Lily Cichanowicz is an American writer and journalist currently based in Berlin. She has a degree in Development Sociology with a concentration in Inequality Studies from Cornell University. Today, she chose Deuxième Page to express her feelings and thoughts on the results of the American election. This opinion column is intended to present talking points as society forms narratives about Trumpism so that we can figure out how to resist it.
I have to admit, like too many of us I had been sure that Hillary Clinton would win. In fact, I even wrote a cautionary, critical article a couple of days before the election about what those who align themselves with the left need to do following her victory, working out the last fine details so it would be poised for release shortly after the winning results came in. Now that a few days have passed, I too recognize how truly out of touch I’ve allowed myself to be about the realities of the demographics in my country. I, like Clinton and the DNC, also assumed that the establishment would have its will one way or another and I had no idea how many people—even in my own family—would turn out to vote for Trump.
There is a lot being said right now as people make sense of what is going on, but I want to remind them of a few things about the nature of the American state and about the many forms that bigotry can take because when the dust settles, I truly hope we come out of this with an accurate narrative. These comments are not exhaustive. They are merely additional talking points that I feel must be added to the arena of discussion.
On the Trump supporters
Impacts of neoliberalism
In the midst of all the very real fear and grief many of us feel, sooner or later we are going to have to begin the uncomfortable work of making sense of the demographics and motives of those who voted for Trump.
Poor white America has suffered from the neoliberal policies set forth by the Clinton style administrations of the past. It’s easy to dismiss these people as a bunch of backwards hillbillies but many of them are desperate and suffering. Specifically, as we can see the same thing in Europe, austerity has a causal relationship with the rise of right-wing populism and white nationalism. Furthermore, the rich keep getting richer and the poor get poorer, largely thanks to the government’s appeasement of corporate agendas over those of the people. In her last article for The Guardian, Naomi Klein puts it eloquently when she explains that “success is a party to which they were not invited, and they know in their hearts that this rising wealth and power is somehow directly connected to their growing debts and powerlessness”. This is how the effects of classism have manifested in the forms of right-wing extremism and bigotry most recently in the US.
The left needs to acknowledge these people, and not dismiss them or exclude them from its fight for social justice. We need to have more compassion for those affected by classism, and it doesn’t have to mean condoning bigotry or taking away from our solidarity with the groups targeted by the incoming Trump administration. Though we also cannot completely reduce the demographics that voted for Trump to this single category.
Exposing the True Nature of Racism and Bigotry
In terms of understanding the many forms that racism in American can take, I also want to shake the myth that the only people who voted for Trump are proverbial rednecks, uneducated, living in trailer parks in the Deep South. It’s easy for liberal people to pigeonhole Trump’s supporters in this way, when in reality they are also your relatives, coworkers, acquaintances, and whether or not we realize it, for plenty of people even our friends. It can be easier to cope with the current state of things by refusing to explore the motives behind his support, but for those who want to be allies, there is work that has to be done in grappling with the truth about the full nature of bigotry in American society. Even if I wager that most people who support Trump do so because they fear the impacts of continued neoliberal politics as usual offered by the Clinton administration, the deeply seated kinds of covert racism that exist in millions of Americans has been driven to the surface as a result.
One thing that I think is important to realize is—and I’m going to borrow this sentiment from the Trump supporters themselves—many voted for him not because of his bigoted stances and horrible misdeeds, but despite them. This is an important distinction. It actually reflects the nature of racism and intolerances in America over the past decades quite accurately.
White complacency has always been a major pillar of racism in the United States. Since the civil rights movement, the overwhelming majority of white people thought that we were living in a color-blind, post-racial society. There has long been a prevailing illusion that a racist—the kind conveniently embodied in the persona of a stereotypical Trump supporter—is easy to spot. But far more insidiously, not everyone who voted for Trump is currently dusting off their confederate flags, taking selfies in black face, or plotting and committing hate crimes.
In the case of Trump’s rise, this form of insidious racism plays out when voters decide that choosing a candidate who claims to offer white nationalism and vaguely antiestablishment politics as an antidote for exploitative neoliberal policies, white America—even the ones who don’t think they are racist—were willing to overlook these things. Simultaneously, they still maintain that they aren’t participating in racism because they weren’t overtly voting for Trump in support of his bigotry. But instead, as usual they facilitate the persistence of bigotry while failing to at least acknowledge this fact.
There is no doubt, however, that the role of accomplices played by the so-called nonracist Trump voters has forged the legitimization of a platform based on bigotry of many kinds including racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia ableism, Islamophobia—this list is not exhaustive. In turn, the people who do hold these intolerance more overtly are empowered to act on them in terrifying ways in unprecedented magnitude. We’ve already seen how these things have begun to play out—from the burning of gay pride flags to defacing public property with swastikas to the harassment of Muslim individuals and the resurgence of the KKK and other hate groups.
So what this tells us about racism in the United States is that in large it is facilitated by complicity, white denial, and the general putting of one’s interests and perspectives over the needs and actual personhood of other groups of people. Is this still not a fundamental form of white supremacy? The fact that people could vote for a white nationalist on the vague promise of something different or even because they consider themselves members of the Republican party is just as problematic.
