Many reasons for Trump’s victory are being put forth. I like this one: the primary reason was the pecking-order turnover that has occurred over the past half century. It led to a black President, and then it seemed like we were about to elect a woman. That was too much change. Trump’s pitch to fear and hatred rang out as blessed assurance to those crying “I want my America back.”
Change reached a visible high point in the scene in Philadelphia the night before the election. With Independence Hall in the background, the uppity black President and the presumptuous female candidate embraced – unashamedly – on television yet – with joyous affection.
I was shocked and dismayed when Trump won, but not so much because of the legislative and executive awfulness that is to come. We have endured frightfully unprincipled and inept Presidents and Congresses before, and we’re still here. The country will be tested and harmed over the next few years, but we will survive.
What bothers me most is that sixty million Americans voted for a man who is demonstrably devoid of moral principles, defined by selfishness, and mentally unstable. Those things should have disqualified him as absolutely as being foreign born or too young.
I thought that all but a small number of us had put racial and ethnic animus, misogyny, and homophobia behind us. I was mistaken.
The shock of Trump’s victory calls to mind the moral degeneracy of the world I grew up in. It was so objectionable, we have a tacit agreement to speak about it these days in ways that soften the recollection. We speak of Jim Crow, whoever that was. We use the relatively benign word “prejudice.” The raw practices and the actual words we used were abhorrent. With the current threat of going back to that way of being– even slightly – perhaps it’s beneficial to replay the reality.
We had nigger day at the fair and a nigger balcony at the movie theater and separate drinking fountains and even the trashiest of white trash knew that they were better than all African-Americans.
Gentiles shopped at “Jew stores” and spoke freely of kikes and Jewing people down – this, during and after, the holocaust.
Around the borders of our WASP neighborhoods lived people we didn’t know other than as unacceptable company – Polacks and Dagos and Hunkies. Restaurant menus featured wop salads. Mexican-Americans had trouble finding hotel rooms.
Women who went to college were denigrated as working on MRS degrees, but if they were academically and vocationally ambitious, that was bad, too. And most of us knew at least one teenager who had experienced a dangerous back-alley abortion.
Young men would “roll queers” (I think that meant beat them up and take their money) just for the fun of it.
If you didn’t live through this, you probably will be skeptical when I tell you that I’m leaving out stuff that is even more objectionable. But I am.
These deplorable commonplaces were probably more pronounced in East Texas where I grew up but, in varying degrees, they were present all over the country.
The 1960s saw a lot of change in regard to civil rights and the way we talk, but unlike what Trump supporters fear, the changes were limited. As of last spring the Southern Poverty Law Center listed an active Ku Klux Klan group in my home town It also listed one in Plattsburgh, New York, which is about 50 miles from where I live now. SPLC’s national figures make it seem that few Americans live more than an hour or two away from the site of an active hate group
When Barack Obama was elected, a popular cartoon showed a watermelon patch on the front lawn of the Whitehouse. Racist incidents have been widespread as a way of celebrating Trump’s victory, Two examples: signs that read “Make America White again” and forceful removal of a Muslim woman’s hijab. What’s next? Internment camps for Muslims?
How are we to stop this rebirth of a nation, this return to “my America?” Civil disobedience like in the 60’s? In less confrontational ways? (This hasn’t worked well the past few years.) Do we set about to destroy the other side (as the Tea Party did) or do we continue to place primary value on working together?
For me, the pain is intensified by much of the support for Trump having come from my fellow Christians, the so-called evangelicals. We all believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, but that’s about it for common ground. In my church and most mainstream denominations, loving God and your neighbor does not lead to breaking up millions of families by deportation or denying immigration to Muslim refugees or not allowing women to control their own bodies or denying gays the right to marry. The trouble is, evangelicals garner so much publicity, some Americans think all Christians are like them. We are not.
One more thing. Trump’s sneering reference to “the little crackers” that are part of Holy Communion, is offensive to all Christians, but especially to the millions who believe in the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine.
Poor blacks suffering privation in the depression sustained their spirits with the belief that “God don’t make no mistakes.” My friend Lilo Levine survived the holocaust on the strength of “this too shall pass.” I’m trying to believe both of those things, but it’s difficult.
The election threatens to take us backward in the long journey toward becoming a united people living in a progressive democracy. But by God’s grace, Trump and his followers will only slow the process; they won’t stop it. “Environmentalism” is here to stay. So are civil rights, female equality, gay marriage, progress toward a medical care system that takes good care of all the sick, improvements in education and the cost of college, the steady approach to ending capital punishment, and more.
American history is a story of progress. It has been interrupted from time to time by appalling impediments such as slavery, Japanese internment during World War II, McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, Watergate, and George Bush’s unjustified aggression in Iraq. But overall, we have continued the journey toward a more perfect democracy. In time, Trump’s reign will be understood as just another shameful period in which we temporarily lost our way.