Skip to main content

Kamal Al-Solaylee is a journalism professor at Ryerson's School of Journalism and the author of the Governor-General's Award-nominated book Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (To Everyone).

It's not enough to congratulate Donald Trump on becoming the 45th president of the United States. Americans and the rest of the world owe him a big thank you. His campaign, marked by ethnic baiting and blatant misogyny, has uncovered once and for all the racial fault lines that ravage his country.

No more pretenses that this election was fought on such issues as globalism or that it ushered in an anti-establishment revolt; it was all about race. Mr. Trump made sure of that. Americans can now acknowledge, confront and, if they choose, take measures to minimize the damage of this bitter, divisive campaign – and four years, if not more, of racial tensions and violence.

Related: White voters, education, swing states: The data behind Trump's win

Read more: Leaders try to calm divided nation after Trump victory

It's a big if. An unlikely one, at that. The picture that emerges from election night is of voters preferring the easier route of white dominance over the possibility of a society in which racial minorities have a say in how their country is run. We now have irrefutable proof of a U.S. divided along colour lines: whites on one side, and everyone else on the other.

Despite the reconciliatory tone of his acceptance speech, it's difficult to see how Mr. Trump and his party could deliver on it when his path to power had been built on the exact opposite. Tuesday night marked the official beginning of a steady march toward recasting the Republican Party in the image of the far-right UKIP in Britain or the National Front in France. While the political situations and demographic makeup of the three countries are different, the playbook of white anxieties, inflammatory rhetoric and scapegoating of racial minorities or immigrants remains intact. Before the election was called, anti-immigration parties in Australia were already celebrating a possible Trump win, and a National Front politician boasted about "our time."

American citizens and immigrants of Hispanic, Arab and South Asian descent must be particularly nervous, and for good reason. These largely brown communities have served as a clearing house for mass anxieties about illegal immigration, crime and terrorism in this election. Mr. Trump and his advisers have amplified the narrative of white siege even if it is a largely unsubstantiated one, given the disparity in income, housing, encounters with law enforcement and the legal system between white communities and people of colour in the United States.

Trump's win gives his supporters licence to further target whole segments of the population, existentially and physically: their histories and contributions at risk of being erased; their lives in danger. And the same goes for other minority groups.

The struggles of African-Americans for equality continues as they face a different kind of backlash from the one that marked the civil-rights movement. It began in earnest with the election of Barack Obama in 2008 and was led by the very man who will now succeed him into the White House. Whatever legacy America's first black president thought he'd leave behind, including black uplift, now lies shattered in a trifecta of a Republican-dominated White House, Congress and Senate.

Despite this very bleak report card on the current state of race relations in the U.S., long-term demographic projections suggest that Tuesday's wins might be short-term and even short-sighted. Hispanics will make up about 34 per cent of the U.S. population in just over 40 years from now. Before that, by about 2043, whites will lose majority status. The angry white (male but increasingly also female) vote is a well that will run drier and drier over the coming decades. We can analyze voting patterns from Tuesday to death, but that's already in the past. The bigger demographic shifts tell the story of America's future.

So that leaves us with the present moment. The U.S. is entering an ugly phase – not just in race relations, but gender and sexual rights will likely come under threat as well. I can't say that I feel optimistic or that I put much faith in the checks and balances of the U.S. political system. But history tells us that we've been here before and survived. About a century ago, eugenicists and white supremacists enacted laws that limited the entry of Europeans from southern and eastern Europe. One of them talked about building a wall to protect America from the waves of darker-skinned immigrants.

Mr. Trump is just the 21st-century face of a debate that America has been having with itself since inception. This time, however, it's out in the open, and Americans may find in the blatant nature of this campaign an opportunity to own up to the ugliness and fears within. And since America's white population decided this election, it's their responsibility to take the first step toward the reconciliation their leader – the soon-to-be President of the United States – hinted at on Tuesday night.

Interact with The Globe