Content Warning: Racism, Homophobia, Transphobia, Slurs
As the 2020 election comes to a close, many individuals breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that Donald Trump will be leaving office in only a few months. Our country’s collective nightmare is over and we can return to normalcy.
Except for many, it isn’t over. We can’t return to ‘normalcy’.
Donald Trump was not an aberration of our political process. He is simply the most honest form of the systems in which we live. “He’s the best American president. Why? Not because his policies are good, but because he’s the most transparent president,” said Syrian President Bashar Assad. While Assad was mainly discussing Trump in regards to how his actions affect other countries, the quote rings true for his domestic policies, as well. While the views of right wing candidates in the past have aligned with Trump’s own, they generally kept a veneer of decency. While talking about immigration, they would say their concerns are with ‘protecting American jobs’. While talking about their positions on LGBT+ rights, they would talk about ‘protecting religious freedom’ in the United States. These rhetorical tactics wouldn’t necessarily fool anyone, but it kept a level of decorum in political conversation and provided plausible deniability to accusations of bigotry, even while attempting to legislate marginalized groups out of existence.
Donald Trump did not utilize any of these rhetorical tactics. When asked about immigration, he called Mexicans ‘rapists and thieves’. He rolled back protections for trans people, including children. He repeatedly refused to disavow white supremacist groups or conspiracy theories designed to radicalize right wingers. Even when discussing the murder of a suspect by U.S. marshals, he stated, “they knew who he was. They didn’t want to arrest him, and 15 minutes that ended.” Once the leader of one of the two largest political parties in the country boasts about an extrajudicial killing, there is no going back to having any veneer of decency. In the coming months, it is certain that some Republicans will make some public disavowal of Trump, but it is essential to remember that they were complicit in everything that happened in the last four years.
However, these past four years didn’t just reveal the true face of the Republican Party. It also revealed how wildly ineffectual establishment Democrats are at impeding the damage caused by their opposition. It has revealed their pathological need to attempt to compromise their positions, seemingly prioritizing the attempt to get the support of centrist and right wing voters rather than working to appeal to their actual base. Former democrat senator Claire McCaskill stated in a recent interview, “Whether you’re talking guns, or issues surrounding the right to abortion in this country, or things like gay marriage and the rights for transs*****s and other people who we as a party have tried to ‘look after’ and make sure that they are treated fairly. As we circled those issues, we left some voters behind and Republicans dove in.” Besides the use of what many in the trans community consider a slur on MSNBC, the implication that the Democrat Party ‘looks after’ marginalized groups, as if they are some type of burden that needs to be weighed against the possibility of victory, is extremely insulting. Next, the idea that the Democrat Party is some champion of human rights and not just the party most likely to relent in the face of social pressure for progress is laughable. While, yes, a democratic administration oversaw the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage, remember that was not the platform they initially ran on. In March of 2008, Obama stated, “With respect to gay marriage, I do not support gay marriage, but I support a very strong version of civil unions where I think the state has to recognize the same rights and responsibilities for gay people, for same-sex couples as they do for anybody else.” On the surface, that seemed fine, but it’s still a compromised version of the position meant to appeal to voters who were not on board with gay marriage. The Supreme Court decision was not primarily the result of politicians fighting for LGBT+ rights, but the combined efforts of an uncountable number of queer individuals and their allies marching, protesting, and demonstrating, all to put pressure on the system to recognize their human rights. There’s an argument to that the Democrat Party’s position changed over time, but when Clinton lost the election in 2016, so many analysts were quick to wonder if the growth of focus on ‘identity politics’ in the party was the reason she lost, rather than express concern at how Trump managed to politically mobilize so many nationalist and white supremacists groups. If you are unfamiliar with the term, ‘identity politics’, it is a dog whistle for any type of advocacy or legislative protection for marginalized groups. The party was quick to toy with the idea of dropping protections for the marginalized from their platform, because they thought it made their party look unappealing to potential voters on the other side of the aisle. This brings us back to McCaskill’s concern for the ‘voters left behind’, revealing how the party’s primary concern is holding office rather than fighting for what they believe in. McCaskill goes on to state, “we need to get back to the meat and potatoes issues. We gotta get back to the issues, where we are taking care of (the voters’) families.” This statement seemingly holds the implication that marginalized individuals are not part of the ‘American family’, further othering them to the rest of society. McCaskill later apologized for the use of the slur via Twitter, but did little to walk back on her other statements, tweeting, “I’m so sorry I used hurtful term last night. I was tired, but never a good excuse. People have misinterpreted what I was trying to say. Our party should never leave behind our fight 4 equality for trans people or anyone else who has been marginalized by hate. My record reflects that.”
While she does have a very good record concerning gay marriage, research into any advocacy for trans rights from her is showing very little results. Unless she believes LGBT+ advocacy to be a single issue group rather than the complex multi-faceted group with many different societal concerns, it is unclear what she means regarding her record.
