On January 20 2017 we will say goodbye to America’s first African-American president. A man who epitomizes decency, integrity and sensitivity. A man who oozes charisma and charm with everyone he meets from world leaders to children. And with him we appear to say goodbye to progressive thinking, to the elevation of some people to the benefit of all. We appear to say goodbye to hope.
Because today America decided to elect a new president. But not just a new president, a new way of thinking, a different political movement and administration to the Obama brand. Defined instead by hate. Hate of women, hate of Mexicans, hate of Muslims, of Jews, hate of science and nature. Hate of other. A man who has been recorded endorsing the sexual harassment of women and the stupidity of the people who would vote for him.
For the progressive and forward thinking people of this world this is a heavy blow. This year has at times felt like we could all use a do-over. And yet I am no longer shocked. As much as I hate to say this, I could see this coming. In fact, I have known this day was coming for a very long time. For years now I have been in the presence of people who made comments that are in direct opposition to everything I believe in. They made these comments only when they felt it was ‘safe’ to do so. When they were in their own home and surrounded by like-minded people. Jokes about sexual violence that when I called them out on, I was immediately dismissed as a hysterical feminist that needed to get a sense of humour. The P.C brigade have gone too far!
How often I have sat next to people and heard them begin a conversation with ‘you know me, I’m not racist, but…’ promptly followed by an utterly racist statement of some kind. Always in those small groups, always when they thought they could get away with it. How patient I was with them all. I reasoned, I educated as best I could, I appealed to their sense of humanity and showed how we have so much more to unite us than divide us. These aren’t evil people after all, just people, living in fear like everyone else. People who whether through laziness or a fear of what they might uncover, limited truly by their lives never sought more information, clarification or understanding.
I kept telling myself that people will realise, they will wake up one day and see each other in the way human beings should, as other human beings. I was burying my head in the sand. Ex partners, ex friends, estranged family and ex co-workers have all come and gone, too many people, far too many, held some kind of resentment, some kind of ill will, sometimes deep down and well hidden, but there none the less. It has always been there and I fear will always be there. Like a cancer among us, this insidious hatred has been allowed to grow and fester. We progressives have been complacent in our belief that the natural state for humans is to always move forward and evolve. We mistakenly believed or hoped as do some cancer patients that the disease was somehow less serious and not as widespread as it actually was. Or worse, when faced with these people we ignored or excluded them, labelling them bullies, ignorant bigots and pushed them even further away from us thus creating a breach from which we would never again recover.
In the UK we voted to leave the EU and with that we allowed that cancer to be opened up for all to see. I don’t believe that the 17 million people who voted leave are all racist bigots, but in voting leave we legitimized a growing right-wing sentiment that has been gaining strength and instead of diminishing it with force of will we sent an unwitting message that people who hold such hateful views are in the majority. Worse still that they are right. That their behaviour and intolerance towards others is acceptable and justified. Instead of saying it behind closed doors and acceptable company, they now profess it out loud and with no regard to others or indeed the law.
And off of the back of that we now have Trump, elected on a similar wave of hatred and one has to ask the questions. How did this happen? Why are so many people voting for a man so obviously ill-equipped for the role? So obviously uncaring and hateful? So obviously self-serving? The answer is scary and nauseating, but the fact is, he appealed to the fearful, to the selfish, to the racist and those who want to protect themselves from ‘others’. And given the deluge of reports coming through in recent months highlighted by Black Lives Matter, if the very institution that is designed to ‘serve and protect’ its’ people is so openly racist then how does this reflect the views of people across America? I’m sure there were plenty of people not racist, who didn’t care for either candidate, who refused to vote on principle or who were so disillusioned with what was already in place that they just didn’t vote because what is the point? Echoes of Brexit, oh how we had hoped the Americans would succeed where we failed.
The racism exists openly now in both the UK and the US, but it’s always been there. Sexual violence and the sense of blame lying with the survivor is prevalent again, years of protest and campaigning by feminists repelled because misogyny has always existed and now has a strengthened position again. We think that we are making great strides electing an African-American president, but the reality is we are now facing a backlash against progressive thinking that threatens us all.
The election of Donald Trump, a man whose proposed policies are in direct violation of the very constitution upon which the United States was built is like a clarion call. It is time to wake up and realise that we are never in a safe position. We are never in a position to stop fighting or insisting upon equality and we can never go too far because the likelihood of ever reaching equality for all is non-existent. We may never be able to eradicate any one of the horrific ‘isms’ out there but the fight must be made.
Constant vigilance is needed against the darkness that would swallow us all whole. It matters not that we win, only that we fight at all. And so this is my call to arms of all who would not be cowed by hate, by intolerance and self-serving greed. To the feminists, the progressives, the LGBT communities, to people of all colour and creed. We cannot sit and wring our hands wallowing in disbelief and fear of what may come. We must stand against the coming storm and hold true to our belief in what is right, in what is fair.
Today is a dark day, and a day, indeed many days, may be needed to mourn and recover our breath. But no war was ever won with despair and resignation. We as humans have seen much darker days than these and will no doubt see them come around again. Things may get worse or we may not allow that to happen. But I believe that the power lies with us to determine the sway.
I don’t believe that Emmeline Pankhurst would have given up quite so easily, nor Gandhi, nor Martin Luther King nor any other willing soldier fighting for decency, humanity and above all hope. For that is what we need now more than ever. Barack Obama imbued people with a sense of hope and for me this will be his over-riding legacy. It is now our job to carry that hope in our hearts, be resilient and forge ahead. To forge forward. For what other alternative is there?