The Administration

Trump’s actions are more telling than his words on Charlottesville

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There’s been a lot of attention paid to what President Trump has or has not said about the white nationalist march in Charlottesville. Commentators are right to point to the weak statements from the president and White House as it demonstrates an unwillingness to use one of the most important powers of the presidency to confront organized racism, anti-Semitism and violent bigotry. 

But a president’s powers don’t end at moral suasion and rhetoric. The president oversees a massive federal bureaucracy that has historically confronted civil rights violations and violent extremism. Just six months into his administration, the president has also failed to use this power to address the rise of the anti-African American, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant crime.

{mosads}For example, in his initial budget for the Department of Homeland Security, the president cancelled grants to several community organizations focused on fighting hate, preferring to focus on the threat posed by ISIS. This is unfortunate because grants to groups like, Life after Hate, can leverage the numerous ways local organizations address intractable social problems, and for very little money.


This missed opportunity also signals a way forward on difficult racial and ethnic issues facing the country. Community groups already provide so many services to those in need, from education to job training to healthcare. These groups can also provide a voice for those victims of hatred while communicating community concerns to public officials.

This is especially important leading up to Election Day when we decide who will make important decisions about government spending. I’ve found that for organizations serving immigrants, less than half have participated during recent elections. That means too few organizations are helping to register new voters, inform residents about important campaign issues or mobilize communities on Election Day.

This is another missed opportunity to confront white nationalism and hatred, especially when we consider how effective community-based organizations can be in responding to a rise in racial violence like we’ve seen since last fall. 

During the 2012 election, organizations such as the Sikh Coalition quickly responded to the murder of Sikh worshippers in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. These groups successfully urged the Department of Justice to classify the murder as a hate crime and commit federal resources to the case.

Elsewhere in the country, even though there is a small percentage of immigrant organizations participating in elections, for those that do, they make a major difference. Since it began registering voters in 2004, the MinKwon Center for Community Action has registered 70,000 new voters in New York City. Similar organizations door-knock and phone-bank in numerous languages to make certain every eligible voter knows where and when to vote.

Various forms of racism are embedded in American society and institutions. A thorough response must be just as comprehensive, reliant on the work of office holders, officials in government and community groups working together with the citizenry. For community groups to play this role they must be supported, not just from federal grants, but also through state and local sources, philanthropy and neighborhoods that encourage this type of participation.

Heath Brown is an assistant professor of Public Policy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the author of the 2016 book Immigrants and Electoral Politics.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Charlottesville Donald Trump Heath Brown

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