Donald Trump won. I’m not here to tell you that Bernie would have beaten him, or that Hillary won the popular vote, or that voter suppression laws affected things, or anything like that. In our constitutional system, Donald Trump won the presidency. It’s done.
I know why you voted for him. Trump tore down the political establishment that has been neglecting everyday Americans. He tapped into the raw emotions and real anxiety that you feel about your economic futures. He said that you have been forgotten, that the elites were screwing you over. I traveled around the country working for the Sanders’ campaign and talking with people who supported Bernie for the same reasons. I get it. Hillary Clinton was part of the problem. I understand.
Trump won fair and square, as far as our system is concerned. I guess it wasn’t “rigged” after all. But he won in a way no one has won before. He won while employing fear of Muslims, Latinos, and immigrants. In the last week of his campaign, Trump went to Minnesota and told its citizens that Somali immigrants were hurting their community, turning it into a dangerous place. Minneapolis’ mayor (someone who actually lives there), quickly retorted back that Somalis add positively to the city. He won by kicking off his campaign by calling Mexicans “rapists.” He proposed banning Muslims from America. He agreed with a suggestion to register Muslim Americans in a national database. He said a judge couldn’t be impartial because of his heritage. He went after the parents of a dead Muslim American soldier for being Muslim.
These things happened. And we heard them in a different way than you did.
Now, maybe he was just stoking things up. Maybe he is not an ideologue. Maybe he will change his tune now to embrace unity and diversity. Maybe he is such a narcissist that he needed the attention then and needs the reverence now. And maybe that will turn him into a uniter. Sure, he removed the Muslim ban from his website. Maybe he was being hyperbolic. But my question is this: Do you hope for all the same “maybes” I do?
Maybe Trump is just like our crazy Arab uncles who say a lot of sensical stuff just to conclude it with some conspiratorial insanity. I’ve heard it before:
You know, we have to make sure we stand up for our rights and fight for justice. We need to work hard, give back to our communities, and look out for each other. We need to be good Americans. And we wouldn’t have all these problems if the Jews hadn’t brought down the World Trade Center on 9/11.
That’s when I look at him and say, “Ok, but you can’t say that last crazy s&!t.” Can’t you say the same to your crazy uncle Donald?
I saw you at his rallies. You’d say things like, “He didn’t really mean it.” “You’re taking him out of context.” “That’s not what I heard.” Maybe you’re right. But as much as you give him the benefit of the doubt, it doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter.
In San Jose, California, a Muslim college student was attacked and choked as her assailant attempted to pull off her hijab. In Buffalo, New York, a building was spray painted with the words “Make America White Again” and a swastika. In Royal Oak, Michigan, middle school students (right, middle school students) chanted “Build That Wall” to their Latino counterparts during lunch. In York, Pennsylvania, high school students marched in the halls, holding a Trump sign and chanting “White Power!”
This stuff is all happening. In just the few days since Trump’s (and your) victory.
Let me be clear. Are you all racists? Of course not. That would be ridiculous. And it doesn’t make me smart or brave to say as much. (Just like it doesn’t make you smart or brave to say that Muslims aren’t all terrorists.) But you did vote for a guy who said terribly racist things. Perhaps you didn’t celebrate his racist comments, but you did, at best, dismiss them. And whether you like it or not, the KKK is celebrating today. How do you feel about that? Or is that a ridiculous question to ask?
See, racism for us “others” is not episodic. It’s the default state of affairs. And more importantly, it’s something we can protest, but it’s not something we can actually solve. Racism is not a problem FOR white Americans, but it is a problem OF white Americans. I don’t expect you to know exactly how I feel. It’s tempting, maybe even comforting, to be in a position where you can ignore Trump’s bigotry because it won’t affect you (and perhaps even benefit you). But you do need to listen for a little while.
I know you might have voted for him because you’re scared. Because you don’t have a good job, and because you’re worried your kids won’t either. Because the government is screwed up and rigged. And you think he’s the answer. But when you elected him, you empowered this ugliness. You, intentionally or not, allowed some to think it’s now acceptable to openly and proudly make the rest of us feel like we don’t belong.
In other words, when you voted for Trump, you exchanged your anxiety for ours. And we need to talk about that.