- View from the U.S.: Donald Trump is Our President-Elect - diciembre 1, 2016
- Panorama desde EE.UU.: Donald Trump es nuestro presidente entrante - diciembre 1, 2016
- La parálisis del sistema político de Estados Unidos - noviembre 1, 2013
- The Paralysis of the American Political System - octubre 31, 2013
[Click here for the spanish version]
So, the unthinkable has happened here in the U.S. Donald Trump, a racist, xenophobic narcissist who is also an admitted sexual abuser, has been elected president. The reasons for this are many. Some of these reasons we can be sympathetic with. The situation for white working class people in the U.S. (and elsewhere) is often dire. In fact, while the mortality rate for most Americans continues to decline, for whites without a college degree it is increasing, mostly due to suicide and drug use. In addition, Trump’s opponent was widely considered to be a weak candidate, out of touch with the traditional Democratic working class base. The Democrats have long taken African Americans for granted, figuring that they had no choice but to vote for Democrats. Increasingly, they are taking the white working class for granted as well by favoring neoliberal policies and abandoning any commitment to a welfare state.
Other reasons for Trump’s election were less savory. The racism, sexism, and xenophobia Trump embraces changed the norms of public political discussion. Further, they are on full display now after the election: numerous instances of violence against African Americans, Muslims, Asians, and women have been documented since Tuesday. It feels like open season here on non-white males. The recent elevation of Jeff Sessions to Attorney General and Michael Flynn to National Security Advisor will certainly make things worse. In 1986 Sessions was denied an opportunity to serve on a federal court because of his racist remarks, while Flynn has publicly stated that the West is in a fight with Islam.
As an organizer, I have been in conversation with many people since the election. There is, unsurprising, much pain and fear and anger. And indeed, to think that the years ahead will be anything other than dismal is to refuse to face reality. For one thing, climate change will be in full denial. As I write this, Trump is considering as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency a man who denies that climate change exists. For another, the Supreme Court will likely seek to further limit a woman’s right to abortion. (As I understand it, the deal between Trump and evangelical voters was that if they voted for him he would appoint an anti-abortion justice.) In addition, immigration will be severely limited by race and probably religion. Third, police violence will be further excused: Trump was clear during his campaign that the problem of police violence did not lie with the police. Fourth, health care and welfare will come under attack. Fifth, the financial industry, one of the prime causes of 2008, will be pardoned and protected. After all, Trump has benefitted from his own shaky financial dealings. All of this we can expect from a government whose three branches will be controlled by Republicans. And this doesn’t even begin to address foreign policy: it is unclear that Trump actually has a foreign policy.
On the other hand, if we look at the election from a slightly different perspective, things appear in a different light. Here are a few other items that won approval during the night of the election. Gun control was enacted in several states. Marijuana is now legal in nearly a quarter of the country. Joseph Arpaio, the notorious sheriff in Arkansas who made national headlines for his harassment of Hispanics, was voted out of office after six terms. Pat McCrory, the governor of North Carolina looks as though he is going down to defeat. He was the defender of HB2—the infamous “bathroom law” that, among other things, mandated that people had to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender listed on their birth certificate. Finally, it should be noted that Hillary Clinton did get more votes than Donald Trump, and, except for the existence of the Electoral College, would now be the incoming President.
In other words, if we look from the bottom up instead of looking from the top down, we see room for hope. If we step back from the immediacy of a Trump presidency and a Republican government, we can see progressive sentiments around the country. The question is one of how to mobilize them into a larger movement.
We do not start from scratch. There have been movements supporting immigration, opposing police violence, defending women’s rights, confronting racism, and militating for greater economic equality that have arisen and thrived over the past several years. These movements will likely gain strength in the coming months. Moreover, those who have relied for progressive change on the Obama administration (an illusory reliance, in my view) can no longer deceive themselves that the government will make things better. They will need to join us in grassroots campaigns of resistance and confrontation.
Already we are seeing the emergence and development of such movements. At my own university, Clemson University, many people are drawing together to support one another and organize for resistance. Clemson is a particularly conservative university in a state that voted decisively for Trump. So if it is happening here, it indicates that there is momentum to confront the abuses that are likely to come.
One example of this is the wearing of the safety pin, which was started in Britain after Brexit. To wear a safety pin outside one’s clothing indicates that one is willing to stand by and help protect a Muslim, African American, woman, LGBTQ, or other vulnerable person who is the object of abuse. Although some on the left have criticized the safety pin as “solidarity on the cheap,” my own view is that it can provide a point of entry for those who have not been particularly political before but want to start getting involved.
We here in the States are moving into a very difficult period. And, because of the reach of U.S. power, the incoming administration is likely to make things worse around the world in ways we do not yet know. However, if we are prepared to display commitment and a bit of courage, align ourselves with one another and with those who support us around the world, we have a chance both to confront the worse abuses that are to come and, on a more positive note, to build a movement that could sustain itself for years to come. And, after all, what other choice do we have?