Ward 3 City Councilmember Rizzy Qureshi speaks at the Nov. 11 Takoma Park gathering of unity at Piney Branch Elementary School. Photo by Eric Bond
by ERIC BOND
“This was a whitelash against a changing country,” said Van Jones from the CNN studio when it because clear that Donald Trump had won his stunning election victory. “It was whitelash against a black president in part. And that’s the part where the pain comes.”
Van Jones acknowledged that no single factor propelled Donald Trump to the White House. But speaking as a father, he articulated his dismay at the task of explaining to his children that the candidate endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan had won.
Demagogue in the White House
As a middle-aged white man, I belong to the prime cohort who elected Donald Trump. Sixty-three percent of white male voters cast their ballots for the candidate who announced this week that Steve Bannon, a white nationalist propagandist, will be his chief strategist and senior counselor.
In the week since the election, I have read and heard many explanations for Trump’s victory, including blindspots in Sec. Hillary Clinton’s electoral strategy, disaffection with trade policies, and disgust with the Washington establishment. These and other factors did, in fact, put Donald Trump over the top on the electoral map. A few hundred thousand more votes in the right places would have led to the expected outcome of the first female president. But a slight shift in votes would not change the reality that a majority of white Americans voted for a man who announced his candidacy by characterizing Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers.
Over the past eight years, Donald Trump has been the most vocal proponent of birtherism, the notion that Barack Obama is an illegitimate president. In the waning days of the campaign, the president-elect reiterated the bloodlust of his 1989 media campaign to execute five young African-American men, the “Central Park Five,” who have since been publicly vindicated. During the presidential campaign, Trump belittled the Muslim-American parents of a soldier slain in Iraq and indicated his intention to restrict the civil rights of Muslims. Then there’s the misogyny (more on that next week).
The U.S. president-elect is an unapologetic bigot. And 58 percent of white voters checked his name on the ballot.
As Jones pointed out, there were several factors that informed the Trump voter. The most compelling is the explanation that some Trump votes were in response to the hollowing out of the American economy over the past 40 years—under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Many Republican strongholds have been hit the hardest by the decline of the agricultural, manufacturing, and mercantile sectors. The per capita income in Richmond, Ind., is $18,481, while in Washington, D.C., it is $46,502. Even after accounting for cost of living difference, one can see that the recession never ended for many Americans, especially in rural and semi-rural locales.
But economic reality does not erase the fact that a Trump voter, at best, overlooked his candidate’s public resume of racism and misogyny. In any case, the economic spectrum of Trump voters was similar to that of Clinton voters—with the exception that more low-income voters, overall, cast their ballots for Clinton. The median annual income of Trump voters in the primaries was $72,000—$10,000 above the national median.
Hard bigotry and soft bigotry
So we must face the painful reality that the roots of American racism remain as intractable as kudzu—despite the election of an African-American president. This is hardly a surprise. The publicized killings of and assaults on African-American men, women, and children by police and private citizens in recent years provide ample evidence that being black in America means living with greater risk. Still, I was astonished to witness the open support for Donald Trump by the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazi Internet forum Stormfront—where commenters are celebrating Bannon’s appointment. Even here in multicultural Montgomery County, hate messages have tagged churches and schools this week. In fact, Montgomery County Police report that hate crimes have risen 17 percent this year.
As disquieting as the hard bigotry is the soft bigotry of ordinary white Americans who are either untroubled or not troubled enough by Trump’s open contempt for anyone who does not inhabit his skin. In recent days, I have read pundits who caution that it is poor strategy to label Trump voters as racist. But I am not a Democratic strategist, and I feel no compunction at the moment to provide cover for the bigotry that has placed a white nationalist in the White House. In fact, now that America’s racism has emerged from the shadows, we have a moral obligation to identify it and confront it. This may make for some awkward Thanksgiving dinners. So be it.
Here are some thoughts for coming days and months.