While this shows how the party is regarding the groups they claim to advocate for, this does not cover how ineffectual they are at directly opposing the opposition. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away last September, it was a nightmare come true that Trump would get to pick yet another Supreme Court Justice. The Democrats were certain that she would not be confirmed. “We have arrows in our quiver that I’m not about to discuss right now, but the fact is, we have a big challenge in our country,” said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. However, the general inaction among the party to stop this casts doubts on if they have a bow between them, let alone an arrow. In fact, outside of symbolic gestures, such as tearing up Trump’s speech, Pelosi did very little to impede Trump. She seemed far more interested in insulting Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world, but they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got,” stated Pelosi, attempting to demean Ocasio-Cortez for having a large online platform, seemingly not understanding that this means that her ideas are incredibly popular. She would go on to deride the “Green New Deal” multiple times. Pelosi’s prerogative seemed to be maintaining the status quo rather than set any major change in motion.
What does this all mean, though? That one party is bad, and the other one is better but it’s a mess that is actively dishonest, incompetent, and only interested in stagnating progress? This is not an article to demotivate. This is an article to educate on what we need to do next.
Voting is a large part in the fight for progress, and it is important. However, it is hardly the only avenue for social change. Even with Biden in office, nothing has fundamentally changed in our system that would prevent someone like Trump taking power again, and undoing all the progress we’ve made. One of the first things we need to look at is how we can affect the process of voting itself. The Electoral College and the fact that voter registration is not automatic are active agents of voter suppression. The Electoral College has been talked about frequently, as the fact that you can win the popular vote but lose the election is ridiculous. In terms of voter registration, the fact that it is a manual process is what makes the fact that voter registrations occasionally get purged without the knowledge of the individuals affected possible. Countries like Sweden and Australia have automatic voter registration. In fact, even if you move without telling the Australian government, they will cross check their database with billing records and the post office to ensure your registration is up to date. Voting could be incredibly convenient, but the US government is actively choosing to complicate it. Now, how do we change it? It would be very difficult to organize marches and demonstrations against the Electoral College and how the voter registration of this country functions. It’s possible, but it would be difficult to impassion individuals about it, with not also disillusioning them with the idea of voting, in general. This is very much a ‘contact your elected officials’ issue. The reasons why you want this needs to be stated plainly and clearly. Also, it doesn’t hurt to tell them that these issues are so important to you that you may withhold your vote from them when reelection comes around. Whether or not you really do is irrelevant, because the fact is if an elected official receives a large wave of emails stating that they will not be receiving support in an upcoming election, they will move to support the issues they think will get them elected. It may even be worth emailing their opponent something similar. There, of course, comes an ethical question in whether one should use dishonesty regarding their voting habits in order to aid in societal change. Politicians, as a profession, are stereotyped as being liars, to the point where any level of honesty is treated as an aberration. This is adequately leveling the playing field. Marginalized groups can’t be sure that the figures they support in election will fight for their protection, so those figures should be equally unsure about whose votes they can count on.
In terms of protests for civil rights and advocating against police brutality, nothing in the protests should change. They should continue as they have been. They’ve been highly effective and received plenty of media attention. Merely walking down the street with all the like-minded people you can find holding signs and chanting is enough. If mainstream media stops reporting on it, make them pay attention. Protests are the voice of the unheard, which means be disruptive to society as possible, without instigating violence. One also has to ensure that they are recording the events of the protest. While mainstream media is helpful, the world is more interconnected than ever thanks to the internet. One no longer needs the news to be the arbiters of information. If you see injustice, spread the word about it. Silence is akin to complicity. Also, donate to bail funds, the ACLU, and nonprofits. If one can’t donate, volunteer, even if it’s only for one day. Whether you are making phone calls, registering people to vote, or just handing out literature, your time makes a huge impact.
The final piece of advice is one that is incredibly simple, yet few seem to think of it. Support individuals, both emotionally and financially. This doesn’t just extend to supporting small businesses run by people of color or queer people. Society can be difficult to navigate for those in marginalized groups. It is an individual’s responsibility to elevate those voices and ensure that they are heard. Marginalized people are also usually financially unstable, either due to income inequality or because of a lack of legal protections that place their employment status continually at risk. Some of them are at constant risk of being homeless or cannot pay for medical treatment they need. Of course most people don’t have the money to donate to everyone who needs help and it can hurt you to have to pick and choose, but helping at least one person is better than helping none, because the person you help will pass that kindness along.
Some people are celebrating a return to ‘normalcy’, but this ‘normalcy’ was what got the country in this situation to start with. The fight is far from over. We cannot forget the events of the past four years. We cannot forsake the well-being of society’s most vulnerable individuals. We cannot simply go back to brunch.