Out of the Shadows
The famous document that gave birth to a free and independent United States is perhaps best known by its determination that “All men are created equal,” even though it was a notion proposed by a committee of slave owners. That self-appointed idiom has been a primary facet of America’s collective identity ever since. It has served as a mission statement for this country, painting us as a haven for oppressed people of all colors and creeds. America has been selling this lie for more than two centuries, and yet the belief in it has held strong—despite the violent greeting parties that met arriving immigrants on the New York City docks in the nineteenth century, despite that this country was founded by men who traded in human flesh and swore fealty to the guiding principle of xenophobia. The abject racism that exists in this country has never dissipated, but has prevailed under the persistent assumption that it was largely confined to certain regions, the south in particular. It was not a secret, but neither was it a subject proclaimed with pride across the nation.
Enter Donald Trump. He stands behind his podium on the campaign trail and speaks his mind about racism, misogyny and fascist ideals – and people eat it up. The persistent violence at Trump rallies serves only to enable prejudices that threaten to tear this country apart. It is not uncommon to see racial violence at rallies toward non-white people who protest Trump and his ideals. But instead of quelling racial violence, Trump blatantly encourages it. At one rally, a black woman was shoved and pushed by a crowd of white people when she stood in protest. Trump, looking on, said “Knock the crap out of her, would ya? Seriously.”
These are common enough occurrences that Trump has made various references to what he calls “the good old days,” where protesters were treated with greater violence by law enforcement. At one rally he proclaimed, “I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that in a place like this? He’s be carried out on a stretcher, folks.” This statement was met with cheers from the crowd. At another rally he reiterated the same sentiment: “In the good old days, this doesn’t happen, because they used to treat them very, very rough. And when they protested once, they did not do it again so easily.” One man at a rally, after his violent involvement with a protester, turned to the cameraman who filmed the conflict and said, “We knocked the hell out of that big mouth. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him.”
This behavior has set the tone for his campaign and gives us a hint on what a Trump presidency would be like. It was very telling that in February, David Duke endorsed Trump. More recently, the Ku Klux Klan gave their endorsement. That alone should tell you everything you need to know about this man. Yet he remains in the running.
Aside from his bigotry, Trump’s misogynistic views have also been well-documented, but despite his statements, many women still remain loyal to the campaign. Even after his conversation with Billy Bush was released and his inappropriate behavior over the years was revealed, many women still support their candidate. At a rally in Cincinnati, Ohio, a woman was spotted wearing a shirt that read, “Trump can grab my,” with an arrow pointed toward her crotch. Many women, especially the older ones, disregard his behavior, claiming that all men occasionally behave that way. They apparently believe it represents a machismo that is a natural trait of the male gender. It is no surprise then, beyond his general misogyny, that many of his rallies involve Hillary bashing. In Columbus, Ohio, a group of young voters began chanting “lock her up” when Hillary’s name came up. To this, Trump only smiled. It was the most recent in a long line of disrespect Trump has shown to the opposite sex.
But as the accusations of sexual harassment flew, and more women stepped forward, Trump embarked on a tirade that focused on bashing the news media for slandering his image. Even though the media simply reported the harassment claims, Trump apparently doesn’t see the distinction between the women who have stepped forward and the newspaper that reports their allegations. His response was to threaten The New York Times with a lawsuit unless they retracted the story. When a presidential candidate attempts to blatantly quiet the media, people should be worried. Some are. The rest are Trump supporters. We should be worried about these people, too. They are out of the shadows now, and Trump has given their beliefs voice, effectively legitimizing their racist and xenophobic values. The sun may have already set on the Trump campaign, but his supporters will still be around after the election, and their resolve will be stronger than ever. Many of these supporters have even threatened violence if Trump is not elected.
