Billionaire Presidential Candidate Donald Trump’s biggest sale to the electorate isn’t that he’s a brilliant businessman (though some people seem to think that starting with big money and ending up with big money makes him one), but rather that he’s a “tell it like it is” straight shooter who “says what everyone is thinking”. While, I must disagree with every orientation to reason I can muster that Trump is telling anything resembling “like it is” he may in fact be saying what many Americans are thinking.
I have to be upfront here, I believe that America is an idea and an ideal of progress in progress. We move towards meeting our ideal as a society the way individual people move towards personal goals. The journey we take in meeting our ideal selves is turbulent and hard; often times we have to fight the creature of bad, comfortable habit and work to build new routines. We win some struggles and lose others.
In the case of becoming a society where “All Men Are Created Equal”, the road has been long, winding, and poorly paved. As we trudge along, forcing ourselves to become an equitable and cosmopolitan society we’ve predictably experienced horrible overt relapse, usually in the face of a fresh wave of immigration or the threat of a changing status quo.
That horrible relapse has a dangerously sharp spearhead in the Donald Trump presidential candidacy. The only logical reason I can supply for Trump’s traction is that his support comes from a three generally different quarters:
- Republicans who are supporting their party candidate regardless of their objections/who believe that business acumen is political acumen
- People who have objections to Trump but are unwilling to vote for Hillary Clinton
- White folks scared that their majority rule and privilege (regardless of their ability or willingness to identify it) is coming to an end and actually believe the crazy, inconsistent, and/or racist things that Trump says.
Of these three, the last one is the group that I’d like to discuss, but first I’ll address the others. The first group is part of a deep seated problem in American politics. This line of thinking has led us away from compromise and discourse into a win/lose mentality that has been the foundation of plummeting Congressional approval ratings. The second are simply people whom I disagree with–I understand their trepidations about Hillary Clinton but, constrained to a mindset where the choice is between two rather than many, I simply cannot sign on to the choice. (That said, people must always explore their options because there are more than two choices.)
The third group is the frightened, losing privileged class. This privilege isn’t material, but is cultural. It is the kind of privilege that doesn’t necessarily feed you, pay you, or get you out of jail but rather is the kind that assumes you as the default. The assumption of white normalcy is slowly becoming an anachronism. With growing non-white populations, American whiteness is on the verge of becoming the largest minority in a multicultural secular nation. The irony should not be lost that being the largest minority is exactly how Mr. Trump received the Republican nomination and is exactly the predicament his base fears demographically and that this major minority in the party is rallying the hardest against being “downgraded” to that status nationally.
In the midst of Black Americans declaring, rightfully, that their lives matter and are not disposable, Latin Americans working hard to secure a life in our country, and Muslim Americans fighting against the stigma of terrorism to live peacefully, Donald Trump is trumping hard on the preposterous notions of being a “law and order” candidate, touting to build a wall blocking off Mexico to stop “Mexican” illegal immigration (even if the majority of illegal migrations are not, in fact, committed by Mexicans), and of course banning legal migration of approximately one-third of the population of the world as a sane route to national security.
This man’s rise to political prominence–even his trajectory at political legitimacy–is part of a historical cycle of Americans rallying against change. During Reconstruction, the South produced the Ku Klux Klan to keep freemen in line. In the past 40 years (at least), there has been talk of raising barriers along our Southern border to keep Spanish speaking brown people away. During World War II, we rounded up Japanese Americans and put them in internment camps “until we knew what was going on” as Trump might say.
We have a history of passing laws that contradict our very nature and the very language of our Founding Documents. Laws such as the Johnson-Reed Act which placed quotas on immigration in order to preserve racial demographics ratios for the nation which were decades old, rulings such as Dredd Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson which solidified the notion of slaves as property and the inherent inequality of “Separate but Equal,” as well as public referendum California Proposition 187 which empowered civilians to identify otherwise law abiding undocumented immigrants to the authorities for deportation have shown the nation’s collective willingness to suspend the idea that “All Men Are Created Equal” when the subtext of “White Men Are More Equal Than Others” was in jeopardy.
We also have a history of citizens banding together to keep others down because of their backgrounds–or their perceived backgrounds, almost always in the preservation of our American lifestyle operationalized as a status quo of default whiteness. In each of these we would do well to remember a time we failed our ideals to preserve the majority demographic of the most current social construct of white dominant privilege. We would do well to remember arguments that the Jewish Bolsheviks would be the undoing of America. We would do well to remember the American adaptation of “NINA” (No Irish Need Apply) signs in store windows. We would do well to remember the mass lynching of eleven Italians in New Orleans. We would do well to remember Jim Crow. We would do well to remember McCarthyism.
Some of these drawbacks have been briefer than others. The blight of Klan remains a political force to be reckoned with in our country. Prop 187 died in legal battles in 1999, only 5 years after it had passed. Many lives are still affected by time spent in Japanese Internment Camps. Scott and Plessy are both moot ruling in the current legal climate which recognizes that all humans are humans and are owed individual rights and equal, equitable treatment (at least in train cars).
The results of our progress are messy and incomplete; the road toward our ideal is still unpaved and uphill. The path ahead leading into the election is forked and frightening. The path that follows a Trump Presidency curves back on our progress. It returns us to a point in our journey that should be beyond the horizon of our hindsight, but is instead frighteningly close. The loop of the cycle of progress followed by xenophobic, racist, and prejudiced lash back framed as the preservation of our American lifestyle is as short or as long as we will it to be.
We must break the cycle of regression and press forward on that hard, turbulent road to humanity and equity. We must press forward, yes at the ballot box, but also in our dining rooms, in our classrooms, in our offices, in our houses of worship, in our words, in our actions, and in our streets. This is not about 4 years or 8 years–its about 240 years behind us and the future ahead of us. It’s bigger than any one office or administration. This isn’t about putting bodies in offices or assess in chairs.
If the shrinking majority can demand regression by popular outcry, those of us hanging on the fringes of that majority, or far beyond its grasp, can demand progress just the same. It’s about the preservation and development of our progress. It’s about demanding our country be our country. We are everybody and every body. We are the people, created equal, each of us. And sooner or later, we are going to have to start acting like a “we”.