It happened. It actually happened. I shook my head, baffled as he won the Republican nomination. I stared in awe at countless interviews with people saying, “He tells it like it is.” This man, who has been sued over a thousand times, who would be tried for fraud within months, who mocked disabled reporters like a twelve-year-old whose father never hugs him, who talks about women like…..well, like a douchebag. We ladies get that a lot. This man just could not keep his story straight. Every word out of his mouth seemed to contradict all the others. He ran on a platform that consisted of a healthy and bold “I’m Rubber and You’re Glue.” And as I watched that map turn state after state red on election night, my jaw smacked on the tiles below the bar at which I sat, and I thought, “Well we’ve got 2 months to fess up that we’re totally kidding about this.” BUT WE DIDN’T!
The morning after the election, a German newspaper ran a front page picture of him with a headline that translates to “Please Not the Horror Clown.” Yes, Germany. I am mortified to admit that indeed, The Horror Clown. Because it happened. It actually happened. Donald Trump was inaugurated. It’s like some sort of dystopian novel. It’s like 1984 or Lord of the Flies or Atlas Shrugged. It’s like that movie Idiocracy has come true much earlier than expected. It’s like one of Kurt Vonnegut’s “science fiction” novels. I’m having a very hard time accepting it. But here we are.
Cue the bickering. People have actually been unfriended on Facebook for this. It’s a very serious matter. Some say if you voted for him you’re a racist homophobic woman hater. Others say he won, get over it. The word stupid has been bandied about in both directions with prevalence. And the spit has not flown in merely two directions. We’ve turned inward, casting a great swath of blame. Hard conversations need to be had with stubborn relatives. People need to listen to the truth. White straight men need to check their privilege. The majority of white women voted for Trump. They must be held accountable. Someone’s to blame. They must be rooted out and shamed. And God help you if you voted Republican. We don’t want to hear what you have to say. You will be unfriended and blocked.
So let me just leaf through my trusty copy of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of The United States for the section about the colonies. Talk amongst yourselves.
OK. Found it. Here come the quotes.
“Only one fear was greater than the fear of black rebellion in the new American colonies. That was the fear that discontented whites would join black slaves to overthrow the existing order. In the early years of slavery, especially, before racism as a way of thinking was firmly ingrained, while white indentured servants were often treated as badly as black slaves, there was a possibility of cooperation.”
Don’t worry. I’m not going to blather on about how white people were slaves too. The point is that there were a lot of them, as well as a lot of poor free white people, and there were a lot of black slaves. A Virginia slaveowner, William Byrd, in 1736 wrote,
“We have already at least 10,000 men of these descendants of Ham, fit to bear arms, and these numbers increase every day, as well by birth as by importation. And in case there should arise a man of desperate fortune, he might with more advantage than Cataline kindle a servile war…and tinge our rivers wide as they were with blood.:”
In the very beginning of colonization, white servants were often treated as badly as black slaves. This is not to say that their circumstances were the same. For one, they were at the very least in an environment dominated by familiar European culture, while Africans were far more displaced in a strange land with alien customs. But as Zinn states,
“In spite of such preconceptions about blackness, in spite of special subordination of blacks in the Americas in the seventeenth century, there is evidence that where whites and blacks found themselves with common problems, common work, common enemy in their master, they behaved toward one another as equals.”
This was a big problem for slaveowners, which led to a series of laws restricting fraternization. It also led to a more sophisticated strategy, an example of which we can find in the Virginia Assembly. Quoting Edmund S. Morgan from American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia,
“Virginia’s ruling class, having proclaimed that all white men were superior to black, went on to offer their social (but white) inferiors a number of benefits previously denied them. In 1705 a law was passed requiring masters to provide white servants whose indenture time was up with ten bushels of corn, thirty shillings, and a gun, while women servants were to get 15 bushels of corn and forty shillings. Also the newly freed servants were to get 50 acres of land.”
This served a tidy purpose. It created resentment in black slaves and a sense of superiority in white servants, both of which had previously often viewed each other more as equals. Meanwhile all of them were vastly outnumbered by the native population who had lived there long before they had arrived. According to Zinn,
“They couldn’t force Indians to work for them, as Columbus had done. They were outnumbered, and while, with superior firearms, they could massacre Indians, they would face massacre in return. They could not capture them and keep them enslaved; the Indians were tough, resourceful, defiant, and at home in these woods, as the transplanted Englishmen were not.”
The native people were, as we all know, painted as vicious savages; something to be feared and hated. They occupied land desperately sought by whites who had been neglected when land grants were given out to the rich. They were a terrifying presence outside the plantations to dissuade slaves and servants from straying. Rich landowners even worked to divide the natives, as in the case of Bacon’s Rebellion in Jamestown, Virginia, where the governor wooed certain tribesmen as spies and allies and declared war on the Indians, but offered special privileges to those who surrendered.
