Will Trump speak out against the bigots?

Story highlights

  • Frida Ghitis: Progress in race relations in the United States now looks set to take a leap backward after Trump's election
  • But if he speaks out firmly, it could go a long way toward uniting the country, Ghitis says

Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review, and a former CNN producer and correspondent. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.

(CNN)The moment Donald Trump won the election, a large segment of America was gripped by fear. Another segment felt empowered to express hatred and intolerance. The two fed into each other, highlighting and intensifying the country's deep divisions.

The key question now is how Trump will respond to each side. On Thursday night, we got a hint of the ambivalence afflicting the President-elect. Trump, it seems, is torn.
Frida Ghitis
First, he lambasted those protesting his electoral victory, again attacking the media as the culprit. Perhaps someone explained the First Amendment to him. Or perhaps he just reconsidered. Either way, he later sent out a new tweet praising the protesters' "passion for our great country," adding "We will all come together and be proud."
    Which of the two tweets is the real Trump? Which one tells us what kind of president he will be? The answer matters, because many people are worried, even fearful, about the hatred that has been displayed by some of their fellow Americans and what it portends for the nation's future.
    Consider that just hours after Trump was elected, someone spray painted two Swastikas on a store's windows in Philadelphia. Below that poisonous symbol of Nazi Germany, they wrote "Sieg Heil 2016," linking this moment in America to the chant with which Nazis greeted Adolf Hitler.
    With that move, the culprits perfectly encapsulated the worst fears of those who worry what a Trump presidency will do to this country and to the world, and whether he will take a sharp turn off the road upon which America has traveled. The United States, they fear, risks abandoning the path that made the country a global beacon of social progress, in favor of one that inspires only dread.
    The protesters are sending a message to the President-elect that they are angry and scared. Trump's silence, meanwhile, risks signaling approval for the acts of white supremacists and other bigots. That is why it is imperative that Trump tell his supporters that he sharply rejects the prejudiced views we have heard, the threatening actions we have seen.
    It's one thing to keep quiet during a campaign, Mr. Trump. It's another thing altogether to ignore the assaults on the national fabric after being elected president, especially when they're committed in your name.
    Sadly, much of what is happening was fanned directly by the candidate himself during the campaign. The signs were all there, and that's why so many people are terrified. But for the sake of moving forward, we must try, reluctantly as it may be, to write it off as campaign theater. That doesn't justify nor excuse what was said. But what comes next matters more.
    Will Trump disavow the bigots who feel he endorses their views? Will he tell those who feel empowered by him that this is not what he stands for?
    If he speaks out firmly, it could go a long way toward uniting the country, something he claims he wants.
    Trump says he wants to make America great again. To do that, his priority right now, before he takes office, must be to make clear that he will fight to preserve one of America's most powerful traits, something at the core of its exceptionalism: it's commitment to battling the worst angels of our nature by appealing to the better ones.
    Millions of members of America's minority groups are having conversations they never imagined they would need to hear.
    Some Jewish Americans are discussing where they might seek refuge if things take a more ominous turn. American Jews feel, as German Jews did before them in the 1930s, that they are patriotic, integrated and live safely in their country. But Trump's campaign brought anti-Semitism into the open. Jewish journalists came under attack, even as the Trump campaign revived anti-Semitic conspiracy innuendo.
    More broadly, progress in race relations now looks set to take a leap backward. The KKK has announced plans for a parade to celebrate Trump's election. African-Americans are being taunted. Someone scrawled "Whites Only," "White America," "Trump" on a bathroom stall in a Minnesota school. In Pennsylvania, a high school student reportedly greeted the news of Trump's victory with a call of "White Power."
    Muslims, meanwhile, have good reason to fear the future after Trump put them near the top of his list of targets. They are certainly feeling the hate.
    But it is perhaps Latino Americans who have the most immediate concerns. Tens of millions of Americans of Hispanic ancestry live in this country. Recent immigrants, especially, are terrified. But bigotry does not stop to inspect papers. Perhaps most disturbing, prejudice is being injected into the minds of impressionable children.
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    In a video that went viral, Latino children came under verbal assault in Royal Oak, Michigan, on the day after the election, with a group of white kids chanting "Build the wall!"
    The fear extends to other groups. LGBT Americans fear for their hard-won gains. And women are bracing for the turning back of the clock to a time when men feel unabashedly entitled to grab or mock their bodies and ignore their minds. Will "Mad Men" become a period piece about the future instead of the past?
    I believe most of the people who voted for Trump are not racists, are not filled with hate. But there is no denying that Trump has supercharged the bigots. And despite growing signs that the racists, anti-Semites, homophobes, Islamophobes and misogynists are coming out in force, we have heard nothing from the man in whose name they are acting.
    Is it too much to expect that Trump repudiate them?
    If he doesn't do it -- and even if he does -- it is up to all Americans who reject bigotry to fight against it in the years to come. It is down to all of us to make sure that this country remains a place that safeguards everyone's dignity, especially during what is sure to be a challenging four years to come.