If you're looking for evidence that Donald Trump's chilling, racially tinged rhetoric surrounding immigration has taken root in the larger American psyche, look no further than the town of Marion, North Carolina.
A group of graduating seniors at McDowell High School have drawn intense criticism from members of the school's Latino community after building what appeared to be a Trump-inspired wall out of cardboard boxes across school grounds. According to ABC affiliate WLOS, photos of the wall and its buildings—including one prominently wearing a Donald Trump T-shirt—were shared across social media, with captions including as "we built the wall first," and "#BuildThatWall." One photo was picked up by a "Students For Trump" group, who shared it on their Instagram, writing:
McDowell High School students get the award for best #studentsfortrump senior prank. THEY BUILT A WALL!! We are #students4trump#trump2016#trump#maga#studentsfortrump#makeamericagreatagain#trump#trumptrain
None of the students involved in the prank will face disciplinary action. School official Brian Oliver explained to WLOS that "In viewing the actual photo and what took place, there's not anything offensive in the photo."
Ostensibly, a giant wall connected to Trump-ish rhetoric isn't, in and of itself, problematic. What's problematic instead is the boogeyman of "social media."
"There was no offensive activity at the time," Oliver continued to WLOS. "What became offensive or concerning was what took place on social media afterwards. So, it's hard for the school to have control or to take action against something that happened on social media that was outside school hours and outside any school network."
For McDowell students Marta Guardian and Johnny Campos, however, the hurt was real.
"My Mom and Dad have done a lot for me," she explained to local media. "And other families do that too. But people seem to see them as bad people."
Guardian and Campos met with McDowell principal Edwin Spivey, who reportedly apologized for the incident, and asked them to "come up with ways to be united in the school." In a statement made to WLOS, Campos writes:
I am the president of the Hispanic Youth Club. After this incident was brought to my attention, I asked to meet with our principal, Mr. Spivey. It was a very productive meeting and I believe Mr. Spivey will handle this in a way that helps everyone begin to repair relationships. McDowell High School is a great place, and I want the Class of 2016 to be known for building bridges for a better tomorrow—not judged by the insensitive actions of a few people.
The incident calls to mind a similar episode that took place on the campus of Tulane University this past spring. There, brothers of the Kappa Alpha fraternity constructed their own makeshift block around their frat house, emblazoning it with Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan. After intense backlash from the campus community, Kappa Alpha insisted the wall was a failed attempt to "mock the ideologies of a political candidate," but pledged to take it down nonetheless.
An April report published by the Southern Poverty Law Center points to a sharp increase in these sorts of schoolyard incidents of seemingly Trump-inspired harassment. Dubbed "The Trump Effect," the report claims some students "have been emboldened by the divisive, often juvenile rhetoric in the campaign. Teachers have noted an increase in bullying, harassment, and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates on the campaign trail."
In other words, by mainstreaming and normalizing racial, religious, and ethnic divisiveness, Donald Trump isn't making America great again—he's making its playgrounds, cafeterias, and classrooms much, much worse.