Congratulations to my republican friends who supported Trump and everyone else who voted for him. I sincerely hope that he will be the successful president for whom you all voted. Thus far, he has proven most of the expectations to be wrong: expected to be a joke, he was serious; never expected to win any primaries, he won most of them; expected to lose the GOP nomination, he became the nominee; all the polls expected Hillary’s victory, he turned out to be the victor. I certainly hope that he continues on this trajectory and against all the expectations that point to a horrible Trump presidency, his term turns out to be a great one. This essay is my attempt to assess the challenges that the US society is facing as the result of Trump victory.
While the outcome of an election may not be pleasant or desirable to some, anyone who believes in the US constitution and democracy should respect the outcome of the election and the office of the president. Democracy requires to keep an open mind and give the president-elect a chance to lead. Having said that, this election, for obvious reasons, was so unique and out of place on so many levels that any attempt of comparing it to other elections is not only misleading, but also dangerous and would lead to conclusions and judgments that are completely flawed; and any actions based on those flawed conclusions can have severe consequences.
Trying to unify the country, it is customary that in victory speech, the president-elect addresses the whole nation even those who didn’t vote for her/him; and Mr.Trump did that in his victory speech. He did it like every other president-elect before him had done. However, as almost everyone, republicans, democrats or independents, would agree, this election was fundamentally different from certainly any election we have seen in our life time, and arguably in modern era. Given the fact that Mr.Trump ran his campaign the way he did and the division in this country, he had to do more and will have to do more; a lot more. An election that was unusual by any metric, mainly due to all controversies surrounding his campaign, cannot be followed just by a usual victory speech! It calls for more if the victor has any plans to bring the country together.
The fact that we are witnessing protests in the aftermath of Trump victory is not a reflection of disrespecting the office of the president by the protestors. It would be very wrong and potentially dangerous to look at these protestors and simply call them a sore loser, and conclude that these are entitled people who feel that things should always go their way and they whine if things don’t. These conclusions are not only unconstructive, but more importantly fuel the hatred and divide. These protests are manifestation of real actual primal fear; and let’s not forget that Hillary won the popular vote. These people are scared for their security and lives. Their fear and concerns should be understood and empathized with, rather than being ridiculed.
Hate crimes against Muslims, LGBTQQ, African Americans and other minorities have been already on the rise leading up to the election night thanks to Donald Trump rhetoric during his campaign (just two examples among many: 1, 2). According to FBI report, hate crimes increased by about 7% in 2015. This rise is mainly driven by 67% surge in hate crime against Muslims. It is interesting to note that a more detailed FBI report reveals that 57% of “incidents were motivated by race, ethnicity or ancestry. Fifty-three percent of such attacks targeted African-Americans, while 19 percent were anti-white” (politico). Donald Trump ran a campaign based on race, anger, fear, and resentment. Even the leaders of the GOP have been hesitant to fully support him. In fact, the Speaker of the House, Paul Rayan labeled one of Trump’s comments as text-book definition of racism . Denial of the significant role that racial elements played in his victory is just flat out wrong, idiotic and naïve. We went from the first African American president to the first president-elect in modern history who is officially supported by KKK. David Duke, the former Imperial Wizard of the KKK, in his twit (among so many other that followed), confirms the significant role that “[his] people” played in Trump’s victory. Also, while condemned by GOP, the fact that KKK has announced a Trump victory parade in North Carolina puts Trump’s victory in perspective. One can argue that any group can endorse and support anyone they like, and Trump shouldn’t be held accountable for KKK decisions and support. However, all Trump supporters should ask themselves what is it that has attracted these people to Trump? What is in Trump’s message that has attracted them? I believe it’s a fair conclusion to say that they have found a lot of racial elements in Trump’s rhetoric that are consistent with their core beliefs. Choosing Breitbart’s Steve Bannon as one of his senior campaign advisers is consistent with this narrative. Thus, Trump should be held accountable.