And because of their great numbers, the comparatively small amount of wealthy faced a real fear that their fragile economy, built on all of these backs might backfire. They were surrounded by tribes, comfortable and familiar with the landscape who posed a very real threat of uniting against them. They built their empires on labor from the mistreated and poorly paid or flat out forced. They hoarded all of the land and desirable resources for themselves. And they were just a few guys. Just a few rich white guys from England, surrounded by poor white farmers and white indentured servants and a growing mass of black slaves and an indigenous population that vastly outnumbered them. And all of these people shared one common enemy; those couple of rich white guys.
And I mean, these were really not nice white guys. They hogged all the good stuff and made the poor people scramble to survive. They shipped them over from Europe and made them pay off their voyage with labor that often lasted a lifetime. They dragged people from their home country, stuffed them into ships like stacked firewood, who, if they were fortunate enough to survive the horrific trip across the ocean, were forced into servitude and tortured. These white guys muscled their way into a place where people already lived and just took over the place and started killing off its inhabitants. They were absolutely the WORST kind of guys.
But because of fear and resentment and entitlement and scavenged privilege all of these people, subjugated and mistreated, failed to take advantage of a very important detail; the fact that there were the overwhelming majority of people around. And had they cooperated with each other, they would have assuredly and easily overpowered those jerks. But they didn’t. See how that worked? Really handy strategy if you are the teeny number of rich dudes in charge. Divide and conquer. It wasn’t invented in the colonies. This has been a tried and true system that works on down through the centuries to the very beginning.
Now back to the present. We have elected a Republican majority House and Senate. Donald Trump has been sworn in as President. Notice I didn’t say we elected him. Because we didn’t. The Electoral College did. The popular vote, as in the majority of voting Americans voted for Hillary Clinton. That’s right. The majority of people did not vote for Donald Trump. Actually the majority of Americans didn’t vote. But to my great dismay many people did in fact vote for Donald Trump.
It doesn’t matter why they voted for him. Maybe they’re creeped out about opening up their bathrooms to people that freak them out. Maybe they want to work at a security checkpoint at the Great Wall of Mexico. Maybe they’re looking forward to the new freedom to grab all the crotches they want. Or maybe they’re just your garden variety Republican who dreads the swarm of welfare mothers, lurking around the corner to take their money. Or maybe they had some sort of actual reason for it. Perhaps they live in a state ravaged by NAFTA and have sat jobless for a couple of decades while the nation ignores them, and this man actually talked to them for once in their neglected lives. And whether or not he meant it, he made some promises to them, for Christ’s sake. Or maybe they live in say, Flint Michigan. And for the last twenty-one months of Obama’s term, their entire water supply has been poisonous. I could see why they might have lost a little faith in the Democratic Party. And even though Trump spewed vitriol all over his campaign, they might weigh for example the lives of their children over relentless sexist remarks.
I know it’s scary. There are videos popping up all over the place about some idiot freaking out in some public space, spewing hate at some poor clerk, invoking Trump’s name. Some jackass actually grabbed a co-worker by the crotch while he praised the new regime. And of course it gets much more terrifying. White supremacists are being placed in positions of power. Acts of aggression and hatred are prevalent. This is a time not for the faint of heart.
But we need to focus. And hard as it is, stubborn as we are, vile though the other side may seem, we need to listen. Because we are not two utterly dissimilar breeds of human split down the middle occupying the same land. And this government, though definitely not the one I wanted, belongs to all of us, and it is supposed to serve us all. And if we work very hard, we can make it do just that. But in order to do that, we have to try to understand people we disagree with.
Why would someone support building a wall along the Mexican border? Well, there’s racism. That’s a real thing. But also, maybe even more commonly, people seem to resent immigrants because they are of the impression that these people are responsible for their poverty and unemployment. Of course there are a lot of other factors at play; factories moving out of the country, free prison labor, and outsourcing jobs like tech and phone services to other countries to name a few. Then of course there is the low minimum wage, vilification of unions, OSHA and labor law violations, and enormous corporations destroying small business. These are just a few reasons why people might not be able to work a full time job and support their families. All of them have nothing to do with immigration. All of them, however have everything to do with the behavior of our legislators and big business, who are waving their arms and pointing to that Mexican guy who snatched up that dishwashing job someone so desperately wanted. The point is that these people who believe that immigrants are to blame believe it because they have been told to by people who do not want them to know who is really at fault. And the real point is not that these people hate immigrants. It is that these people need work, and they need it to pay a living wage. Really, that’s a reasonable thing to ask.
The majority of US citizens are in support of raising the minimum wage. That includes even Trump voters. They are also in support of some sort of universal health care, gay marriage, legal abortion, background checks for gun buyers, and climate control. According to the Pew Research Center Americans agree that immigration helps the economy by a 59 to 33 percent margin. These are all facts. And in that majority are a bunch of those vile people who say stupid stuff and voted wrong. You can interpret that last sentence to describe whoever you wish. Maybe it’s me. That’s fine. We still agree on a lot of stuff nonetheless.
