Sarah Kendzior is a St. Louis, Mo.-based commentator who writes about politics, the economy and media.
For over a year, after it became clear to me that Donald Trump had a real chance at victory, I have lived life in retrospect. “Be thankful for the present,” I tweeted on Nov. 26, 2015. “We may spend next Thanksgiving in a post-Trump victory. Be thankful for the present, and fight the future.”
As his popularity rose, and his threats became more inflammatory, his policies more alarming, I warned that he could really win. I warned of the hardship in my part of the country – an economic pain, it should be noted, that is not unique to whites, but shared by non-whites who still managed to not vote for a fascist. I warned that most of the U.S. never truly recovered from the recession, and that the denial of this reality can lead to the embrace of a populist demagogue who lies about numbers in a way that feels true. I warned, and eventually begged, a financially desperate and morally bankrupt media to stop promoting Mr. Trump, stop cowering to Mr. Trump, and protect the public from his persecutory plans.
I begged because the hardest hit will be those who are already the most vulnerable – blacks, Latinos, Muslims, immigrants. I begged because the historic victims of brutality are likely to become the future victims of an even worse brutality, one abetted not by a white supremacist movement lurking in the shadows, but dominating at centre stage.
I asked people to see the worst in our country so that we could preserve the best of it. American exceptionalism was never real. It was a myth of hubris, and a deep denial of the past. We are a country founded on slave labour and stolen land. We are a country where white mobs lynched blacks for entertainment, and white parents told their children to gather around and cheer.
Children are taught in school that these injustices are exceptions, but they are the rule. The willful blindness to injustice is the real American exceptionalism. We deny our worst instincts. And now we may have elected them.
The sheer number of Americans who voted for a cruel, vengeful bigot who has repeatedly threatened masses of the population means that we, as a country, have lost. When he is president, the depths of that loss will be counted in money and in bodies, as markets crash and violence – sanctioned and unsanctioned – erupts.
But the moral loss cuts deeper. In every tragedy there is a before and an after, and we have been living in the after since Mr. Trump launched his campaign with threats against Mexicans and people rationalized it or laughed it off. His campaign should have ended when it began, but instead the media made his bigotry lucrative, with every revelation of his corruption, brutality and ignorance marketed as tabloid fodder, condoned by the Republican party and by much of the public.
I warned that his behaviour resembled that of the dictators in authoritarian regimes that I have studied for over a decade. I wrote that the motto of dictatorship is, “It can’t happen here.”
It can happen here. So I began living life in retrospect, treasuring small moments: the last Christmas, the last first day of school, the last changing of the seasons. It felt fragile then, and it feels broken now.
I worry my children will not remember what it was like before. They are too young; simple joys will fade into political darkness.
And that is why you should fight this future. Fight against memories yet unformed, against widespread oppression becoming rote to the young. The only way to fight the future is to confront our nation’s past and the continued injustices of the present.
Fight against the cruelty that has always been practised against racial and religious minorities, a hatefulness often excused by law and normalized by media. A President Trump is not a fluke; he embodies the worst of our national character.
Many Americans who fought for freedom for all – prioritizing the rights of non-whites over white supremacy – died doing so. This is a risk citizens who oppose Mr. Trump’s movement need to accept. Find strength in fighting for the rights of others. It is better to go out fighting than to have nothing worth fighting for at all.Report Typo/Error
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