White nationalists organized the much-talked-about “Unite the Right Rally” in Charlottesville, Virginia for two days in August, 2017. The rally had Tiki torches and marched in the city shouting slogans such as, “Jews will not replace us”, “White Power” and gave Nazi salutes to each other. They finally killed a local protester, Heather Heyer, and injured 19 others. The killer was a 20-year-old drifter and drove some 700 miles to cause the mayhem. Donald Trump was a new President in those days but he had his racist bona fides well confirmed. It took him two days and prodding by many people to come out and say, “There are bad people on both sides”. The moral equivalency between Neo-Nazis and peaceful protesters drew widespread condemnation. Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., the US President-elect, as of this writing gives it as the proximate cause for his running for the president of the United States. He roared at that time, “We are better than this, America is better than this”. Is America really better than this? Let us take a look.
I am writing this missive more than a week after the US election was held. The media has called the election for Joe Biden on Saturday but, of course, Donald Trump has not conceded. Concession is a time honored norm for the US elections. But, norm busting is the breakfast of champions that Trump lives on. So, no concession was expected. The whole world expected Donald Trump to throw temper tantrums, break plates, and defecate on fancy carpets. He is doing all that and more. No surprise there. What is surprising are the following tidbits:
• 71,752,909 (nearly 72 million) Americans have voted for this sociopath. There is no excuse that people did not know that they were voting for a sociopath. They have had four years of Donald Trump up close. Yet they voted for this sociopath.
• 71,752,909 Americans voted for a liar who has verifiably lied for nearly 30,000 times while in office. The lies are big and small. From the crowd size of his inauguration to the lie that COVID-19 is a hoax. Let that sink in. Half of America would rather vote for a liar knowingly and gleefully. How are we doing on the “better front”?
• 71,752,909 Americans voted for a guy who started his political career with a granddaddy of all racist lies. He said back in 2011 that Barack Obama was not born in America. He was a Kenyan. The lies became so pervasive that some 75% of Republicans and a good 40% of Americans believed that indeed Obama was a foreigner who plotted to fix his birth documents at the time of his birth so that he could run for President some 50 years from his birth.
• 71,752,909 Americans voted for a guy who came down golden escalators and called Mexicans and other Latin American Immigrants rapists and murderers.
• 71,752,909 Americans voted for a guy who labeled African, Latin American and Asian countries as “shithole” countries.
• 71,752,909 Americans voted for a bigot who tried to ban all Muslims from entering the US within three days of taking the oath of office. After long court battles, he still succeeded in keeping Muslims from seven countries from entering the USA.
• 71,752,909 Americans voted for a known misogynist who has sexually assaulted some 40 women and bragged about it. He is always calling women nasty (a misogynist term par excellence). He is especially bothered by women of color. Black or brown women are nasty monsters to him, a la Kamala Harris.
• 71,752,909 Americans voted for a President who supported a murderer, Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who had a journalist (Jamal Khashoggi) killed, chopped up in pieces in an embassy in another country.
I could go on and on. Is America really better than this? I think not. I think this election has brought the unease about America to a glaring light. All the fault lines are stark and blinking red. What does this election tell us? I love this country. I fought a war in a country I was born in but did not really understand why. However, I will fight for America in my old age with my bent fingers because I love her so. I just do not understand as to what happened to the ideals of the country that I have believed in for so long and so intensely. Was it all a lie? Has America been always like this? Has America always lived a dual existence? Has America always had a racist core covered up by sweet syrup? That is the question we need to answer if we are going to be “better than that” as our President-elect says.
If you listen to Jon Meacham, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and historian, you will notice that he cautiously computes the racist core of America at about 35% of the population. This he bases on the fact that after Joe McCarthy was disgraced and drummed out of office, some 35% of the Americans still thought he was right and his was a righteous cause. More recently, some 35% of the population believe in QANON conspiracy theories. Two QANON loving new congresswomen were elected in the 2020 elections with about 35% of the votes. Go figure. But, let us focus on the bigger enigma. Fast forward to today and McCarty’s torchbearer Donald Trump is winning some 48% of the population. What gives? Well, that is the zillion dollar question of our time. Has the country become more racist, more xenophobic and intolerant in the intervening years? There will be many autopsies and theories about the 2020 election. To attempt an analysis at this stage may be premature and foolhardy. But, hey I am no celebrity pundit. I only care about what my dogs think about me and the rest of the Universe can go the way of the Dodo. So, here are my hot takes.