You know who doesn’t want a universal health care system? Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. You know who does not support legal abortion? Vice President, Mike Pence. He in fact tried to pass a law in Indiana while he was Governor that would require mandatory funerals for abortions and miscarriages. These people are weird. And they’re mean. And they don’t really care if your water is tainted or your pre-existing condition denies you health insurance or you can pay your mortgage. Welfare mothers aren’t going to take your money. They are. And immigrants won’t steal your jobs. They will. And they will give it all to themselves.
Did you know that when the water in Flint was poisoned, GM complained that the water was corroding their car parts, so the governor quietly spent $440,000 to give them a special hookup to clean water just a few months after the crisis began? And here we are nearly two years later and the people of Flint still have poisoned water. Is this story plastered all over our news feeds? Nope. We’re talking about how tiny Trump’s hands are and whether or not he stole a picture from Obama’s inauguration for his Twitter background and arguing amongst each other about who’s being a better activist or why we voted or why we should feel bad about voting the way we did.
Meanwhile decisions are being made and laws are being passed that will very much affect us all, even if we don’t like each other. And the more we scream at each other and call each other names and shut each other out the less inclined we will be to work together to make sure these decisions work out best for us all.
I am not saying let bygones be bygones, or that we walk arm in arm through this glorious land of ours with daisies in our hair. I am not saying that all of this racist sexist homophobic vitriol shouldn’t be fought or that we should not continue to have healthy dialogue about bigotry and violence and work towards equality. I am saying we should have dialogue. Because beneath that anger is pain. And beneath that pain are frequently very real problems that need to be solved. We are not all great orators or eloquent writers. We don’t all read think pieces in Mother Jones and settle into bed with a novel. Some of us are just hurt, and we don’t always express it in the best manner, and we lash out without making informed decisions, lacking the tools and knowledge to understand the source of our pain. And I am willing to guess that if we stop putting each other on the defensive and try to understand where we are coming from we might just find that it is frequently a very understandable place.
That being said, I absolutely acknowledge that some of us are just really big assholes. But I truly believe that they are a dwindling minority. They’re just really loud, and they feel empowered right now, because a lot of jerks just took over the country. The rest of us, the masses need to stop looking at each other and pay some serious attention.
Here are some things that have been happening while we bicker.
Congress is working extremely hard to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. That’s the thing that made sure more Americans had health insurance than ever before. Despite what many shockingly believe, this is, in fact the same thing as Obamacare. Obamacare is just a nickname. Politicians don’t typically name their legislative acts after themselves. Well … I imagine Trump might. It is crucial that we very loudly express how we feel about that. That means calling the House and Senate majority and minority leaders and all of our own congressmen. Here is a handy website that helps you to know what numbers to call, suggests issues to call about, and even provides scripts if you get tongue tied. Feel free to say whatever you want when you call. If you don’t agree with me, these are still your legislators.
Flint, Mich., as I mentioned, is still without clean water. This enrages me. It is a legitimate national disaster. Their Governor should be incarcerated for this. And we should immediately fix this problem. No city should suffer tainted water. There is no excuse. If you want to learn some stuff that will anger you more about this situation, read this handy list about it that Michael Moore compiled.
There have been protestors camped out in North Dakota to protect tribal water from the Dakota Access Pipeline since early last year. Yes. They are still there. This is a pipeline that was diverted from a metropolitan area, because residents complained that it threatened their water supply. So they rerouted it through the Standing Rock Reservation. This is an issue that affects us all. Oil spills, folks. And it’s a dying industry. Building toxic pipelines through our homelands is as pointless as it is dangerous. Go here to learn how to support these water protectors.
Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation did some very shifty stuff with our most recent election. Our own intelligence agencies agree that this is true. Why might he do this? A gentleman wrote an extremely fascinating and informative article on this very subject, explaining climate change, the oil industry, Russia’s interest in it and Trump’s connections. He even gives a good economics lesson on the carbon bubble. It’s a very big deal. Read this entire article.
Our new administration is working very hard to pack the Cabinet and high offices with very rich people who have interests that conflict with the offices they are expected to hold. Also some extremely racist white guys are in the mix. See the above call to action link to express your opinion on these choices. Currently under scrutiny in Congress is Betsy DeVos, Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Education.
And of course Trump and his administration and our newly elected Republican majority will be hard at work to dismantle environmental protection laws and leave the earth a more toxic place. Trump has stated his plans to back out of the Paris Climate Agreement. This affects our health and our future, even those of us who want to grab crotches with abandon.
I could go on and on. Everything I have mentioned here transcends liberal/conservative. All of these issues threaten to harm the majority of the population and benefit a few rich guys. As history repeats itself, the system of subjugation triumphs once again. But it doesn’t have to. It doesn’t matter who voted for what. It doesn’t matter if they’re really really sorry. The election is over. Time machines do not exist. Now it is up to us to decide if we want to glare at each other while our government dismantles our health, safety and future, or if we want to make sure that government knows damned well that it still belongs to us.
Thadra Sheridan is a poet, performer and teacher who has been published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Skyway News, Moxie Magazine, Rattle and several anthologies.