White nationalism really doesn’t only exist in the overt acts, the slurs, the hate crimes. It exists in the dismissal, silence, and the ability to turn a blind eye on the part of everyone else. We need to start realizing that these forms of violence are just as dangerous.
To the liberals and the Clinton supporters
Don’t have rose-colored glasses about Clinton
Beyond getting better at understanding the motives behind Trump’s supporters, liberals, democrats, leftists, what have you, there are other things we need to be critical about with regard to our own front if we plan on affecting change. Clinton has lost, and we mustn’t fall into the trap of viewing what could have been through rose-colored glasses.
In all honesty, I believe it’s true that with Hillary Clinton as president, we could have expected more of the same politics as usual. While in comparison to the harrowing unknown that now lies ahead of us, more of the same could seem quite appealing, and there is no doubt about the new era of racism we probably just spawned. At this point, we have no choice but to deal with the aftermath, and it would be a failure on our part to come away without being critical of establishment politics instead of erroneously looking to them as antithetical to Trumpism.
For black people who experience police brutality, people in Flint who still don’t have clean water to drink, for those in the Middle East and Libya, the individuals living in Standing Rock and on other reservation lands, and even the poor white demographics who have suffered at the hands of neoliberalism and post-industrial capitalism, more of the same is simply unacceptable.
The reason these issues would not have gotten addressed in due time is because the person in the Whitehouse is not there to be a savior to the people, and he never has been. We need to be clear about that. After all, the status quo in a fundamentally capitalist state is founded on neoliberal imperialist foreign policy, putting the interests corporations above those of the people. This results in the inevitable failure to even acknowledge some of the more pressing and controversial topics because they could hurt corporate interests. Therefore, establishment politics will never end disproportionate imprisonment of black people, institutional racism, police violence, foreign occupation and regime change tactics, the erasure of Palestine off the map, environmental degradation, the destruction of indigenous land holdings, lack of public access to clean water, welfare, and education—the list goes on.
Since its foundation on First Nations lands and its rise to prosperity on the backs of slaves, the American state has always served its own—economic—agenda first and foremost before concerning itself with the true freedom and equality of the people. While the right maintains public support for the status quo by nourishing bigotry in the populace, in the democratic politics of the establishment the misdoings are disguised with good rhetoric and the occasional pacifying nudge towards social progress.
If Clinton had won, most of the individuals that consider themselves to be left liberals or democrats could have been lulled by progressive ideology and inoculated with American exemptionalism, turning a blind eye to the atrocities we commit abroad, once again leaving the struggle up to activists and the people who can’t simply jump out of their identities. Now, we don’t even get to hide behind the farce of post-racism that we experienced during the Obama administration while so many still experience police violence and brutality.
Now we cannot simply hit the snooze button on our civic duties as many of us would have if Hillary had been elected, and as so many injustices would have continued under the radar of mainstream consciousness with a woman in office who promises us she is progressive. While she embodied the ways that establishment politics catered to the neoliberal agendas of the corporate elite, Donald Trump personifies the very worst of the corporate elite itself down to his very mechanization of social intolerance as a means of swaying the public to his will. His election as the leader of our nation clearly legitimizes and illuminates the troubling features that lie at our country’s core.
Right now, this reality of the mechanisms used on both sides are exposed in the failure of Clinton to secure office and in Trump’s success in running on a platform of bigotry. Instead of glorifying what could have been with a Clinton presidency, we have a chance to remain awake to the structures of injustice inherent in the American state and to actively fight the bigotry used to uphold it.
So to the people who are troubled by what they are seeing prevail blatantly and out in the open, I say: stay wide-awake. Stay vigilant of every decision the incoming fascist-style administration makes. With a president like Trump, the truth is exposed, but many of its pillars have actually been here all along. We cannot ignore the bigotry he promotes particularly because it will only become more overt and distressing in the coming years. It is a moral obligation for all of us. This current state of affairs requires action. Again, borrowing from Klein, “Neo-fascist responses to rampant insecurity and inequality are not going to go away. But what we know from the 1930s is that what it takes to do battle with fascism is a real left. A good chunk of Trump’s support could be peeled away if there were a genuine redistributive agenda on the table.”
It’s clear now more than ever that it’s up to us white people to fight alongside minorities, but in truth it always has been. It’s up to us to care about Standing Rock and police brutality and deportations, the war on drugs, and the war crimes we commit abroad. It’s up to us to deconstruct our own internalized intolerance. It’s up to us to lend support to members of the LGBTQIA community.
If you are worried by the results of this election and are in a position of privilege, do not resolve yourself to crawl into bed with the covers drawn up, as I’ve seen depicted in several internet memes. Don’t simply withdraw and wait it out. The situation is a grave one, as activists’ abilities to organize will likely be constricted under the Trump administration. To the white people I know, the ones who don’t face a direct threat right now, it’s time that we get the up off the sidelines and add to the collected body of people who are fighting for their rights and their lives. It’s imperative now more than ever, to stand in solidarity.
This is a time for those who pledge themselves as allies to engage, discuss, unite, organize, and fight for those they care about, along with those complete strangers who are affected. To quote Angela Davis, “freedom is a constant struggle”, it has always been up to the people. So it’s important that, now more than ever, we mobilize.