By Ashok Easwaran
In 2008, an immigrant voter recalled at a community meeting this week, tears streamed down her face when she heard that America had elected its first African-American President. It meant that her children could thrive in the multi-racial country of their adoption. Eight years later, as the election results streamed in, she broke into uncontrollable sobs.
Following Donald Trump’s victory as the next President of the United States, school teachers throughout the country have been forced to hold “therapy sessions” with minority students to allay their fears of an uncertain future.
Parents who had barred their young children from watching the presidential debates are now wrestling with how to discuss Trump’s presidency with their offspring. And families affected by the political divide are contemplating if it is worthwhile coming together for Thanksgiving. Trump has apparently wrought more havoc than even he could have hoped for!
The fallout from a campaign rife with racial hatred was swift in coming. In Naperville, a Chicago suburb, a white school student sent a message to an African-American student that he owned him since the latter was a slave. Overnight, flyers appeared in a Texas university seeking vigilante squads to capture and torture those who advocated diversity.
Nor is the nervousness limited to voters. US Congressman Danny Davis, an African American, said that he was apprehensive that the country would be rolled back by 30 years and voters will now have to fight the same battles they assumed had already been won.
Illinois state Senator Daniel Biss has said that he was torn between allegiance to a duly elected President and his demeaning treatment of minorities, women and immigrants. “To accept the legitimacy of his behavior is to erode our nation’s soul — and our own,” he said.
Responding to Trump’s promise of mass deportation, more than 200 “sanctuary cities” have said they will not turn over people to federal officers seeking to deport them.
From the day the election results were declared, there have been anti-Trump protests daily across the country, with a majority of the protesters being young or students — the segment which has the greatest stake in a future they perceive as fragile.
In California, the state which has moved left of center even as the rest of the country moved to the right, two tech founders have proposed a secession.
One analyst has called the American election results a “whitelash” — the rebellion of white America against migrants. Fine-tuning a policy of divide and rule, long ago espoused by the British, Trump proved that fear, hate and religion, adroitly stirred, make a potent brew.
The Trump campaign quickly displayed a mastery over the dark art of summoning shadows. A Trump presidency is likely to be equally rich in symbolism. Ever the showman, he has declared that he will accept only a dollar instead of the $400,000 annual salary as President. It is an expansive gesture from a billionaire who, The New York Times found, avoided paying taxes for over two decades.
Even as the election results proved that a broad constituency for racism exists in the country, it has also exposed a moral bankruptcy, even among lawmakers. A Republican woman lawmaker was asked if she factored in Trump’s bigotry and misogyny in her decision to support him. Her response was that these issues were peripheral to the main election agenda which was the creation and preservation of jobs in the United States.
Almost a century after American women won the right to vote, the fact that Trump treated women as expendable consumer goods did not — electorally speaking — seem to matter. About 53 percent of white women, 40 percent of them evangelicals, and about 80 percent of white evangelicals of both genders voted for Trump. By one estimate, if none of the white evangelicals had voted for Trump, Clinton would have won by 59 percent to Trump’s 35 percent.
Nor did it seem to matter to the faithful that Trump was never a churchgoer. His supporters also turned a benevolent eye to the fact that he has, in the most public way, violated one of the Ten Commandments — not to commit adultery. It may also take very little persuasion to accept that at the core of his election campaign was a rigorous violation of another commandment — not to bear false witness.
The choice of his staff has, so far, reflected his world view, and sense of infallibility. The appointment of Stephen Bannon, the Chief Executive of the extreme rightwing Breitbart news website, as Trump’s Chief Strategist has already drawn trenchant criticism, even from Republicans. Bannon has built his career on racism and purveying half-truths.
The satirical magazine The Onion has noted that Bannon would be a valuable check on Trump’s more moderate impulses. Bannon is in illustrious company. The new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Myron Ebell, appears to share Trump’s unassailable conviction that climate change is a myth perpetuated by the Chinese in their quest for world domination.
For one who has been messianic in his vision of a new America, Trump displays a beguiling coyness when pressed on policy details. But he does bring to the White House a tremendous amount of naivete, entitlement and a fragile ego to match. Unlike Obama, who taught constitutional law and is a history buff, Trump has demonstrated that he is an unabashed history revisionist.
The election that may well change the course of America has been one of anomalies. With votes still being counted, Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton, has won the popular vote, beating him by over one million, although she did lose in the electoral college. There have been calls to scrap the electoral college, not the least because it has its origin in a 1747 law allowing the slave-owning southern states a say in the elections with a slave counting for a mere three-fifth of a vote.
In a country with a democratic process more than 200 years old, it is a stretch to attempt to absolve the electorate of its ultimate responsibility. Many minority voters, complacent in the belief of Clinton’s assured victory, did not bother to vote. Only about 55 percent of the electorate voted, the lowest percentage since 1996.
Those who came out in force were Trump supporters, specially in the heartland. Perhaps it is the human condition that so many can be so easily seduced by the will-o-the wisp of change, unable to fathom, till too late, that change is frequently regressive.
When destruction is self-wrought, opportunities for restitution are indeed few. Perhaps none could have summed up the irony better than the lyricist Shailendra in the film Zindagi (1964):
Apne hi dil ke haton barbaad ho gaye hum
Kis se kare shikayat?
Ab kis ki de duhayee?
(We have ourselves to blame for our ruin
Who can we complain to?
What can we grieve for?)
(Ashok Easwaran is a senior journalist based in Chicago. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected])