“Be forewarned. This is a new era. This is the Trump era.”
Those were the words from Jeff Sessions’ recent speech to the border patrol–beyond the dehumanizing language, the fear-mongering, the disregard for facts, the insult to history–that scared me. They were meant to scare lots of us–everyone who doesn’t fit into Trump’s narrow definition of the people he is supposed to be serving (though it’s clear that he doesn’t understand that the president serves, not rules).
Like so many of the words uttered by this administration, Sessions’ warning was also a call to arms. Though his approval rating is at record-settingly low for a modern president, Trump has fans who have been yearning to hear these words.
For others of us, the shock of the election has worn off, but we’re still in some other stage of grief–denial, anger, bargaining, depression–and have to figure out what will have to accept. It’s not the legitimacy of a Trump Presidency. Whether concerns about Russian interference are merited, we know that voter suppression and an electoral system that weights rural whites disproportionately were the real winners. But we have to accept that more than sixty million of our fellow Americans–most white people, most men, most wealthier people–voted for a person that most voters voted against. Not all sixty million of them were enthusiastic about voting for Trump, but many of them were excited about his racism, xenophobia and nativism, and Islamaphobia. Consistent with findings from the primaries, those more enthusiastic about Trump are more racist by all kinds of measures.
Above, Jeff Sessions, the lawyer for the American people, except for the 69 percent of people in the US who aren’t white men. He’s been waiting since 1848 to kick all the Mexicans out of the country.
Many conservatives missed this, in part because they wanted to. In his essay in the New York Times historian recently, Rick Perlstein offers some reflections on how he, among many scholars of conservatism, failed to predict Trump. In “I Thought I Understood the American Right. Trump Proved Me Wrong,” he concludes:
Future historians won’t find all that much of a foundation for Trumpism in [the intellectual heroes of conservatism]. They’ll need instead to study conservative history’s political surrealists and intellectual embarrassments, its con artists and tribunes of white rage.
To which many of us (and I’m guessing about 100% of scholars of color) responded with a collective eye roll.
Because if you think you understood the American right as distinct from white supremacy and structural racism, no, you didn’t understand the American right, and I’m not really sure you were trying very hard.
For all the accusations liberals live in “bubbles,” your bubble must have been opaque and soundproof if you have been hanging around the rightwing of this country and were unaware of the racial resentment of so many white Americans.
Because Jeff Sessions’ racism—that’s not new. It’s how a man of so few good ideas got this far. If you did not hear it, that’s because you were not listening to Coretta Scott King. And if you were not listening to Coretta Scott King, you are probably not listening to a lot of black people and a lot of women, and so you are never going to hear the information that you need to hear to understand the racism and misogyny that drives the American right. (This does not mean that liberals or progressives are free from racism. Just that it’s not their entire reason for existence, which is the case with so many conservatives; the word itself indicates a desire for the way things “used to be,” which is to say: racist, sexist, homophobic.)
Which is how we get here—depositing adults brought to the US as children, before what a Baptist might call the “age of accountability,” over the border without a proper process for insuring that their rights are protected.
It’s easier to not hear people when you’ve moved them out of the country, but don’t let that make you feel secure if you’re not part of a “deportable” population. A system that won’t let a Dreamer retrieve his papers to prove that he belongs here isn’t going to let you—women, people of color, non-Christians, poor people—speak either.