The Trump administration in the United States is well underway, and given the patriotism and nationalism that typically accompany America's Independence Day holiday on July 4th, it seems an appropriate time to write some reflections on what has happened thus far since November 8, 2016, as well as look back to that day and the days following. It should be noted that these thoughts merely skim the surface of all that is happening and has happened.
The day I began writing this, I listened to "The Reckoning" episode of the podcast on which I am currently hardcore crushing, Still Processing. For this episode--recorded the day after the election--hosts Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris visited Margo Jefferson, a writer and professor. They discussed what had happened, what the future potentially held, and tried to analyze what it all meant. There were tears, soft voices, soft laughter, and expressions from both Jenna and Wesley that the only reason they each got out of bed that morning was so they could see each other and Margo.
Besides being a good spark for my own ruminations regarding the last several months, their conversation sent me back to my own election experience and got me thinking about safe spaces.
For so many, the election was and continues to be devastating. To us, the worst of America won. The racist, misogynist, xenophobic, homophobic, ableist, classist parts of America won and legitimate fear crept into our daily consciousness. We all knew these parts of our culture still existed, despite the feeling that by now they shouldn't--but the election made all these cultural abuses mainstream.
Safe spaces have always been imperative to the physical and emotional well-being of marginalized groups. The 2016 election not only reiterated why these spaces need to exist, but it also made clear which places and relationships are safe for those of us whose world was rocked by the Trump win.
Like many others, it has become clear that many people I thought I knew to be kind and generous and beautiful in spirit and deed, are comfortable with the new regime. They voted for Trump. They justify the actions and words that make me and many others feel unsafe walking to the bus stop. These revelations are heartbreaking; however, the light in the despair is having a clearer view of who will be a safe space for me.
I have so many friends who reached out election night to seek comfort, as well as to be a comfort for me. Following the election I could easily see who was willing to take on the burdens and pains of others, and who merely shrugged their shoulders and moved on. I could see who embraced humility enough to learn the perspectives of people and groups drenched in fear and mourning.
And I am lucky enough to work at a place that is one of the safest spaces I can imagine for such a disturbing happenstance.
I went into work in the afternoon on November 9, instead of at my typical morning time. When I arrived, my boss asked, "How are you doing?" I said, "I'm fine," to which she replied, "No, really. How are you doing?"
Because I came in late, I was unable to participate in the workplace viewing of Hillary Clinton's concession speech but I was heartened and touched to know that at my job, the biggest conference room in the place could be filled with people passing a box of tissues while watching Hillary's speech. There was agreement that many of us hadn't felt such dismay and heartache for our country since 9/11. People cried at the copy machine. People wore black in mourning.
That's not to say everyone at my job voted for Hillary. Of course some people were fine--after all, my state did go to Trump. Nonetheless, it's a place where we acknowledge the burden of horror that swept the nation.
And not only that, after I went on what I call a Resistance T-Shirt binge that included the purchase of an "all the causes" shirt (my name for the shirt), one of the volunteers I work with saw me wearing it and said, "The only thing that shirt's missing is Protect Bears Ears," before going on to tell me about the activism he participated in in the 1960's. (I really work with the best people.)
The marches and rallies and articles and support pages that followed the election offered a plethora of safe spaces--both digital and physical--for heartbroken and fearful Americans. Communities came together with love and support and pledges of action. The phone lines of Senators and Representatives overflowed, and political activism has become in vogue.
But let's not kid ourselves: It isn't all peace and passion and unity and the proverbial kumbaya.
The Southern Poverty Law Center keeps track of hate incidents and hate groups via its Hatewatch function. According to their findings, hate groups and incidents have been on the rise for the second year in a row. We've seen threats against mosques and immediate instances of hate upon the election of Donald Trump as president. Students have felt threatened, white shoppers antagonize minorities. What was once the grotesque undercurrent of American culture has become mainstream.
And, of course, it isn’t only in the form of hate crimes and everyday experiences where we see hate.
Trump’s Presidential Commission on Election Integrity is nothing less than a function of voter suppression primarily aimed at Democrats at large and minority Democrats in particular.
Trump’s travel ban, far from keeping Americans safe, feeds Islamophobia and, by worsening the mythical “us vs. them” dichotomy, makes terrorist recruitment easier for the people we’re supposedly trying to defeat. And instead of welcoming refugees, migrants, and visitors who would only brighten our cultural outlook, we ban an all-girls robotics building team from Afghanistan.
