America's Mistakes: Thoughts on the Rise of Trump

America has made a mistake.

No, I am not referring to the fact that the United States of America has elected Donald Trump as its forty-fifth president. Though, yes, I do believe that to be a mistake, too. Rather, I am speaking to the mistake – perhaps, mistakes – America has made that has led to this very crisis. 

President-elect Donald Trump is many things – louche, anti-intellectual, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic. We on the left know this and a rightful sense of disgust abounds. But whether we like it or not, Donald Trump is also many things more than that. Donald Trump, for many, is a representative of what could have been and what should have been. For these people, the people who consider themselves the forgotten, Trump represents a necessary shift in politics. It is a shift away from establishment politicians who have so long ignored their calls for help and change, and a shift back to an America they can recognize. Perhaps you think I am giving Trump too much credit, perhaps you don’t like thinking that a racist and a misogynist like Trump can actually represent a large subsection of American society. But he can and he does – our first mistake was dismissing this.

The first mistake America made was allowing their own nation to become unknown. You and I may not believe there to be any legitimacy to Trump supporters’ claims of disenfranchisement, inequality, and oppression. You and I may scoff at their pleas to be heard, because who are they but the misguided, ignorant uneducated? But you and I do not have to agree with their claims for them to have the right to be heard and represented by their government. The fear was that by addressing these concerns, these concerns that seemed so foreign to American values, we would be legitimizing these anxieties. It is ironic then, that it was our failure to do so that has ultimately given them legitimacy via Trump’s ascent. Now that these forces within American society have been released, and at full strength, it is more important than ever to look in the mirror and face reality in order to combat this sort of rhetoric.

America made the mistake of labelling Donald Trump as a conman – an eagle-eyed businessman who somehow brainwashed and blindsided weak-minded Americans. No, these issues have lingered and festered in the American consciousness long before Trump. Trump was merely the catalyst that released the flood. When the results came in that fateful night last year, we realized that it wasn’t only the poor white population who voted for Trump. If the polls were right, if all those who claimed to be voting for Hillary Clinton actually did so, then we would not be here right now. We trusted Americans to vote the right way, to elect a candidate worthy of the highest title in the land. We believed that the American nation had transcended the type of prejudice that Trump embodies. But the interviews and polls that the media conducted failed to reflect reality – we must ask why this failure occurred.

America had a chance to learn from Brexit. Across an ocean, the British referendum to leave the European Union served almost as a foreshadowing of what was to come to the United States. The Brits were stunned to find that they did not know their own country, that they did not know how successful xenophobic pandering would be. And still, Americans turned a blind eye, and believed themselves to be better and did not face reality.

The element of shame was America’s second fatal mistake. We liberals like to classify Trump supporters all as uneducated, racist whites. If they can support a candidate who is not only undoubtedly and embarrassingly unqualified to be president, but is also a demagogue who espouses racial rhetoric for his own political gain, is endorsed by the KKK, and shows no respect for anybody who does not look like him, then surely this is the logical conclusion. And while I have no doubt that many Trump supporters do fit such a description, it has become clear that this is an overgeneralization – one that has proved favourable to Trump’s cause. Trump supporters feel misunderstood and shamed by the left. Much of this election has had racial undertones; this cannot and should not be denied. For years, Republicans have subliminally told the working poor that their failures fall on the shoulders of other peoples, other groups. But if Republicans have a racist strand, Democrats have an elitist strand. This election also had classist undertones. The left has played into the blame and shame game by labelling all of those on the right as racist, uneducated, and poor, and as a result, the right has felt misunderstood and misjudged. They felt that Democrats did not know or care to know about their issues, that the Democratic Party only represented the upper class echelons. While many on the right enjoy privileges due to their race (whether they admit to it or not), many liberal-minded individuals enjoy class privileges. And so, as the Democrats sat in their ivory tower and on their high horses, those on the right grew more resentful. Republicans have labelled Democrats as elitist, but the actions on part of the Democrats only reinforced this notion. It is important to note that, for certain, there is an element of “whitelash,” a kind of vengeance voting on part of white citizens in retaliation for the last eight years under a Black, liberal president. But this too was only strengthened by the responses on the left.

I do not feel the need to reiterate what everyone already knows (or should already know). Of course, the lion’s share of blame falls on Trump’s shoulders and the people who appeased and supported him. But as history has shown, it is never within the power of one man to change the mentality of a whole society – the groundwork was already set by years of racial and classist rhetoric from both sides of the political spectrum. It has simply risen to the surface now.  

As I am sure you all know, McGill is a university with a profoundly liberal population. The student body has aimed to create a safe environment where minorities and vulnerable groups can be heard and has been rightfully committed to minority rights. In a sense, McGill can be seen as a microcosm of the larger society we exist in. We surround ourselves with like-minded people and accept only the opinions that we concur with. This has created a sense that McGill is entirely liberal. But amongst us there are those who are growing resentful that their voices aren’t heard. I may wholly disagree with their sentiments, but I fear that ignoring these voices would only cause more trouble than good.

There are times so dark that only hope seems to be an appropriate response, and perhaps this is one of these moments – but I do not believe in endorsing empty words or appeasement, and I do not believe that anyone else should either. We must not mistake positivity for blind hope, for that would be yet another mistake and a detrimental one at that. Some have expressed a need to simply hope for the best, to cross our fingers that Trump will not set the nation (and the world) back fifty years. But I am writing this article as a plea to not simply sit and hope – instead, be angry and ask why. Why are we here? How did we get here? Blind hope is to simply make the same mistakes again. Look your nation in the face, and fight for your ideals. This is not politics as usual. It is anything but.


All opinions are author's own.

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