By Emily Jenab
Donald Trump is the physical manifestation of a unique brand of modern racism that has been festering within the Republican Party for years – cumulating, now, in their very own monster. He is the screaming id of our nation; a leader who has cemented himself through an explicitly discriminatory campaign, that at all at once is anti-women, anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim.
Trump promises to make America great again, cognizant, of course, of the fact that for many years our country was only great for white, able-bodied, cis men. He is a palpably scary force in that he provides a sense of legitimacy to the darkest corners of our society. He seems to revel in the production of it all: removing people of color from his rallies, and calling for the “good old days” when punches could be thrown, continuously turning to incendiary tactics.
When I say I fear Trump, I am not speaking of him as a person. He seems weak; sometimes out of his realm. I am speaking about his pervasive force – his inevitable promotion of violence. I am speaking as the daughter of immigrants, living in a mixed body. I am afraid of a future where Trump is president; one where racism is considered legitimate policy, where our leader says things like “Islam hates us.” I speak to my queer friends, to my disabled friends, my undocumented friends, and the same fear is reflected back to me.
Trump, to people like us, does not mean flippant remarks about moving to Canada. It means our families are at risk; our bodies are at risk. It means that the racist sentiments that lie behind building a wall to Mexico, that promote deportation, that see bodies of color as inherent criminals, are closer and closer to becoming parts of a culturally legitimate ideology. As Chauncy Devega aptly puts it in her piece for Salon: “Trump suggests that Hispanic and Latino immigrants constitute a criminal class who want to rape and murder white women while stealing the jobs of ‘real’ Americans.”
Trump’s association with Anti-Hispanic rhetoric has become so embedded that the use of his name has been used as an anti-Latino chant against a high school athlete. Trump is legitimizing the anger of white Americans who truly believe they are losing their country: who see #BlackLivesMatter and other social protests as a direct threat. Trump’s anti-black racism was made most apparent when he refused to disavow David Duke, former KKK leader. His support by white supremacists stems undoubtedly from his rhetoric of the past: this continued emphasis that people of color are rapists, criminals, and threats.
Trump’s hateful language and incendiary tactics have paved way for violence woven through his rallies and appearances. Trump not only supports the violence against peaceful protestors, he revels in it; offering to pay the legal fees of a violent supporter.
In The Atlantic, David A. Graham notes the overt racism that thrives in these rallies, citing the experience of people of color targeted by Trump; he looks at the anger that spurs the removal of a young black man from the arena in North Carolina, and the continued threat that is growing.
Trump’s momentous electoral run comes with undeniable implications about our cultural zeitgeist and with unsettling questions; if we conceive racism as a disease of the mind – how has it permeated our politics so easily? How have we regressed to the point where skin color is cause for removal from a public gathering? Trump is providing a gateway to the destructive racism of the past; allowing racism to intertwine with narratives of patriotism, reverting back an acceptance of disgusting policies that once worked to dehumanize non-white bodies.
I am scared of Trump because he represents an extreme form of anti-intellectualism that thrives on the otherization of people in my communities. I am scared of his success, because it allows for a dangerous dialogue to emerge: an outlet for furthered violence.
What does it say about our culture that we can have a liar, a xenophobe, a racist, come into our public realm and discuss Islam or Mexico with such palpable distain? When I see a Trump supporter, it undoubtedly changes my opinion of them. I want to ask whether they care about the safety of people of color; whether they care about disabled bodies, Muslim bodies, or black bodies. I am scared of the answer sometimes; but I am also unsettled with a campus – an intellectual, urban campus – where Trump is treated as a legitimate politician and option, when he should not be.
I have learned so much in my graduate program at Fordham; and I am aware – perhaps more than ever – of the importance of fighting the darkness that Trump promotes. There are ethical implications surrounding his supporters and intense use of discriminatory tactics; questions of Kantian views about rights and obligations, about government intent, about virtues and human vulnerabilities – but most importantly, about empathy. I am worried about what this lack of emotional connectivity means for people of color, and moreover, what this means for our communities and our cultural connections.
How can we rediscover our empathy and connectedness? How can we change the face of this election? How can we change potential violence into understanding? I am struck with the idea of combating fear with ethical principles like beneficence and justice; of changing hate and vitriol to its opposite. I am unnerved, but I am still hopeful. Something must happen to change the face of this election, and to remind us of our humanity. Perhaps that is too idealistic, but we cannot embrace that racism and violence run too deep to be eradicated. There will always be opportunities to fight against oppression, violence, and inequality; thus, it becomes a question of who is ethically responsible to lead that fight.
The recent protests in Chicago have emphasized our power to stop hatred – by disrupting Trump’s continued racism and vitriol, protesters indicated that this is not who we are; that hate speech and racist sentiments will not be tolerated; that supporters of this kind of dehumanizing language and predilection for violence will not be allowed to practice their hate. By denying Trump his audience, these protests deny Trump an acceptability; they highlight that there is something wrong with someone like Trump. That this violence is not normal; that this festering racism is intolerable.
Perhaps through ethical theorists, we can determine that we must rely on our social virtues, and remember how deeply connected we are to one another. We are vulnerable to one another even when a figure like Trump emerges to emphasize our divisions. Culturally, it is imperative that we remember our obligations against injury and against indifference. Protests are an effective start to disrupting the narrative of Trump; an examination of our cultural moral failures must come next.
Emily Jenab is currently completing her M.A. in Ethics and Society at Fordham University.