Where do I start? Do I start on Wednesday November 9, 2016 at 4:27 a.m. when I woke up to the confirmation that Donald Trump would be the next President of the United States?
Do I start somewhere in the middle of my sleep-deprivation, moving through the waking nightmare that Americans elected a glorified reality TV star; a liar and a bully; who repeatedly denigrated immigrants, people of color, and assaulted women; who ran on a platform of massive deportations, on surveillance of Muslims? A man who encouraged public violence, harkening back to the good ol’ days – of what? Jim Crow-era lynchings!? Or do I start in the fear that I have for my friends, for the people who can’t hide their genders or skin color, for those who have fought fiercely for their identities to be public and respected?
What about the environment? What about law and policy with a Republican-controlled House and a right-wing Supreme Court? Do I start at my tearful-horror at the irony that a machiavellian-demagogue is now the leader of the free world for the next four years?
How about I start later in the same day, at 4:59 p.m. when I found out that my mother voted for Trump. That my stepfather voted for a third-party candidate. That my brother didn’t vote at all.
No. I think I’ll start somewhere much earlier.
At twelve years old, I started writing. It helped me to make sense of the world. I know I’m preaching to the choir when I assert that there is power in language. We are readers and/or writers and lovers of literature because we recognize this power. We know that words can easily construct or reconstruct, even deconstruct reality. Whole entire classification systems are built on language, individuals and countries are ordered accordingly: gender identities, religion, race and ethnicity.
In 2012, economist Keith Chen released a study that languages without future tenses tended be more responsible when planning for the future: “Remarkably, he discovered that speakers with weak future tenses (e.g. German, Finnish and Estonian) were 30 percent more likely to save money, 24 percent more likely to avoid smoking, 29 percent more likely to exercise regularly, and 13 percent less likely to be obese, than speakers of languages with strong future tenses, like English.”
Cogito ergo sum.
Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” becomes incredibly hard to preserve for a woman, a person of color, a queer or trans person, a Muslim, an undocumented immigrant in a Trump-national climate.
Kris Kobach who penned the controversial Arizona anti-immigration bill, SB 1070, and had a hand in drafting the even tougher anti-immigration bill, Alabama’s HB 56, is joining Trump’s immigration policy transition team. Kobach told the CBS 5 News team in Arizona, “...there's going to be a lot to do there in part because Mr. Trump and Mr. Obama are diametric opposites when it comes to immigration policy so there will be a lot of changes. There's no question the wall is going to get built. The only question is how quickly will it get done and who pays for it?"
It’s been announced that alt-right (see: White nationalism) leader Steve Bannon will be Trump’s chief strategist. Bloomburg Politics has deemed Bannon as the “...Most Dangerous Political Operative in America,” for his strategic understanding of using journalistic fact to take down politicians like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush in reputable media outlets. According to the Bloomburg article, Bannon “...devised a method to influence politics that marries the old-style attack journalism of Breitbart.com, which helped drive out Boehner, with a more sophisticated approach, conducted through the nonprofit Government Accountability Institute (GAI), that builds rigorous, fact-based indictments against major politicians, then partners with mainstream media outlets...it’s the secret to how conservatives can hack the mainstream media. Hall has distilled this, too, into a slogan: “Anchor left, pivot right.” It means that “weaponizing” a story onto the front page of the New York Times (“the Left”) is infinitely more valuable than publishing it on Breitbart.com.”
Some guy on Twitter posted a picture of Trump’s transition team with this comment: “this looks like the character select screen for Racist Mortal Kombat.” For those of us that remember 1992 when the game Mortal Kombat was first released, it was known for its unprecedented high-level of bloody video game violence, one of the firsts of its kind.
When I think about why my mom voted for Trump, why my stepdad voted for a third-party candidate, or why my brother didn’t vote at all – their votes (at least for President) didn’t really matter. They voted in Oregon, the state was going blue, our little electoral points were always going to go to Hillary (although most of Oregon’s counties went red, luckily our populated cities won out). The importance in understanding their actions on the micro can help lead the way to understanding the outcome of why someone like Trump could be elected.
After I slept, and my fury at my parents – I called them “utterly useless” to a handful of people in my life – had dissipated, I dissected what my mom had told me: “it’s my freedom...everyone want country to change...Hillary is a lawyer, why she not secure emails?...she’s a liar, I no trust her!” As a refugee from Saigon during the Vietnam War, my mom doesn’t speak English fluently. It reminded me as a writer, how potent language and rhetoric can be, how the token words of "freedom," "American dream," "a new country" can resonate for our family members who are not from here; how they can be easily swayed, manipulated, and tricked. How in a lot of ways, it's our job as the generation after to protect them––we’re the ones that know how to navigate this fucked up shit with more awareness. I worry all the time how my intellectualism might actually be closing more doors, preventing bridges from being built; because I know why my mom voted for Trump – she "understood" him better.