I recently watched the 2014 film Suite Francaise. In the film, there is a scene where German planes bomb a line of refugees making their way from Paris to the French countryside. While watching I thought, “Who would bomb refugees?” and had the startling, heartbreaking realization that we, the United States, bomb refugees. We drop actual bombs on countries in need of aid, as well as prevent refugees from seeking asylum. I know it’s a hard pill for Americans to swallow--we pride ourselves on being honorable and valuing freedom and liberty--but in many cases, we are the bad guys.
The idea of “bad guys” and “good guys” isn’t necessarily discrete--rather it is a continuum and the essence of good or bad is determined by situations and the current reality, and even then the best option might not be that great. However, it is abundantly clear that--especially under the Trump administration--America isn’t always the good guy. We create chaos, wreak havoc. It’s time we accepted that.
What I am about to describe is only the bare minimum of attention needed on the topic of race in America. But because this is such a broad and nuanced topic, and this post is already hinging on broad and long, I’ll keep it succinct as possible.
President Trump won on a campaign of racism. After the election, many people posited that Trump’s win was a result of rural whites’ economic fears. However, studies conducted after the election show us the truth: instead of economic fears, what engaged white voters to vote for Trump were racial fears. Fears of immigrants, Muslims, and black Americans.
Trump’s win--a win borne of racism--occurred in the midst of Black Lives Matter, continued acquittals (when cases even make it to a courtroom) of police who murder black citizens, an increase in race-related hate crime, all on top of an American history overflowing with racial oppression and a modern refusal by many white Americans to accept the effects of that history that continue to this day.
The reality that lives in Trump’s America is, when people of color and people of religious minorities begin to succeed (for example, we elect America’s first black president), the white majority feels threatened, sees it as an attack on the status of white people. And thus, a backlash is born and we see the result in the election of Donald Trump.
Like much of the rest of the world, I have fallen in love with Hamilton: An American Musical. The brilliance of this play (or, one piece of brilliance because Lin-Manuel Miranda is the essence of brilliance) is that it casts people of color as historical figures we know to be white. In this way, the cast embodies the often nameless people of color who helped form this country--cognitively we know that of course it wasn’t only white people, but can you name any black Revolutionary War figures? The casting gives light to the racial divisions that exist, and it is a stunning work of art.
While listening to the soundtrack, I started to wonder what happened to Peggy Schuyler whose story, at least on the soundtrack alone, doesn’t get a true finish. Of course while looking her up I knew she was white. Nonetheless, I still had a moment of shock when I pulled up her image on Google and saw the white skin instead of brown.
It was a moment that brought into focus how America as a whole ignores the contributions of black people--unless those contributions can be appropriated and remarketed to white audiences. History in America is written by white Anglo-Saxon males, meaning many non-white contributors have been lost to us--but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there.
I’ve written before about Trump’s war on the press. His war continues to escalate--his latest crime as of this writing being the video he shared via Twitter of him tackling someone whose face was replaced with the CNN logo.
I am honestly at a loss for how to impress upon people who don’t understand already, the importance the First Amendment. The Commander in Chief attacking the press--whether it’s literal by calling us the enemy or metaphorical by posting a video of himself tackling CNN--is alarming to say the least.
If you don’t understand, ask yourself these questions and honestly consider the answers: If a free press--a body created to inform the public of truth in order that the public can be free and self-governing--is considered an enemy by the head of state, what is that head of state trying to hide? What are the objectives of that head of state that he doesn’t want the public to know?
Unfortunately, it isn’t only Trump who blasts the media. I see media hate coming from both conservatives and liberals, and it is a terrifying reality.
Conservatives seem to follow the same line as Trump--the lying media, the enemy, the media skews liberal, the media doesn’t tell you the truth, any perspective they don’t like or understand can be blamed on the media.
Liberals seem to go slightly anarchical--the media won’t report on this truth, the media is in cahoots with x company, "what the media won't tell you," etc.
Both of these views are incorrect views of how a free press functions. People say they want unbiased news. Well… I think when people say “unbiased” they really mean “my personal biases.” And in fact, the role of journalism isn’t to stay completely unbiased--it is to tell the truth. Patty Calhoun, editor of the paper Westword, said, “What we’re saying is you cannot be objective because you’re going to go in with certain biases. But you can certainly pursue accuracy and fairness and the truth, and that pursuit continues.”
