By Laura Powell
All day I’ve been hearing the same two questions about Donald Trump’s victory ad nauseum from friends and news anchors: “How could this happen? How did no one see this coming?”
Admittedly, I was one of the many who believed Donald Trump couldn’t possibly find a large enough voter base in the US to agree with his sexist, racist actions and proposed policies. I believed that sanity would prevail and this brute of a man would be sent packing, tail between his legs, back to the reality show circuit where he belongs.
I took solace in the idea that there was no way Americans would put someone in the Oval Office who bragged about grabbing a peer “by the pussy.” The man who wants to force every person of Muslim descent to register themselves in a Nazi-esque database could not and would not hold the highest office in this country, Land of The Free, Home of The Brave, etc.
Instead, the unthinkable happened: President-elect Donald Trump. God bless America.
Many of my friends along with members of the liberal media are aggressively pointing the finger of blame for Hillary Clinton’s loss in every direction: third party voters, millennials, the media itself, Republican propaganda, the Democratic party at large for backing the wrong candidate.
“How could this happen? How did no one see this coming?”
Every time I heard these questions repeated I felt a familiar pang of anger and nausea. It was such a specific white hot feeling of rage and helpless frustration that it didn’t take long for me to place it.
It was the same feeling I had when I read Beloved and The Warmth of Other Suns. I felt in fifth grade when I learned that Jim Crow laws not only existed but weren’t repealed until 1964, a decision that even then was largely ignored. It hit me between the eyes when I learned how many women died in dirty hotel rooms and back alleys before the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 (about 5,000 women a year if you were wondering).
We’re surprised that Trump won because we forgot to factor in America’s deep roots in racism and sexism and, more importantly, how recently we jettisoned many of the shameful laws and cultural norms of our past.
Women weren’t considered fully fledged citizens of the United States until 1920 when they got the right to vote. This, of course, was not applicable to non-white female voters. Black women had no official voice in government and weren’t allowed to cast a ballot until as late as the 1960s, a time when voter intimidation was still as blatant as it was violent.
As late as 1910, the US Supreme Court ruled that a wife had no cause for action on an assault and battery charge against her husband because it “would open the doors of the courts to accusations of all sorts of one spouse against the other and bring into public notice complaints for assault, slander and libel.” In short, the court has no time for women’s petty squabbles with their spouses regardless of whether or not she is living in the hellscape that is a life of domestic abuse.
We see trailers for movies like Loving, a film that portrays the landmark case of Love v. Virginia that invalidated state laws prohibiting interracial marriage. It was filmed and marketed as a period piece, a time gone by that we can look at with furrowed brows and think God what a fucked up time to be alive in America.
In reality, that court case took place less than 50 years ago in 1967. Only 33 years earlier, a black man looking at a white woman was cause for his death or dismemberment. In 1932 a black man named Claude Neal was falsely accused of raping and murdering a white woman, hunted down by three hundred white men with knives, torches, and dynamite, skinned alive and made to eat parts of his body, then killed. His body was dragged through the streets of his hometown in northern Florida. Children took parts of him as souvenirs. This scene was commonplace in southern states through the 50s.
These are a few examples in thousands that occurred in our parents and grandparents lifetimes. The children who stoned Claude’s dead body are still alive and voting as are their children, raised with the same beliefs and attitudes toward otherness.
Too many of us were allowed to forget that the “distant past” is really not so distant; we cocoon ourselves in largely progressive cities like New York and LA where cultural intersectionality is embraced. Those of us lucky enough to live in a liberal bubble got too caught up in the progress American society has made in the last several decades. We see bi-racial gay couples holding hands without penalty of death. We have transgender friends whose dating lives are better than most of our cisgender acquaintances. We forgot that in the time frame of human history, American history isn’t that long. It’s nothing. The blink of an eye in an ever-expanding, indifferent universe.
Our surprise that Donald Trump is our soon to be president is twice as shameful when we realize that shock comes from a place of privilege.
So many of our brothers and sisters face daily horrors that don’t allow them to become so complacent of the past. Think Jerame Reid, Trayvon Martin, and Sandra Bland. Think of the fifty who were shot down in Pulse Nightclub. Think of Brock Turner’s victim who watched him walk free after serving three months of a six-month jail sentence.
In the media, these incidents are portrayed as police brutality issues. They are canned up and spoon fed to us as singular acts of violence or terrorism.
But these aren’t isolated events. They are an unrelenting reminder of how this country began and who wants to take their power back. The truth is American soil, the land we so proudly stand on, is caked with blood from the last 240 years that never fully dried.
Hilary Clinton didn’t lose this election because of third party voters. She lost because the literal and ideological descendants of the aforementioned aggressors, those disenfranchised masses who had their white male dominated America taken from them, have found a new voice. A host to live in and thrive off of.
They have, forgive me, their Trump card.
When we lose sight of how young America is and how short our timeline, we underestimate the power of the past. We don’t take demagogues like Donald Trump seriously. We write them off and assign their beliefs to a time gone by.
How quickly we forget.
So now what?
We pay attention. We vote and help lift each other up. We fight for the rights of those struggling around us. When we see sexist or racist things happening on our streets we speak up then and there. We donate our time and money to pro-immigrant, pro-earth, pro-woman, and anti-bigotry organizations that need our assistance. We read books and essays that help us understand the struggle of those around us.
But most importantly, the thing that we can never again lose sight of is America’s past. Change, real change, is only possible if we study our origins as a nation and learn from them.
We, women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, have only just begun to be heard. Our struggle is as terrifying as it is exhausting yet all I see when I look out at my friends and allies is a group of undaunted individuals, hurting but standing and ready for the next round of this fight.
Seeing the outpourings of love and support, watching plans being made to keep us all safe with our rights intact has given me hope. It has done the impossible. It has made me proud to be an American.