Mourning in America

Making sense of the election.

I had a dream.

On election night, a bright blue map would emanate from my flat screen TV.  We’d be elated by news of Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.  From sea to shining sea, the results would repudiate Trump, his hate-filled campaign, and drive a stake in the heart of the Southern strategy of using race to leverage working class white votes.

We know how that turned out.  On Wednesday, I could barely bring myself to work.  Heart heavy, I felt as if I’d experienced a death.

What’s bugging me now is the attempt to negate the implications of Trump’s bigotry for the outcome.   For example, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof says we shouldn’t label Trump supporters as racists:  “many are good people who had voted for Obama in the past.”     Maybe they’re not, but they supported a racist, sexist xenophobe.

Assuming for the sake of argument that these good people just wanted change or different strategies to expand the economy’s recovery, how could they dismiss the values in which Trump wrapped his campaign promises? A world view that criminalizes black and brown people, denigrates an entire faith, ridicules people with disabilities, and considers sexual assault of women a privilege.

Trump personified the late Lee Atwater’s Southern strategy, openly exploiting it in ways no Republican had ever attempted.  Atwater, the architect of the infamous Willie Horton ad that turned the electoral tide for George H.W. Bush, explained that it’s all about appealing to white racism without mentioning race:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

As Tuesday proves, Trump has taken it to a new level.  He posed as a champion for the working man who’s been neglected by Democratic and political elites, by promising to cut taxes, limit or eliminate free trade, and bring jobs back, all economic things.  The icing, of course, is he derides people of color in the process, blaming brown people for taking jobs, criminality, and generally bringing down the nation—you know, making it less than great.  For this his fans cheer him for tellin’ it like it is.

Give Trump a chance, Kristof urges.  But nothing about Trump’s language or temperament suggests he will do anything to reverse the damage and hurt that he’s caused to people of color, those with disabilities, or women.  He already is assembling a transition team that promises a “180-degree turn for the country.” Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who drafted Arizona’s immigration law that required people to show their papers—in the style of South Africa during Apartheid, (portions of which the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional) is one member of that team.

In fact, Trump reportedly is considering recently unemployed Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio to head the Department of Homeland Security, according to People for the American Way.  Voters unseated Arpaio this week, after years of his anti-immigrant behavior, including mass arrests of Latinos, irrespective of their status.  Just last month, federal prosecutors charged him with criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a court order to stop targeting Latinos—citizens and legal immigrants–for traffic stops.

For all these reasons and more, I reject any suggestion that my grief is merely the product of an overactive imagination.  Mr. Trump’s racism, sexism and xenophobia are not just the dressing on his policies; they are integral to his policy prescriptions.

So, what do we do? We can’t just mourn for four years.

To paraphrase Kool Moe Dee, it’s time to Go To Work. If you care about social justice and want to keep the country moving forward toward “a more perfect union,” consider the following:

  1. Accept the fact that Trump is the President-elect. Let’s not replay the shameful behavior of the past eight years targeting President Obama.
  2. That said, hold him accountable. A majority of voters elected Hillary Clinton, which suggests they disagree with Trump’s stated values and promised policies.  With that in mind, learn from far right organizations, such as the NRA, National Right to Life, that brook no nonsense when it comes to their issues.  Speak out against Trump nominees that undermine social justice like Arpaio, or legislative actions that threaten poor people, as when Congress seeks again to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
  3. That means you must find out who represents you in Congress and put their numbers on your phone’s speed dial. That way you can call them every time they step out of line, which is essential since members respond to threats to their continued election.
  4. Finally, just speak up. Voters’ comfort with Trump’s hateful rhetoric suggests that it’s not unusual to them.  We have got to change that.  When you hear people following his lead, say something!  At Thanksgiving, when your beloved uncle starts spouting off about undocumented immigrants, transgender people, Black Lives Matter, whatever, offer a different perspective.  Explain why this is not acceptable speech in civilized company.

Get ready to be a social justice warrior. We’re going to be busy the next few years.

Author: Verna L. Williams

Interim Dean, Nippert Professor of Law, co-founder and co-director of Cincinnati Law's Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice. Professor Williams joined Cincinnati Law's faculty in 2001. She teaches Constitutional Law; Gender and the Law; and Family Law. Her research examines the intersection of race and gender in law and society.

6 thoughts on “Mourning in America”

  1. I completely agree. By electing him, our country has now empowered and legitimized groups that embody hatred for minorities of all types. Thank you for writing this, Verna!

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  2. It’s really kinda hard to pin the xenophobe label on Trump. For God’s sake, his wife is a (legal) immigrant. So was his first wife, for that matter. He hires hundreds of temporary immigrants at his resorts. His only problem (and I’m with him) are those who have entered this county in contravention of our established immigration laws.

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  3. Thanks for these thoughtful, wise perspectives and especially the positive actions we can follow. I feel issues of gender, also much more subtle and unconscious, added to this tragic outcome.
    Unfortunately, the suggested action of pressuring our representatives and senators -seems to have so little effect, at least here in Ohio. Gerrymandering rules the day. No viable candidate is even put up by the Democrats against these entrenched, Trump-following Republicans.

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