There’s one thing I’ve learned in my travels that has always stuck with me. No matter where I go, no matter what language spills out of my mouth, no matter how many years I’ve lived, breathed, embraced another culture – I will be, for better or worse, American.
Like everyone, I’m trying to wrap my head around Trump-as-President. I watched Michael Moore talk on MSNBC about rural whites being frustrated – and I get that. They also talked about liberal elites not understanding their plight – and yes, as a country we’ve failed to fix it. But not because we don’t know about it.
Many urban Americans come from small towns, practically everyone I know only moved into the city after graduation. My husband and I grew up in a small New England town. We both went off to college and never returned – like many of our classmates – and over time became the progressive liberals that we are today. However, we know the Trump supporter in a blue state. They stayed in their home towns to be close to family or because they lacked direction or because they couldn’t get out. They worked at their parent’s business or in retail or service, and then like the rest of us, had kids. There are no jobs. And now, they’ve been radicalized.
Make no mistake – there is no difference between the radicalization of the Middle East and what we just did to ourselves in the US. It’s the same forces – unemployment, anger, frustration, ineffective government. Then they elect some crazy right-wing hardliner who is going to punish the minorities for ruining everything.
The radicalization of rural whites has been happening for many years. It was not always like this. We watched as Drew’s conservative father became Fox-News-ified. Something shifted. I don’t know if we’ll ever fully understand how this happened, but one day he was a normal Republican living in Vermont, the next he was ranting about the tea party and overthrowing the government. He’s a retiree living on Social Security, Medicare and a government pension. Let that sink in. If he got his way he’d literally be homeless and broke.
But it wasn’t just my father-in-law. It was many of our high school friends back home – although it manifested in different ways. Our rural white friends, who went to the same high school as us, who sat through the same history classes on the civil war, who were northerners like us, were suddenly saying racist things about blacks like, “if they don’t like it here, they can get on a boat and go home.” I still don’t know how that happens in Vermont. In Massachusetts. In New Hampshire.
It wasn’t just blacks, after 9/11 suddenly Muslims were on the table. Drew and I encountered this when we moved to Beirut and heard racial slurs back home about “towel heads” and worse.
It’s impossible to not take it seriously. When you live in a city you love, like Beirut, and you have a context for the people they are talking about, and you see violence hurt innocent people, then it’s not harmless. It’s not just dumb Americans saying stupid things. It’s not just rhetoric. I almost lost it when a friend confessed to me, “Sometimes I think we should just bomb the hell out of the Middle East and be done with it.” Are you kidding me? I was so caught off guard that I didn’t know how to translate my experience of living in Ashrafieh and then fleeing the city only to have a car bomb go off in our neighborhood killing and injuring dozens of people. Our neighbors. You would just erase millions of lives like that, to make your worldview simpler? My face turned red, I was shaking and I just said, “these are real people.”
The end result of this kind of talk is violence, make no mistake about it. You don’t dehumanize people, scapegoat them, elect hate mongers to government and then just stop there. Nationalism doesn’t go part of the way. It’s a frenzy, like rooting for your favorite sport team except the team is “us” and the opposing team is everyone else. It’s a mob mentality that allows people to do atrocious things. Right now, America has the fever and it will keep going until we break it or it breaks us. That’s a fact.
Listen, this is how sick it is – Drew’s parents have never seen any of our three kids, their grandchildren. This is happening all over the country, families are being broken up over this rhetoric. We gave birth to two children in Mexico – half of our family is now Mexican and American dual citizens. But we had to end the relationship with Drew’s parents over it. We forgave the “white pride” email they sent us, the constant Fox News memes, the paranoid and fictional version of the world they clung to… but when our first daughter was born and they refused to see her lest they step a foot on dirty Mexican soil, that was it, we had enough.
These are not terrible people. They are kind and generous and thoughtful in other areas of their life. But we also can not just wish this away and pretend it is not real. Already though, I am seeing well-meaning whites reassuring others that this will all be over soon. Already people are saying, “can’t you guys just give Trump a chance?” Here’s a few thoughts on that by someone with way more knowledge on the subject than me, but I think it’s very important for white people in particular to read this and remember that we (as a culture) have been here before:
In the aftermath of the election, I’ve been heart-sick. I feel like I’m grieving a death. However, people have asked us if we’re coming back to the US and the answer is a resolute: YES. I wish I was there now. You don’t leave your Americanism behind when you’re overseas, and I want to be with my people and help and do something. I feel utterly helpless sitting in a beach town in another country.
We will return, we will be active, we will do whatever we can to help protect the American ideals that are an example to the rest of the world.
The very first thing I’ll be doing is in January:
JOIN ME IN DC – WOMEN’S MARCH ON WASHINGTON
This event grew out of a grassroots group on FB that I’m a member of called the Pantsuit Nation (it’s secret, you have to be invited by a friend, email me if you want me to add you). It’s been hugely inspiring to read the stories of the 3 million women and allies in this community and after Hillary lost the electoral college, we shifted our grief into figuring out what to do next. Since the group has 3.4 million members, they decided to organize a million woman march on DC the day after Trump’s inauguration.
His first day as president will be a reminder that we will not passively accept bigotry.
It’s going to be massive. And freezing cold. And I want to invite you to join me. (It’s not just for women! Go to the event page for more info…)
I will be there to peacefully march and send a message. This is so important, because as much as we want to hope and cross our fingers that Trump and Pence are not going to do any one of the dozens of hateful things they promised, in the past eight years we have lived in a progressive bubble where the vulnerable have lived openly. Gay people have come out. They’ve gotten married. They’ve started families. They’ve served in the military. Transgendered people have come out. Illegal immigrant children have registered themselves with the government under Obama’s programs. They don’t just have the presidency but also the Senate and the House. It’s a blank check for hate. If the worse case scenario happens and the new government tries to do something drastic we need to be prepared and organized. Going to DC sends a message. Hopefully it will never get that far. Hopefully Trump will be humbled by the awesome scope of his responsibility and his humanity will guide his decisions. We can hope but we also have to plan.
There are FB groups forming now to help with the logistics. I will be at the march with the baby (Tallulah will be four months old and with me) and Drew is staying in Austin, TX with the other kids to rally there. There will be marches across the country. Get involved. Help out. Participate. Make your voice heard.
(BTW I want to remind everyone who is old enough who didn’t bother to march and oppose the Iraq war — we were right but we were slackers. Remember that? Never again.)
Woman’s March on DC, January 21st: https://www.facebook.com/events/2169332969958991/
If you can’t make it to DC, here are the state pages for the event, there might be something local to you or you can use the group to get something started where you are:
INDIVIDUAL STATE PAGES
Upstate/ Hudson Valley
Western New York
This is just a first step. I am inspired by the way my fellow Americans pull together in a time of crisis to make it better. It’s one of the most beautiful and amazing things about us – we don’t run from problems, we run towards them. If someone needs a hero, we are there. We are the good guys. I think that’s why we’re all mourning so much right now, because it feels like we’ve given that up. But we haven’t! We have gotten a little lost, done something extremely foolish, but we’re not done yet. We can fix this. I know we will.