Originally published on Huffington Post.
A view of the new Trump administration is slowing emerging from the chaos of brazenly presented “alternative facts” and restricted truths. Immediately upon assuming office, Trump released a rapid-fire stream of executive orders and appointments targeting the main ideological divides between Republicans and Democrats on issues such as Islamic terrorism, immigration policy, climate change, health care, and women’s right to choose. This ideological shock wave along traditional wedges that divide the Republican and Democratic parties was certainly no accident. For a historically unpopular president who lost the popular vote by nearly three million, it’s easy to see why the Trump administration finds it necessary to ideologically fortify the Republican base and prevent the population at large from unifying against him. Moreover, his narcissism surely craves the validation his sweeping executive actions express, as his new presidential responsibilities, combined with the pressure of protests, have grounded his plans of holding rallies and feeding the cult of personality he cultivated on the campaign trail, leaving Twitter as his only means of riling the masses (albeit often spoiled by snappy liberal clapbacks). To some extent Trump’s tactics are working, though not entirely, and for one important reason.
The Resistance is bigger than Trump.
Trump is but a symptom of a system that has long been deeply flawed. Recent success in progressive issues, as well as high-profile campaigns and protests fighting against racism and other forms of discrimination, have been met with conservative pushback shifting further and further right. It’s no coincidence that our country’s first black president, followed by our first female presidential candidate, was countered by a candidate who out Tea-Partied the Tea Party. However, just as Trump was a long time coming, so was The Resistance. Every prior attempt at American revolution and reformation has at best been only partially successful. From the American Revolution to the Civil War, followed by Reconstruction, the New Deal, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the United States has continually questioned the structure of its government and leadership institutions, as well as its guiding principles.
Take, for example, the Civil War. While freed slaves ultimately made up nearly ten percent of Union soldiers, African Americans were largely excluded from both the war and its outcome. White American soldiers represented them in the fight, and when they died, the vacancies they left in American society were not filled by the newly emancipated slave population, which faced overwhelming prejudice with regard to employment, land ownership, and suffrage. Moreover, the Ku Klux Klan notoriously emerged during Reconstruction, when terror became a common method of harassing the black population.
By not creating programs allowing emancipated slaves to widely achieve land ownership, access to education and viable employment, and inviolable civil rights during Reconstruction, the United States failed its freed men and women at every turn. Later attempts to address some of the economic and racial inequality in America with the New Deal in the 1930s made limited progress. The 1930s saw employment for African Americans rise, albeit without equal pay, and civil rights become part of the federal government’s priorities for the very first time, with President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointing more African Americans to federal positions than any previous president. Roosevelt was also the first president to appoint an African-American federal judge, William Henry Hastie, as well as the first to publicly denounce lynching as “a vile form of collective murder.” It would take the Civil Rights era of the 1950s–1960s to bring an end to legally codified segregation, though racism, police violence, racial profiling, and numerous manifestations of economic and institutional inequality remain deeply entrenched in American society.
These examples demonstrate why Trump attempts to pit the American people against one another and distract them from himself long enough to secure his hold on power. Put another way: Trump is not a wrecking ball plowing through a perfect system, but rather the straw that broke a well-traveled camel’s back. There are far too many Americans who have experienced inequality and hate first-hand, who have fought it their entire lives and suffered too much loss and fear. This small man pales in comparison to generations of anger and frustration, combined with American passion, energy, love, and devotion to protecting one another, as well as the persistent belief that this country could still one day be what we’ve been promised it could be.
To be clear, there is a white America that is also hurting, and this should not be ignored. This includes the segment of American society that elected Trump: the downtrodden white America, the racist, sexist white America, and of course white, privileged nonvoters. And to my fellow white Americans who have joined The Resistance, I say this: I challenge you to own both of these fights. Both the political fight in the streets, in our state houses, and in Congress and the cultural battle to reeducate our own demographic. Far too many of us voted for Trump. We have something to prove, and it’s time to stand up.
Here, I’ve only barely touched on the history of African-American civil rights. This is to say nothing of our country’s slow progress in establishing equality for other minorities, women, the LGBTQI community, immigrants, and members of non-Christian faiths. Every demographic in America under threat by Trump has at some time in US history faced staunch opposition before, if not constantly. If we search for the signal amidst the noise, we will see Trump for what he is: a con man and a rube manipulated by those who grasp at power and target our civil liberties as a political tool. Do not allow this cheap attempt at authoritarian tactics to succeed. Do not lose sight of our shared goals in the chaos. If we can learn to stand together against all challenges, we will build our own wall of human resistance. The Resistance will outlast this administration and survive to repair the damage they cause. Only after that can we begin the real work toward progress together.