It would be completely wrong and unacceptable to conclude that all Trump supporters are racist, because they simply aren’t. I am willing to go that far and say that Donald Trump himself is not a racist either; but he is an opportunist who definitely exploited the race issue to his advantage. In addition, when one considers the insults to Muslims, to a federal judge who is borne in the US to Mexican immigrant parents, and to Muslim parents of a fallen soldier, his vulgar and derogatory language (and allegedly his actions) towards women, mocking a disabled reported, and his views about Mexican, among many other controversial issues during his campaign, the picture gets even more upsetting and grim. A typical Trump supporter, though, — mainly white without a college degree and mostly without high school diploma [4,5]– who has no idea what it means to be black in America, and what it means to be a refugee or an immigrant, was not disturbed by these facts. However, these facts are extremely troubling to almost all other communities: LGBTQQ community sees the marriage equality, their identity, and safety threatened (Mike Pence’s well known anti-LGBTQQ agenda); to Latinos and Hispanics, there is a real threat that their families may be ripped apart and more importantly they feel insulted; there is a real actual danger for hate crimes against Muslims due to Trump campaigning strategies; his Law and Order message has been historically known to be the code word for racism against mainly African Americans and Hispanics (1968 is the birth of Law and Order message by Richard Nixon which marks the beginning of an era which is now known as mass incarceration); and more generally anyone who is an immigrant or is born to immigrant parents in the US would be distressed and would take these facts seriously. In other words, almost anyone who isn’t white, felt threatened and insulted by his campaign rhetoric and now his presidency poses a real danger to them.
Right now, following his victory, there has been an uptick in incidents of assault and harassment of minority groups by Trump supporters [6,7,8,9]. We can already observe the disastrous impact his rhetoric has had on children . While the significant majority of the violence in the past few days are committed against minorities and marginalized sections of the society, Trump supporters have not been immune to violence either [11,12]. The racial tone in Trump’s campaign made a lot of racist people feel comfortable about their racism. Donald Trump normalized their racism and gave a voice to them. Downplaying, minimizing, and characterizing Trump’s racial rhetoric as “insignificant”, “he doesn’t really mean it”, “he misspoke” — among so many other excuses– is not going to unify the country. What the country needs more than anything right now is empathy. Donald Trump has to formally address these protestors, to acknowledge their concerns, to emphasize with them, and to assure them of their security. And his words must be followed by actions. He must directly address all the minorities that he had insulted during his campaign and unequivocally repudiate himself of all white nationalists/white-extremists/racists who are supporting him and denounce them. The burden of responsibility is on Donald Trump to unify the country. Just saying “Stop it” in the CBS 60 Minutes is not enough after more than a year of campaigning based on race, hate, and fear.
I do believe, however, that there is a silver lining and a real opportunity in this disrupted political environment. This election revealed that a post-racial America is nothing but a myth. I strongly believe that the first step, and perhaps the most important one, to solve any problem is to acknowledge the existence of that problem. If we accept racism as an on going challenge in the US, then there’s a real opportunity for Donald Trump to rise above all expectations and address this issue. Given the demography of his supporters he is best positioned to do that and leave a great legacy behind. As of now, we have seen only mixed signals by Trump. On the one hand, his victory speech, the press conference after meeting with President Obama, the interview with Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes — in which he hinted on keeping parts of Obama Care, and marriage equality and asked his supporters to stop harassing minorities– are steps in the right direction. On the other hand, appointing Steve Bannon, hinting on appointing judges to Supreme Court who are against marriage equality and abortion rights and even mentioning the possibility of overturning Roe v. Wade are disturbing.
US political environment sets the tone in the world. Rhetoric of Trump and other far right wing nationalists in the world are particularly dangerous and frightening because they have the ability to mobilize fascist movements across the world. In fact, KKK and other similar alt-right wing extremists are mobilized in ways that we have not seen in modern era; and we are witnessing the same pattern in other countries too [13 14,15, 16]. This should be disturbing to everyone. It is absolutely essential that Trump makes this issue his first priority. As long as he doesn’t effectively (with words and actions) address the concerns of these protestors, they are not going anywhere soon; but more importantly these protests would be an integral part of the resistance against the right-wing nationalist movement (in the US and consequently in the world as US politics sets the tone in the world) and would constantly undermine the legitimacy of Trump presidency.