First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Like an awful lot of people, I woke up on Wednesday morning to a sense of shock and disbelief. Donald Trump had won the US election, and I just couldn’t believe it.
It was hard to stomach, because, on the face of it Trump espoused values that we have seen as being abhorrent, malign, vicious, cruel and petty.
Wednesday was a day spent in a daze, trolling through social media looking for some release of emotion – and there was plenty of emotion there. Fear, mostly; and shock that over 60 MILLION people voted for him.
So, to put a shape on my thought: What has he said, what will he be like in power, what are the likely repercussions, and what will my reaction be?
What Has He Said?
Over the course of the campaign Trump has been a bruising fighter. He has displayed an absolute ruthlessness in how he deals with anyone with the misfortune to cross his sights:
- He has mocked a disabled reporter
- He has referred to Mexicans in America as rapists and criminals (but he thinks that some are probably ok)
- He has boasted about sexually assaulting women (and then dismissed it as locker room talk)
- He has said if Ivanka weren’t his daughter, he could be dating her (!)
- He tried to deny Obama’s citizenship
- He tried to promote violence against protesters in his rallies “I’ll pay the legal fees”
- He wants to ban all Muslims from entering the United States
What Will He Be Like In Power?
The simple fact is that we don’t know what he will actually be like in power. For the very good reason that the American system has checks and balances. There is the Senate and there is the House of Representatives. The politicians here all care about being re-elected, and some may have their eyes on a larger prize. I REALLY hope that they will be able to put the brakes on some of his excesses.
However, some of the signs aren’t good: his Vice President is a right wing Christian who thinks members of the LGBT community can be ‘cured’ by conversion therapy. Hmmm. Not to be underestimated is the sinister nature of an advisor who wants to start a register of all Muslims in America.
Let’s take the idea (possible fairytale) that the checks and balances work, and that Trump doesn’t get to exert the xenophobic, homophobic, islamophobic, misogynistic ideas that he appears to treasure.
No. Even if Trump is kept in check, he has still done an untold amount of damage to Public Discourse.
You see, even if he is kept in check, his words have been uttered. He has spoken, and he has been repeated, quoted, and (God help us) admired.
There is a trickle down (or flash flood) effect from his words. When the head of state speaks as if misogyny, racism, discrimination and hatred are normal – then it’s fair to assume a number of citizens will take that lead.
His words alone won’t create racists – but they do give freedom to any racist to express their repugnant views. Already, there is a lot of evidence of an increase of racism.
So, there is a lot to fear. Will the next 4 years see the dismantling of civil society? Will we see a rampant increase in hate crime; in sexual assault; in intolerance?
The fact that the Ku Klux Klan can announce a parade to celebrate Trump’s election means I’m not optimistic. In other news, one Southern University had posters put up warning white women not to date black men.
My (Our) Response?
As a people, we can’t allow hatred to win.
In a number of American cities there are ongoing protests against Trump’s victory, and against the policies he as spewed. This is partly heartening, but partly disheartening as some of the protests have turned violent (the very antithesis of what the protests were intended for)
However, correcting a slide in civic discourse is a task that falls to all of us.
How often have any of us:
- heard racist language against someone in our presence?
- seen a person with disability overlooked or belittled?
- tolerated institutional racism in our own country? (Direct Provision in Ireland, anyone?)
- seen discrimination of women?
It is the task of all of us to stand up to discrimination and hatred in all its forms. And this only works in a spirit of nonviolence. Look to the heroes of the 20th century – people like Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King.
This kind of thing isn’t easy. The good stuff never comes easy, but is worthwhile. We need to speak out. We need to speak out for the socialists, the Trade Unionists, the Jews. And yes, we need to speak out for the Muslims, for the members of the LGBT community, for the poor, in fact for any minority who’s Human Rights are being undermined.
There has been huge progress in civil rights over the past century, let’s not let the next four years undermine all of that.
And for any Americans out there – look to the words at the base of the Statue of Liberty: