I remember when the news first broke some time ago that Donald Trump was seeking the Republican nomination. Like many others, I thought it was a joke…some elaborate hoax dreamt up for popular consumption. Maybe the Donald was trying to increase his Twitter following since his usual bickering had become stale and Cher stopped biting back, or perhaps he now hoped to launch some twisted new reality show idea (the Apprentice goes to Washington anyone?) But soon realization dawned that he was actually serious, and we watched as his terrible Trump train left the station with all its “deplorable” and “degenerate” followers hanging on tightly, as it bulldozed its way over anything and anyone in its path. Our attention then turned to the conspiracy theories as a form of explanation. The one I clung to most was that he’d been a friend of the Clintons once, so perhaps he was now somehow working for them in some devious, underhanded, and convoluted plan to elect our first female president by making a total asinine buffoon out of her only competition. And what a friendship he and Bill Clinton must have made. When the “grab her by the pussy” debacle broke, also known as Donald’s version of locker room talk, he noted how he and Bill Clinton had engaged in “worst conversations on the golf course” (please don’t let there be a recording, please don’t let there be a recording…) But then I started following the news stories and the media as they chronicled his rise to political power and “glory”. I saw the meanness and cruelty and the hatred that seemed to underlie much of the commentary – HIS commentary – and with that look in his eyes, one of scorn mixed with contempt and a lack of awareness of just how damaging one could be, I knew he was serious. And so I started to worry. And then, as I watched the polls and saw how close the race seemed to be, I was scared. And this past Tuesday…well, by then I was pretty much out of my mind. I guess the stress clearly showed on my face, as I had stopped at a local grocery store on the way home from work and this older gentleman, a total stranger, walked up to me and shook his head, and whispered “it doesn’t look good. It really doesn’t. I think they’re actually going to elect that guy President”
So what went wrong? We can spend weeks and months analyzing it. We can blame Hillary for being unlikeable or unrelatable. We can say that Donald stood for outright change, and that people were tired of the same old politics and feeling ignored and forsaken by their leaders. We can lay fault with a flawed electoral process that sees the person with the popular vote lose, as was the case with Al Gore in the 2000 election. We can hate on social media, for spreading ignorance and lies like some absolute truths, and a biased, jaded media for only reporting or questioning what they judged important and newsworthy, based on their own bloated self-interests. We can consider all these things, but what we can’t seem to consider is what this entire experience – this nightmarish ordeal – says about all of us. Now some would argue that we’ve become so politically correct as a society that many are afraid to express what they want to say, or challenge what they believe needs to be challenged for fear of being wrong or ostracized. And that because of that, the rise of Trump – this man that could say what no one else could say like no one else could say it – is the logical and inevitable outcome of that. But you know what? I say FUCK that. I believe that is absolutely unfair and categorically untrue. Trump is a bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic, hate mongering, law breaking, politically regressive, serially lying, morally corrupted monstrous bully of a man in an ill-fitting toupee who will set, not only his country, but this entire PLANET back decades in his attempt to crush the spirits of anyone who is against him. In the last few days we have seen what a post-Trump world will look like, and it is uglier than we likely could have ever possibly imagined. We have seen an increase in acts of hatred, aggression, and outright violence against people of colour, immigrants, and LGBTQ communities, and I fear that’s only getting started. You see, those that supported him – those that secretly wanted to support him – feel that Trump speaks for them, that he says what they can’t say, and with Trump in the White House, holding the biggest megaphone of all, he now gives people some self-perceived onus or privilege or freedom to act out how ever and towards whoever they see fit. It’s a Trump World, and in it women are to be played with, abused, and discarded; gay people are immoral and the cause of many of the world problems; people of colour are criminals and misfits who do not belong in the US of A; disabled people are to be made fun of or ignored. And the list could go on and on and on. Trump ran and won on what’s been described as the most extreme and regressive platform in the history of the Republican Party, one that was undoubtedly tailored to match his bluster, to go to the most extreme in any conceivable way on every issue. Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and his Mexican border wall are front and center, along with his pro-life, anti-abortion stance (which will make no exceptions for rape or the mother’s health). The platform will require the Bible to be taught in schools and make religion a central part of legal decision-making. Trump has promised to appoint family value judges to uphold family centered values, aka anything not white and conservative, and he rejects any need for stronger gun control laws, despite the mass shooting epidemics that face his country. And this platform makes as its centerpiece the denial of basic civil rights to gays, lesbians and transgender people. It repudiates same-sex marriage, and believes a “natural marriage” is only one that between a man and a woman. It also defends merchants who would deny service to gay customers and legitimizes their right to discriminate.
Yet with this in mind, we’ve already seen the Donald, who campaigned on promises of everything and anything to get elected, reverse his stance on things like Obamacare and taxing China and jailing Hillary (I think the return of waterboarding still stands though). His transition team is full of the very sort of Washington insiders and lobbyists he campaigned against, so it appears that his “draining the swamp” of career politicians must now wait. We’ve seen Trump name three of his children (Ivanka, Eric, and Junior….um, sorry Tiffany!) to run his global empire AND he has given them prominent roles on his transition team (because clearly there’s no conflict there?) As for his Cabinet plan, there are rumblings of Ben Carson as a pick for either Secretary of Education or Secretary of Health and Human Services. Now, Ben Carson is a retired physician who is a creationist and believes evolutionary biology is essentially a fairytale, and that being gay is a choice because people “go to prison straight and come out gay”. So yeah, THAT guy could lead all education or health/human services initiatives in the country. Then there’s talk of dear old Sarah Palin as possible Secretary of Interior, overseeing federal lands and the national park services, which means – “drill baby, drill!” – it will now become open season for oil and gas drillings on public lands. And since Trump has already loudly proclaimed that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by “the Chinese”, what does any of that silly environmental nonsense stuff really matter? Now as dangerous as all that really sounds, the one to really watch out for is vice president-elect Mike Pence. He who is “a Christian, a Conservative, and a Republican, in that order”. Pence has been at the forefront of the GOP’s battles against birth control access and abortion rights for years, and cuts that led to the closure of Planned Parenthood and an unprecedented HIV outbreak in rural areas of the state where the family planning provider had been the only HIV testing center. He signed a controversial “religious freedom” bill into law that licensed discrimination against LGBTQ people, which following some significant backlash he later revised. Most concerning of all, Pence supports conversion therapy, a contoversial “treatment” used with LGBTQ people to “turn them straight” that has incorporated electric shock treatment and chemical castration in the past. Together, he and Trump have been described as the “perfect storm of classic, out of touch, Grand Old Party extremism.” And what’s most frightening about all of this is that, with his sort of cabinet in place, Trump may truly become the most reasonable person in the room.
But here’s the thing. We don’t get to admire Trump for his “remarkable rise to power”. There’s nothing to admire here. What Trump did was tap into every dark and insidious place he could find to promote white extemism. He turned over every rock to find it’s ugly underbelly. He fanned the flames of hatred and ignorance and intolerance and from it sprung forth an inferno that consumed the country. And as much as we can’t admire Trump, we don’t get to blame Hillary. She didn’t lose over some corruption scandal. She didn’t lose because she’s unlikeable, stiff or cold. She didn’t lose because she didn’t appeal to the poor or the working class. She was the ONLY choice. And she lost because she’s a WOMAN, a strong, opinionated, determined woman, and our patriarchal and misogynistic society could not deal with that. And what we should have known is that these attitudes and belief systems were there all along. We have grown complacent and soft. We thought the great U.S. of A a country so progressive it had elected a black man for two terms, so surely there was a place at the head of the table for a woman in power. We thought we’d achieved so many of our goals with LGBTQ rights, and we believed we were opening our hearts and minds to the plight of immigrants. And yet there were some pretty big goddamn signs we weren’t quite there yet. The rampant racial profiling, the abuse of black men by law enforcement, the mass shootings targeting people of colour or LGBTQ communities. Maybe Donald’s promise of change reached out and touched those people affected by all those things we didn’t see, or didn’t acknowledge, or chose to ignore – the disenfranchised lower class and the working poor. But in the end, we were fooled by a great con man. The only change we will see will be a dangerous, ignorant, regressive one. Trump is most dangerous in that he is an arrogant, selfish, small minded man who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, and will be far too proud to ask for clarification. A Trump government will strip away rights of those most marginalized and oppressed. It will disregard serious concerns for our already fragile environment, and eliminate any policies and structures we have safeguarding wildlife and ecosystems against climate change. It gives voice and reason to the irrational, and it will allow ignorance, intolerance, and hatred to thrive and grow virtually unchecked.