During this election, something extraordinary happened. Hate got the permission to come out with a vengeance. Hate never goes away, it only hides to come out as soon as an opportunity arises. Look at the occasional communal riots in South Asia. It seems out of nowhere a community is destroyed. But, it is not from nothing. Hate lives deep in the human existence, mostly buried and mostly not stoked. But, there comes a leader or an event that releases hate which is a byproduct of ignorance and fear in its full ugliness. That is what Donald Trump did to America. The hateful 35% who had to hide their hatred, their mass antipathy suddenly got the permission to come out and display their hatred. The ride down the golden escalator, that “both sides”ism about Charlottesville all gave permission for the hate to come out. So, for nearly four years, America has witnessed racist outpouring in the open. In this election, a significant portion of the 72 million followed their fear, their hatred and, yes, their racism to the ballot booth. This is a warning sign that by electing Biden we will not conquer the hate, just put it back in a bottle until a more competent tyrant than Trump shows up on the scene. No, America is not better than that. We just need to know the truth and act accordingly.
In a frightening article in The Atlantic Zeynep Tufekci argues that we were lucky to have Trump as our proto authoritarian. In the article https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/11/trump-proved-authoritarians-can-get-elected-america/617023/) she argues Trump lost because he is fundamentally incompetent and had no planning. Here is excerpt from her brilliant article, “From an international perspective, though, Trump is just one more example of the many populists on the right who have risen to power around the world: Narendra Modi in India, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Jarosław Kaczyński in Poland, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, my home country. These people win elections but subvert democratic norms: by criminalizing dissent, suppressing or demonizing the media, harassing the opposition, and deploying extra-legal mechanisms whenever possible (Putin’s opponents have a penchant for meeting tragic accidents). Orbán proudly uses the phrase illiberal democracy to describe the populism practiced by these men; Trump has many similarities to them, both rhetorically and policy-wise.
But there’s one key difference between Trump and everyone else on that list. The others are all talented politicians who win elections again and again.
In contrast, Trump is a reality-TV star who stumbled his way into an ongoing realignment in American politics, aided by a series of events peculiar to 2016 that were fortunate for him: The Democrats chose a polarizing nominee who didn’t have the requisite political touch that can come from surviving tough elections; social media was, by that point, deeply entrenched in the country’s politics, but its corrosive effects were largely unchecked; multiple players—such as then–FBI Director James Comey—took consequential actions fueled by their misplaced confidence in Hillary Clinton’s win; and Trump’s rivals in the Republican primaries underestimated him. He drew a royal flush.”
America may not have luck on her side next time a tyrant makes a run at the Presidency. In a country where some 35% harbors hate as a way of life, that is a sobering thought.
Short-term thinking colored the actions of so many people that it is also frightening. Many Latinos, Blacks, Asian voted for Trump. This after Trump attacked these categories of voters with manifest ugliness. It is possible that in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas Latinos tilted towards Trump by 50 points or more. Blacks as a whole voted more than they voted for him in 2016. Indian community had pockets of Trump supporters even though Biden had Kamala ‘Devi’ (Harris) on the ticket. In Los Angeles, a large number of Bangladeshis did marches, rallies for Trump. Of course, in the Bangladeshi tradition there was Dhaoa and Palta Dhaoa (Chase and counter-chase) on the streets of little Bangladesh. Most of the minority communities were deeply influenced by targeted misinformation promising small business loans, hatred for other minority communities, newer immigrants etc. Oh, the list goes on. Most importantly, Latin men, Black men and some Asian men were seduced by the machismo that Trump kept playing on like a Reality TV star that he really is. He knew how to connect with the macho libido of the black and brown folks like us. We were easy-peasy marks for the conman!
So, what next? The good news is that Kamala ‘Devi’ Harris is a first for many things. She is a first woman, first black woman, and first South Asian woman elected to be the Vice President of the USA. That alone should give us hope and joy. I hope she’ll fulfill all the promises of her ascendency. But, my heart is heavy, because I was hopeful when Barack Obama was elected the first black President of the USA. I was hoping that the US will emerge as a more equal, more compassionate and more egalitarian society. None of that happened. I saw how Mitch McConnell and his Senate scuttled program after program. If anything Obama’s election stoked the racist fire deep in the heart of America and we got Trump. But, for this very moment I want to relish that a good 76 million Americans voted for a moderate President who is riding with a black woman of great intellect and charisma. I will write about the problems with small democracy of America at a later time, for now I will drink a shot of Tequila, cuddle with Chiquita (a miniature pinscher) and celebrate. Even if it is for a few moments.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the Dhaka Courier policy.
Kayes Ahmed is a Bangladeshi American serial entrepreneur, thinker and writer. He lives with his two dogs in Colorado and California