And into the Light
One of the biggest problems in this country is racism. You hear about it every day, from the casual use of the “N-word,” to tragedies like Trayvon Martin. Most black people in America struggle with racism constantly, in a thousand subtle ways that most people don’t even know about. Only people of foreign nationalities are treated differently in America. And 9/11—the greatest contributor to xenophobia in recent memory—has left another race, Muslims, in a very dangerous place. Most people do not understand that the practices of ISIS and Al-Qaeda do not represent the beliefs of the entire Muslim faith. They are small groups comprised of extremists. Most people see a hijab, and that distinction is lost—if it was ever present to begin with. Donald Trump perpetuates this fear constantly.
At one rally early in the campaign, a supporter stood up and proclaimed that “we have a problem in this country. Muslims.” Of course, Trump did nothing to set the man right and vaguely stated that his administration would look into the problem and take the necessary action. This is the first time that a candidate publicly acknowledged his condemnation of an entire race for the actions of a few.
These are not the ideals of democracy; they are the tenets of fascism, plain and simple.
This notion was brought up frequently during Barack Obama’s initial run for the presidency. His opponent, John McCain—whose horrendous policies favored corporations and the top 1 percent—was faced with a similar question. Despite policies that would have furthered the problems generated during the Bush presidency, McCain answered this question with a degree of integrity that can’t help you have respect for the man. During a televised Q and A session, an elderly woman stood up and voiced her concern that a Muslim was running for president, suggesting that he had ties to terrorism. McCain quickly corrected her. “No ma’am. No ma’am, senator Obama is a good, family man. We just happen to disagree about how this country should be run.” It makes even the most hardcore liberal wish for a McCain presidency if the alternative is Donald Trump.
Brave New World
When a country is founded on the backs of the beaten and enslaved, there will always people who remember those origins and choose to honor them. It was only 152 years ago that slavery was abolished and the confederacy lost the Civil War, and yet there are people in the South who wave the confederate flag and proclaim that the South will rise again. There can be no progress if we continue to emulate the mistakes of the past.
Race matters in this country. It shouldn’t, but it does. It determines how people are perceived and ultimately treated. But racism is seldom plastered on signs and billboards and paraded around the streets by normal people. Donald Trump may have changed all that. When the election ends, it is unlikely that the fervent support for his beliefs will simply “go gently into that good night.” A network of support for the values touted by Trump and his supporters has formed. If we thought that racism and xenophobia was bad before, we might just be seeing a prelude to a greater racial divide in this country. After centuries of oppression and the long battle for civil rights, America may be poised to take a giant step back in this ongoing struggle for equality. It may be the sixties all over again. Only this time the primary targets will be Islam. The problem is that targeting one race simply perpetuates hatred of all “different” races. In some ways, the fight for civil rights may have never left this country. It has just cooled down a bit.
People may believe that we will never again see minorities hit with fire hoses and being arrested simply for protesting—except for the fact that it has happened recently, in exactly the same way. This time the victims of law enforcement were Native Americans (the only people in this country who are not immigrants, by the way). During the recent protests against the construction of the Dakota pipeline, Native Americans protesting the building of the pipeline on their lands are being met by fierce opposition from local police. Protesters have been sprayed down with firehouses, shot with rubber bullets and arrested for participating in peaceful demonstrations. Apparently the notion of such tactics has not been removed from the playbook; it just hasn’t been utilized in a while. This could be a more common sight in the years to come. Bigotry has come out of the closet, so to speak, and may very well be poised for a revival.
Trump’s success on the campaign trail has effectively validated the opinions of his supporters. Their behavior is no longer being repressed; their ideas no longer shunned. These people now have a network of support that stretches across the country. The last time this many people were so united in a shared belief of racial superiority; it tore the country in two and led to war. Obviously, the situation is different today since the bigotry displayed is not tied to the slave trade, which formed the economic backbone of wealth in the south. But that doesn’t mean that a rift won’t form or that loyalties cannot be divided. They can. They have. And all the rest of us can do is hope that racial justice will prevail and the rift that divides this nation will finally close. That may not happen for a long time. Perhaps not even in this century. But we must continue to move forward and leave the past behind, not in memory, but in practice. An endorsement of Trump is an endorsement of our past mistakes, and they should be regarded with great wariness, not fond nostalgia.