1. White people: develop a thick skin.
A majority of white voters just installed a demagogue in the White House. This is not a time for white guilt or white defensiveness. Know who you are. If it is not personal, do not take it personally.
On Nov. 11, Takoma Park came together in a show of support for all people in our multicultural city. It was a moment to affirm our commitment to each other and to connect. In future days, weeks, and months, some of us may raise collective voices through actions in the streets and in public places. These have value to raising solidarity and for showing the world that most Americans still believe in the promise of a multicultural society.
But community hugs and shouted slogans are not enough.
3. Fight for the community.
We are now in the eye of the storm. No one is exactly sure of how much Trump policies will match his rhetoric. But in the past week, the president-elect has said that he will immediately deport 2-3 million immigrants. A prominent Trump surrogate, Carl Higbie, has suggested that the government maintain a registry of Muslims. These indicators warrant the alarm that they have raised in targeted communities. We cannot assume the best. Now is the time to prepare.
Here are three resources that I recommend as a start.
CASA of Maryland, the largest immigrant advocacy and assistance organization in the state, was born in Takoma Park and has nearby centers in the Takoma/Langley neighborhoods. Follow the actions of CASA through its website and social media channels. This will be especially important when the Maryland General Assembly reconvenes in January and our legislators deliberate over the safety and rights of immigrants in this state.
The Muslim Democratic Club of Montgomery County (MDCMC) is a progressive organization with a mission to engage Muslims in Montgomery County. MDCMC President Hamza Khan spoke at the show of unity event at Piney Branch Elementary School on Friday, Nov. 11. Follow news and actions of this organization through social media.
In 2014, Van Jones founded the Dream Corps, which describes itself as a “social justice accelerator,” working for prison reform, economic justice, and a green future. This dream is even more crucial now. Join the Dream Corps, and engage financially and in-person.
And here are two upcoming community events.
On Sunday, Nov. 20, at 2:30 p.m., Montgomery County is sponsoring a rally, “Stand Up for the Montgomery Way,” in Veteran’s Plaza, Silver Spring, to reaffirm “the values of diversity, inclusion, and respect for all that have made Montgomery County special.” County Executive Ike Leggett, county council members, and community and faith leaders are expected to speak.
A community mobilization is planned on Monday, Nov. 21 at 6:45 at Historic Takoma, 7328 Carroll Ave, Takoma Park, Md. 20912. The event aims to set in motion actions to “defend social programs, protect our immigrant neighbors, defend reproductive rights, [and] defend civil liberties and democracy ….”
4. Stay informed.
Keep up with the latest international, national, and local news so that you can knowledgeably engage in advocacy and other actions to safeguard the lives and rights of people at risk. Subscriptions to newspapers, news magazines, and news sites has increased in recent days. When you subscribe, you support journalism—which has been in financial decline for the past decade (as I know all too well).
As the longtime editor-in-chief of the Takoma Voice, I am committing to increasing our weekly coverage of news and actions that touch our multicultural and economically diverse community. We are an underfunded, understaffed community news organization, so I call upon you to help us in our mission by sharing news assets, such as photographs, video, and audio and by contacting us with news or story ideas. I can be reached at email@example.com.
In addition, tune into Takoma Radio, 94.3 FM, on Sundays, 1-3 p.m. for Talk of Takoma, a magazine format show—and listen throughout the week and support the multicultural programming of Takoma Park’s community radio station.
5. We are Americans.
Since the election, I have puzzled over the value of being an American. Political orthodoxy insists that this is the best country on earth. I have had the good fortune to have traveled around the world, and have made meaningful connections to people in many wonderful countries. My travels have bolstered my belief that national identity is less important than human connection.
Donald Trump and his followers have failed to understand that the diversity of the United States is its single best claim to greatness. This sometimes trite sentiment springs to sober attention in the face of a whitelash that sees greatness in exclusion.
Note: this article was updated on Saturday, Nov. 19 for accuracy regarding the median income of Trump voters.