Theories abound as to why Donald Trump has enjoyed such a meteoric political rise. Is it because he appeals to working-class Americans frustrated about their future? Is it his strong stances on security? Has he risen to political fame simply because he’s, well, famous?
Trump has vowed to make “America Great Again,” albeit with few concrete details as to how that might happen.
“I’ll build a wall.”
“I’ll ban the Muslims.”
“I will be ISIS’ worst nightmare.”
We know he’s wrong on that last one. The ISIS faithful are surely stroking each other’s beards celebrating Trump’s ability to provide them with free recruiting material. (I’m an Arab, so I can make that beard joke. White people can’t repeat it, unless they give me credit, of course.)
But as I watch all the fanfare, the coverage of all his rallies stands out most. I see who his supporters are, and, perhaps more importantly, who they aren’t. Only 3%
That leaves one group of people. The one group that sees Trump as their savior. The one that sees America as no longer “great.” I’m talking about the ones who see themselves as the “real” Americans, those who believe they are “losing” their country.
Before we move on, we might quickly ask yourselves, “Who is an American?” While we would love to be egalitarian and declare that we all are, the truth is that “Americanness” has traditionally, both culturally and legally, been tied to a certain group. Toni Morrison, in her 1992 work of literary criticism, “Playing in the Dark,” said it most succinctly:
Deep within the word ‘American’ is its association with race … American means white.
When one scans the crowd at a Trump event, he cannot help but to notice the stark lack of pigmentation. White people are disproportionately represented. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2010, whites represented 72% of the American population, much less than their share among Trump supporters, which, according to my unscientific observations, is somewhere around 99%. In 2008, that same bureau reported that white Americans will constitute less than 50% of the general population by the year 2042. That’s right, America is poised to become a country where everyone is a minority. Well, for a few years at least, until, of course, Latinos take over, and we all start speaking Spanish (that’s “Español,” and you should learn how to pronounce it).
It seems that Trump supporters suffer from the ongoing delusion that this land “belongs” to them. To them, re-making America “great” means re-making America “white.” The “great Americans” are “white Americans.” We might remember, however, that before America was white, it wasn’t. Only thirteen of our fifty states possess names that are English in origin. The rest are derived from Spanish and Native American tongues. The reason for that is simple. Those people were here first. The entire southwest was once part of Mexico. That’s why all those states have Spanish names (say them out loud, it’ll make sense). Well, one didn’t, and when “great Americans” took it over and couldn’t think of a new name, they just gave up and named it “New Mexico.”
It is these same “great Americans” that today tell a Mexican he doesn’t have a right to live in a place called “San Antonio” (say “San Antonio” out loud a few times, and my point will sink in).
In school, we learned about the first “great Americans,” the ones my history teachers called “settlers,” “colonists,” “pioneers,” and “pilgrims.” It now seems weird that they never called them “immigrants.” Instead, “immigrants” was a word reserved for “not-so-great” people who came later. Of course, those first “great” Americans were immigrants. In fact, they were undocumented immigrants. I don’t believe they got a visa from the Cherokee embassy in London before crossing the ocean blue.
Finally, we might remember that we were taught about something called “manifest destiny,” the belief that Americans (“great Americans”) were preordained to settle from coast to coast. “Manifest” means “obvious.” “Destiny” refers to events that are predetermined by a supernatural power. So, in other words, those “manifest destiny” early Americans (“great” ones) believed it was obvious that a higher power wanted them to settle from sea to shining sea. And they did. God was on their side, just like he’s on the side of the “great Americans” who support Trump today.
The answer to what drives those massive Trump rallies lies in my high school history classes. To the “great Americans,” everything they have worked to preserve (“greatness”) is under threat. 2042 scares the hell out of them. Sadly, Trump’s movement is not as small as some of us might wish. His numbers don’t lie. But neither does the melanin content of his supporters. Make no mistake, Trump’s “great America” is a “white America.” So it should come as no surprise that he and his devotees are anxiously eager to get 11 million Latinos (and, while they’re at it, lots of Muslims) out of the country as quickly as possible. To be clear, Trump’s supporters don’t represent a “frustrated” segment of the American population. They represent a racist one.
But I’m optimistic. First, Americans of all shades (including great white ones) have roundly denounced Trump’s xenophobic policies. In fact, as an Arab, I’ve noticed something particularly groundbreaking. Trump signifies the first time that white Americans have felt compelled to apologize for a crazy person who looks like them. It’s truly historic. But second, and more importantly, it’s too late to get rid of the rest of us anyway. The great, white American ship of yesteryear hit the brown iceberg long ago. And it’s already taking on water (which we will soon be calling “agua”).
So, 2042 is the official end of manifest destiny. And when it gets here, America will still be great, except by then, “great” will mean “beige.” And beige goes with everything!