It’s like science: When studying a certain field, you can’t completely remove your own personal biases because they’re a part of who you are. But you can--and both scientists and journalists do--remain as objective and fair and accurate as possible. Because a liberal-leaning newspaper publishes an article critical of Trump doesn’t mean that article is incorrect or unfair. A journalist can be both liberal and fair--and we absolutely do not have a shortage of fair journalists.
As I prepare to go to graduate school for journalism, I am often surprised by some people’s reactions to that bit of information about myself. Of course there are those who are excited and because they know me, know it is a great fit. Then there are those who reply thusly:
- Oh, you should go work for Politico after you graduate. They do a lot of fair reporting--unlike all those other guys.
- Ah, yes. Good for you. We need good reporters. There isn’t any good investigative journalism anymore--you should do that.
- Good luck with that (in a smirking tone).
Now, I have nothing against Politico. In fact, I think it’s a great outlet. My problem is that the person who mentioned it seems to think Politico is the only reliable source these days, and all the other outlets are terrible. That simply isn’t true. And as for a dearth of good investigative journalism… Do you read the news? My favorite national newspapers are the Washington Post and New York Times, so I am most familiar with them but I can tell you there is excellent reporting in these newspapers. Investigative, breaking, editorial, all of it.
It is scary enough when the head of state attacks the media. But when the citizens also have a mistrust or lack of understanding of the media’s role in our free society, it becomes downright terrifying.
Frustrated by Hypocrisy
I can almost feel the rage coming off certain readers (if they’ve even made it this far) because there is a pervasive culture in America of if-you-critique-America-you-must-hate-America. To be colloquial about it, I am so done with that culture.
I am not saying you can’t love the United States of America. It should go without saying that loving your country is normal and good. However, there is so much to critique about the United States--both historically and contemporarily.
Sure, Thomas Jefferson wrote about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But, he also had slaves. He had children with (i.e. raped) one of his slaves, Sally Hemmings, and kept them as slaves.
While July Fourth marks freedom for some Americans, black Americans weren't free until the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. However, the June 19 holiday Juneteenth exists to commemorate the day slaves were finally informed of their freedom. Because of how slowly news travelled, and minimal ability by the Union army to enforce the Proclamation, word didn't reach Texas until June 19, 1865--more than two years after the initial emancipation--when Union General Gordon Granger delivered the news along with 2,000 occupying troops.
The United States is literally built on slave labor. People kidnapped from African nations; enslaved indigenous people; Chinese workers on the railroads. And that’s only a sampling of the disgrace that is slavery in our country.
Obviously, we can’t erase what has been done. But we can recognize that the legacies of slavery and genocide still impact living populations today.
In all, I am exhausted this Independence Day. I’m tired of the expected nationalism; tired of the daily horror that is Congress and our new president; emotionally drained from trying to put energy into all circles needing aid--whether financial or emotional--in this new (or rather, newly comfortable being terrible) America.
The last several months have been full of rallies, marches, protests, articles, blogs, videos, petitions, and much more all in the name of resistance. It’s wonderful to see the engagement, but it is also frustrating that it took terrible things to happen for people to become engaged. It was great to see the initial coming together of so many people, but let’s face it: It has slowed down as it has become apparent that the country didn’t immediately implode.
The country hasn’t imploded all at once, but certain populations are deeply troubled. With the rise of ICE raids, immigrant populations live in fear and are less likely to report crime. Attending meetings at mosques can be a life or death experience for Muslim-Americans. Freedoms and securities are taken away in increasing measure.
Our nation claims to be about liberty and freedom, yet Congress, the president, and state legislatures repeal freedoms. We are supposedly at the top when it comes to scientific know-how, yet leave the Paris Climate Accords despite clear evidence that humans cause climate change. Many Americans claim to be a part of Christian faiths, yet see no problem taking away social safety net policies.
More and more the notion that “all men are created equal” seems to only apply to the rich, white males to which the notion was originally attributed. Maybe in 1776 it was culturally understandable (note I said ‘culturally understandable’ not acceptable--it was never acceptable) to leave out women, the poor, and non-white Americans. But this is 241 years later--it’s time America grew up.
All this is to say, this Independence Day I am not enthralled with the holiday. Trump’s America takes the cynicism I’ve had for the U.S. for several years and puts it in a lens of shame and ambivalence. The values America purports to have are better than what we’ve become. This Independence Day, will we reflect on what has happened and what more needs to be done to ensure the safety, freedom, and opportunity of all Americans? Or will we wear t-shirts emblazoned with “Let Freedom Ring” while accepting and participating in the systematic oppression of so many people?