So do we just give up and say that evil has triumphed? Do we shout out platitudes like #LoveTrumpsHate or continue to tell our children that bullies never win (because clearly they do), and then call it a day? Do we check out and check back in four years later? Will we still be here four years later if we do? And as a Canadian, why am I even concerned? Well, as citizens of this planet, as someone who believes strongly in social justice, and with our neighbor the US as a daunting influence with a looming shadow, we have a LOT to worry about. So here’s what I’m going to suggest: When you go to social work school like I do, you spend much of your time thinking and talking about oppression, and about privilege, and about one’s social location – where they are positioned in society in terms of one’s gender, race, orientation, class – and how we manage the resulting privileges and oppressions we face day to day. As a white male living in a middle class neighborhood, I have experienced privilege. As a queer person who grew up in a lower/working class neighborhood, I have experienced oppression. If you’re wealthy, or have access to higher education and health coverage, you have privilege. If you’re a woman or a person of colour in our world today, its damn sure you experience oppression. In her book Becoming an Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression (if you’ve never read it, DO!), Anne Bishop displays very simple wisdom in telling people that in order to fight oppression we must be willing to fight ALL oppression, and recognize that my oppression is not worse than yours, and so on. It’s good advice, but there is one chilling line I remembered from this book in the days since the Trump win that that’s given me some clarity in the chaos. Bishop said “we carry with us the blueprint of our culture’s oppressive patterns to be reproduced wherever we have influence”. We carry it with us, the ugliness and the hatred and the ignorance we have seen. It is generational, bred within us to the very core of our being, sometimes buried, often hidden, but in times like this given power and influence and life. But we can challenge that terrible birthright. We can recognize that ALL oppression is bad. We can stop caring about our rights or the rights that affect us most – women’s rights, gay rights, black lives matter, all of it – and start caring about them ALL. We can stop thinking that there is some hierarchy to oppression because there isn’t. OPPRESSION: IT. IS. ALL. BAD. When we see someone being bullied or harassed, we can help. We can side with the victim, comfort them, acknowledge that not everyone feels THAT way. We can make certain they know that some of us are different, and that some of us are better. We cannot let racism, sexism, homophobia and bigotry become more normalized than it already has. We cannot become more desensitized to violence and sexual exploitation than we already have. If you witness acts against others, be sure to stay safe but at the same time don’t stand for it. If you experience acts against yourself, reach out for safety and support, because you will find it. Seek out allies that share your beliefs. If someone is ignorant than challenge that ignorance with knowledge and awareness and even understanding. You don’t know what their experiences have been. You don’t know what dark paths they may have walked. But you know what can and are willing to tolerate, and you know what you’re not. Stop using Facebook and Twitter as you’re ONE source for news and information. Start challenging our media to be less sensationalized and more inclusive in their coverage. We have differences. Acknowledge them. Educate yourself if you have to. Educate others when you can. Be KIND to one another. Be KIND to yourself. If we do all of that, maybe somehow we can survive what’s yet to come.
I’m up for the challenge. Are you?