I am sitting at the library while my kids scour the children’s section for drawing, craft, and origami books—despite the fact that said books seem to cause a lot of frustration (and yelling) around our house. A few minutes ago, an announcement came over the speakers about “Let’s Speak Arabic Story Time;” it started five minutes ago. My kids don’t speak Arabic, nor do I (though I kind of want to learn), but I am glad that we live in a community with “Let’s Speak Arabic Story Time.” From where I am sitting, I can see shelves marked, “Arabic,” “Persian,” “Español,” and “Other Non-English” (it’s kind of funny that the “Español” sign is the only one not in English). I am comforted by the fact that my local library considers it important to include selections in these diverse languages, and in the children’s section no less.
But, while I sit here, I can’t stop thinking about yesterday’s Presidential election. There is a family sitting at the table near me speaking in a mixture of Arabic and English. Knowing a bit about those in my community, it is likely that this family came to the US within the last fifteen years as political refugees, fleeing sectarian oppression and violence. And then, there is me: an upper-middle-class heterosexual Christian white male, born in the United States to parents whose parents’ parents’ parents were also born here; I am sitting here wondering what they are thinking, how they are reacting to yesterday’s surprise. A large chunk of my fellow Americans decided to elect a man who opened his campaign by stating that only a small “some” Mexican immigrants are “good people,” while the others are drug dealers, rapists, and the like (whether or not he said this about people immigrating legally or not makes no difference as far as I am concerned); they decided to give a man who called for banning an entire religion from entering the country the power to actually do so; a sizable swath of my fellow Americans asked to have a President whose campaign promises are, among other things, to restrict the freedom of the press and to increase the use of torture against POWs. I wonder what my neighbors think of me. Do they assume I voted for this? Do they assume that I want these things? It would be easy, even logical, for them to do so. Evidently, a lot of white folks like me did vote this way and do want some of this stuff.
Donald Trump has made statements that have put my neighbors into a state of fear. Whether it is real or not, members of my community, just like this family across the room, are now living in a country they feel has rejected them. Instead of mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers that simply want to go to the library, many people in the US have decided that they might be America-hating terrorists charading as nice people; they might be hiding someone among them who has evil plans. And, the United States electorate has decided to elect a man who also thinks this. Understandably so, this terrifies them. It terrifies me.
While I always knew that, technically speaking, Donald Trump could be the next President of the United States, I didn’t think it would actually happen. Such a thing seemed simply unfathomable to me. I recognize that I live on the west coast and that I work in an environment that skews pretty heavily to the left, which means that my personal political/social views are colored by that environment. The fact that Donald Trump’s views are as popular as they are comes as a (very big) surprise to me. So, when I woke up to see that Donald Trump had won enough electoral votes to become the next President, I was stunned. Shocked. Confused.
I think I know two people who were really excited about Donald Trump from Day One. I am pretty sure that I have a fair number of acquaintances (and family members) that voted for Donald Trump, grudgingly, and I think they did so out of a combination of party loyalty, a great distaste for Hillary Clinton, and/or a fierce allegiance to certain causes (e.g. abortion rights, gay marriage, etc.). These folks plugged their noses and voted for what they felt was the “lesser of two evils,” feeling that whatever warts Trump had were of lesser importance than these bigger issues. Neither of these situations are ones I can really understand. In fact, almost any rationale for electing a man whose platform is built on his brand of pseudo-nativism, or who has slung gendered insults as readily as he has, is lost on me; for me, that type of rhetoric is dangerous, irresponsible, and un-ignorable.
I have gone through a lot of emotions in the past 48 hours. Now, I think I am just sad. I am sad that the kids who live across the street (literally) told my kids that they don’t know what is going to happen to them (they, their mother, and grandparents are all from Iraq, living here after being pushed out of their homeland). While these kids might be misinformed about what Mr. Trump has said, or about what is actually going to happen, it is horrible that there is even a question about this. I am sitting here feeling embarrassed for being an American, for being a part of the collective electorate that elected Donald Trump to be its leader. Sure, it is possible that things look worse now than they may turn out to be, but the fact that I have to sit here wondering if Americans really are as _____ as his election implies we are is distressing. The fact that I have to worry if this family at the library think I voted to make them feel less safe is a horrible feeling. I can’t even begin to fathom what this must be like for them. There weren’t any candidates who made a point of using upper-middle-class white heterosexual men as bogeymen scapegoats, so I have nothing to fear for my own safety or livelihood.
My daughter wrote this letter almost immediately after she found out that Donald Trump had been elected:
Before you go, there, the idea that Donald Trump might “build a wall around America” was not put in her head by me or my wife … this came from her hearing his words, mixing them around with her own 11-year-old ideas, and interpreting what this might mean through the lens of her own world experience. Sure, she has some of the facts wrong, but I don’t think she is misinterpreting the sentiment.
Maybe it is not for you, but this is terrifying and depressing for me. ’Merica!