This Washington Post article explains why Trump’s speaking patterns were so effective. He speaks in short digestible sentences, like catchphrases with the most important words punctuating the end. This ProPublica piece illuminates why the poll projections got it so wrong, digging into Trump’s allure to first-time voters, which the article calls the “forgotten class.”
We fell asleep at the chess game. Liberal comfort and divisive ideology distracted us from what was happening. So much in-fighting, apathy, laziness and myopic news sources (if it’s not clear, Bannon used our own platforms against us).
My partner recently brought to my attention that news outlets had been predicting the demise of the Republican Party for the last 15 years, but look at Congress, look at the Supreme Court. While the Republicans were losing the presidency in 2008 and 2012, they were spending all of their efforts on local and state government elections. They won the long-game.
This amazing Vox article also explains Trump’s success and the projected rise of authoritarianism in the U.S. No one believed my fear about the probability of Trump’s election except my friend Matty who had passed along the article to me in the first place. It’s not hard to recognize the threat and projections of totalitarianism in the article, when you observe what’s happening around you: implicit and explicit racism exists, rape culture and sexism exists, Islamophobia exists, trans and homophobia violently exist – that’s all confirmed now, with Trump’s election, on an international scale. What does it mean for the moral compass of our country; of our value systems? What does it mean to rear a generation in that culture? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in four short years, more than half of all the children in 2020 will be part of a minority or ethnic group, and right now in 2016 our students are suffering from what has been deemed the “Trump effect.” The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teachers Tolerance project conducted a report revealing a rise in “bullying, harassment and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates on the campaign trail.”
We rested on our laurels, and our tendencies to laugh at Trump’s stupidity and his perceived irrelevance, our smugness in our particular-brand of liberal certainty led to his win, just as much as those who voted for him.
We lost. We lost, and we’re going to lose this fragile democracy, if we let it. If we let it, this country will become an autocracy. We’re going to keep losing if we go on addressing this new reality with a continued benefit-of-the-doubt, silver-lining, rationalizing, explaining or joking away, ignoring, or assuming that our lives as we know it isn’t going to change. It's been changing, and that underbelly of change was solidified when Americans handed over the most powerful seat in the world to Donald Trump.
So what now? Where do we start?
Respect that people are different and will process differently. Do not tell people that they are overreacting. Do not try to console or reason-away their feelings. Do not call the protests or protesters unproductive. Do not make people feel guilty for not protesting. All forms of dissent are important now. It takes all kinds and it will take all of us in our differences.
Acknowledge historical inequities, and yes, your own complicity that led to this moment. Educate yourself. Examine your own privilege. I heard this recently, and it’s important: you can be both unknowingly a racist person and still be doing good in the world – they do not cancel each other out. The only way to dismantle one’s ignorance and implicit bias is to educate yourself. Look up “microaggression.” Look up “white supremacy as a social construct.” Look up “systemic racism.” Read Eula Biss’ article “White Debt” in the the New York Times Magazine. Read Te’Nehisi Coates “The Case for Reparations” in the Atlantic. Watch the amazing documentary 13th on Netflix (rumors are that it's up for a major motion picture Oscar, and a documentary has never won before).
If you’re White, cis-gender, or straight, spend your energy on how you can really help, and not assuaging your own guilt by trying to prove you’re “one of the good ones”: not racist or xenophobic, or sexist, or trans- and homophobic to individuals of those groups. Right now, people of color and other traditionally marginalized groups are scared, angry, and reasonably both scared and angry. They may not have the capacity to work with you directly on your offers to help – but it’s important that you’re there. It’s even important to say out loud: “I’m here to help,” but once or twice is enough. Right now, there’s a lot of distrust: Who is my neighbor? Who are my co-workers? Did they vote for Trump? Am I safe? Fear is not rational. Be patient. Be ready to help, without pushing your support on folks. Also, activate yourself. There is a great anti-racist group of White folks teaching other White folks about racism called SURJ.
If you’re White, don’t just wear a safety pin to show your allyship. Act! I was wondering what this safety pin thing was all about post-election, and it makes sense why I didn’t know because it was devised by White people for White people. Here’s a great article in the Huffington Post titled “Dear White People, Your Safety Pins Are Embarrassing”. Just like how reaching out right now to folks that are hurting, even though important, might not be received as the source of comfort you intended, a safety pin will do even less. Worse, it will show exactly what kind of ally you are: the kind that doesn’t do anything.
Disrupting intolerance, and moving forward separately / together / separately-together...it takes all of us. For my White friends, here is a quick and well-thought out list on how to become a White ally, written by White dude Christopher Keelty. It includes the uncomfortable and extremely important work of holding your own friends, families, partners, and colleagues accountable for the off-hand jokes they make, for the ignorance they have yet to acknowledge in themselves and what they’ve helped to perpetuate.
In solidarity, respect, and love. Most of all. Love.