As the current U.S. presidential administration continues to create a circus out of the judicial process and quietly (and not so quietly) strip away personal liberties and the transparency of the press, I have alternated between indignant, angry, sad, overwhelmed, and wondering what can be done to stop this. The most frustrating thing, however, is that while the Trump administration is certainly responsible for not condemning the terrorism that is springing up among the white supremacists around the country, Neo-Nazis who have been attacking innocent people and journalists doing their jobs are a symptom of a greater, larger problem that is absolutely not new or really all that shocking.
People who believe that Trump is creating a wave of hatred (or that his impeachment will cure it) haven’t been paying attention. They haven’t been paying attention to the people of color, the disabled, women, and the LGBQTIA community who have been screaming about the inequities and systemic means of keeping them down and out. We have built ignorance into our educational system – urging standardized tests for profit-based schools over instilling an interest in learning in our youth. We have built racial prejudice into our law enforcement (reaching as far back as the slave era and slave patrols) by reinforcing an “us versus them” mentality predicated mostly upon on skin color and decidedly not training personnel to deescalate and mediate. Our prisons are full of people of color who simply couldn’t afford a better lawyer, or were victims of this same mentality of their increased guilt by birth. We have told the lie of the American Dream over and over again. We’ve claimed that the rugged belief of individualism and a can-do attitude ensures that anyone can be successful here. This may have been true before the country was officially a country, but that can-do attitude also consisted of the white settlers stealing resources and slaughtering indigenous peoples so that they could “make something of themselves”.
We condemn any help from other countries on our social issues, even as we march into various places around the world and tell the people how to govern, how to be, how to have faith. We parade out the victims of terrorism done by people of color and show how much the people we blindly bomb deserve it in retaliation. The innocent lives taken in these retaliatory strikes are ignored, forgotten, and not drawn up as terrorism to the people who live in the Middle East, which it is. 100 innocent dead by our hand is cause for abhorrence, yet we celebrate it on the same day that we condemn an unprovoked attack on us. No innocent death is warranted or deserved. End of sentence.
Our isolationist views on foreign wars were erased the moment that we realized that global war could be profitable. We attack because we can, because we have the resources, and we ignore the suffering we cause because it is profitable and conforms to the propaganda that we have embraced for decades. We assure ourselves that we have all the answers, that our way of life is better than any other country’s way of life, because we thought of it first. (We didn’t). We are taught to be arrogant, to appreciate the glory of our country above the problems that need to be fixed. We celebrate our veterans, but ignore their needs after the glory of their return fades.
Trump and his cabinet didn’t create this wave of hatred and arrogance that is guiding people to believe that patriotism consists of hating anyone who is not a white man – they’ve just taken advantage of it. And it’s working. What’s going on right now isn’t economic anxiety. He wasn’t voted in because people are afraid of losing their jobs. He was voted in because people saw in him someone who likewise believed that white people should always be the victors, the heroes of the story, and everyone else is the enemy; he was voted in because the system is rigged to ensure that people of color have fewer opportunities to vote, to use their voices; he was voted in because our tribalism doesn’t just extend to the idea that America can do no wrong and other countries are stupid by comparison.
This tribalism extends to the people in communities all across the nation, to people who are not educated about the history of our nation and believe the rhetoric that is built upon exceptionalism, socially and racially. Those who live in these communities are told that anyone who doesn’t look like them is violent, a rapist, lazy, or looking for a handout from their hard-earned money. They are told that women are faking it; that women aren’t capable of doing the same job; that women aren’t worthy of making decisions about their bodies. They are told that identifying in the LGBQTIA community means having a perverse mental illness – then turn around and claim that mental illness is the only reason white men with guns and knives kill innocent people. In the first, it is a way of torturing people and killing them for who they love, and in the other is a means of forgiving violence done in hate, in finding the humanity in a terrorist because white terrorists shake the foundation of exceptionalism. If you have an actual mental illness, then god-forbid anyone talk about it or treat you like you exist. Mental disorders only become a good reason for something if you don’t actually have one.
The United States needs fewer hot takes and more people willing to shut the hell up and listen – listen to the people who have been trying to tell you this has been going on. As allies, we need to stop trying to make our woes over this election louder than the people who have been living with this since before our country was founded. The nation needs far fewer new outlets allowing Nazis to voice their opinions in the “interest of fairness” (it’s not fairness, it’s hate) and dropping the hammer down on what is really going on systemically and politically around us. We need them to stop caring about ratings and start caring about the people, to become citizens first again and realize that ratings might serve for a short-term profit but kill common decency the more hate is normalized. (I’m talking all the news outlets here, not just the ones on the right. ALL OF THEM). Of course, news outlets are no freer of systemic prejudice than the rest of the country. Why would they be? It, like all of the media industry here, is built around rich white men who feel no need to share power or listen, because the system has evolved with them in mind.
I know this feels bleak laid out the way I have. It feels like the entire country is against any kind of change. And sometimes, they are. People would rather be guided into fear than progress, because fear is the known. Fear is comfortable. It provides an enemy to fight that doesn’t involve a mirror. I’m not saying it’s impossible to create change, only that it is slow moving, with so many setbacks, and that we must stay vigilant. I’m saying that we need to stop pretending that this is something new and treat it as part of sweeping changes that need to happen to the whole of society. We need to start educating our kids, on our own if schools won’t do it, and create a new generation willing to fight for the community we are. We must boost the voices of those trying to tell us how we can improve. We must not stop encouraging change and peace.
Individualism about all else does not serve us. There is no one American dream of success anymore. Maybe there never really was. There is only you and me and the world we can create together. And perhaps this falls on ignorant ears to those who truly need to hear it, but it has to be said. It needs to keep being said. People need to start listening to communities that don’t look like theirs, reach out to people trying educate and lift them up, but, mostly, they need to do the work. It’s difficult work, and sometimes you die for it, attacked by terrorists, like with what happened in Portland recently, but the truth of our shared humanity and love is more powerful and more likely to result in change than any violence ever could. These white supremacists fear progress because they know it makes them obsolete. We must keep progressing.
Trump has exposed the roots and the nails this past year. That is his legacy. He has shone a light on the systemic racism through his endorsement of it, as well as the sexism, homophobia et al, and ableism, and has therefore provided unprecedented public interest to correct this behavior in ourselves and our communities. We can use this hate that has been simmering and take it as opportunity to combat it with love, tolerance, and forward progression. Anything else, including silence, is just being complicit with the white supremacists who would see us all suffer.
So, go out and listen to someone who doesn’t look as you do or believe as you do and show respect and love. Never stop loving. Listen to the leaders trying to tell you how you’ll suffer and what they’ve been through, and use your gifts and abilities to provide solutions. Aid them if you can. Do it because it may be the only way we create a country truly worthy of the wonderfully diverse people who live here. Do it because the brave thing is to stand together as citizens of the world, where no one is better or supreme. Do it because we are benefit in equality and peace.