undocumented immigrants.

By highlighting these stories, Trump reignites old racist depictions of menacing men of color terrorizing innocent white women. The fact is undocumented immigrants are considerably less likely to commit crime than native-born citizens. Meanwhile, he has ignored other crimes that don’t reinforce the racist notions of his base. Tellingly, he has not tweeted about the Smollett attack.

So much of the “Make America Great Again” agenda is about turning back to a less diverse country. It should come as no surprise that brainwashed Trump supporters would use violence against minorities deemed to be standing in the way of American greatness. While the FBI has now joined the hunt for the men who beat Smollett, the main instigator behind the attack continues to sit comfortably inside the White House.