What do America’s schoolchildren, people of color, religious minorities, and the leaders of most American white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups all have in common? When they hear Donald Trump speak, they hear a person that they believe despises anyone who isn’t like him — straight, cisgender, white, and male — and who will rule (not govern, rule) this country accordingly. Despite many people’s best efforts to hide from this reality, the 2016 US Presidential election is about racism, and we are all about to experience one of the hardest moments in our shared history as a result of that.
Though there have been plenty of articles and thinkpieces dedicated to the “economic anxiety” that allegedly fuels public support for Donald Trump, it's telling that when students chant “Trump” while taunting or beating up their classmates, they're not discussing trade policy. Kids are not coming home to their parents in tears because of Trump’s paid maternity leave plan. They're crying because they believe that Trump will deport or ban them, or their immigrant and Muslim friends.
There's a reason why the most salient message kids take away from this campaign is that Trump’s America is hostile to people of color, immigrants, and Muslims. It's the same reason that when actual skinheads and neo-Nazis scanned the current crop of presidential candidates, they looked at Donald Trump and said, “That's our guy.” That reason is simple: his entire campaign, most of the policy conversation he has started, and a lot of his past behavior has revolved around, denigrating, punishing, and discriminating against non-white, non-Christian people.
How do we explain to our children that significant numbers of Americans are either openly racist, or willing to tolerate racism (which, functionally, aren't at all different)? How do we raise them to be just and fair to all people, amongst a critical mass of Americans who just endorsed a man who does the exact opposite?
This isn't just a hunch. Multiple polls have found that racist views are a significant predictor of support for Donald Trump. (Perhaps not coincidentally, the same is true of sexism.) Indeed, the motto of the Trump/Pence campaign — "Make America Great Again" — reflects that unsettling truth: they believe that there is a time in the past, when overt racism, sexism, and other forms of violent bigotry were far more accepted and common, when America was greater than it is now. That belief speaks volumes to those of us who are or would be on the receiving end of that violence.
How do we go high, as Michelle Obama urged us all this summer, when so many people have let hate and fear drag them so low?
So now those of us who are or love the people marginalized in Donald Trump’s America are left with a sickening reality, and a seemingly impossible task, especially as parents. How do we explain to our children that significant numbers of Americans are either openly racist, or willing to tolerate racism (which, functionally, aren't at all different)? How do we raise them to be just and fair to all people, amongst a critical mass of Americans who just endorsed a man who does the exact opposite? And how do we keep them safe among people who feel and act this way? How do we go high, as Michelle Obama urged us all this summer, when so many people have let hate and fear drag them so low?
I'm generally a hopeful, optimistic person, but right now I'm at a total loss.