How Bad Can Trump’s Victory Get?
Unsurprisingly, many of my friends are liberal Democrats who live in liberal Democratic strongholds and were heartbroken by Trump’s victory on election day. I was as well. Most of my friends seem to spend the day in shock and horror. I did as well. When I met up with my girlfriend on Wednesday night, she said I looked like a zombie.
My Facebook feed has been filled with articles like this one by Marc Joseph Stern at Slate. Stern writes about his secular Jewish family in Europe at the time of Hitler’s rise. One branch of his family decided to stay because Europe is where they belonged and were from according to the great-grandmother. Most of this family branch died in the Holocaust. The other left because they knew they had to. They might have preferred to stay in Europe but they knew that Europe was no longer home. This family lived. Stern writes about how he is fears for his life as a gay, Jewish man. He writes about anti-Semitic and homophobic slurs and death threats via twitter.
Someone I know from high school is a reporter for NPR. He is Jewish. He covers New Jersey politics. He has already received anti-Semitic tweets directed at him and faxed press releases from Neo-Nazis groups.
At the very least, I suspect that we will see a steady stream of stories like this for the next four to eight years. President Trump and the GOP in Congress do not need to repeal any laws, but they have discovered the benefits of appealing to white ethno-nationalism. Trump’s administration and the Republican Congress can keep the Civil Rights Act but turn the EEOC and Civil Rights Divisions of the DOJ into useless entities that do nothing.
One of the things I hear from non-liberal Trump critics is that Trump is the product of a PC backlash and hatred of tone policing. These people do not deny racism and bigotry exist but seemingly have a high bar about what constitutes racism and bigotry. They also post and write about how their Trump supporting friends are not racist or bigoted and that liberals just need to reach out to them.
The problem with this is that racism and bigotry can get normalized. Even if many Trump supporters are not bigots, they voted for a man who ran an openly racist and bigoted campaign and has a long history of racism. Trump first came to public notice when the government sued Trump for housing discrimination against Blacks in the 1970s. He (rhetorically) tried to lynch the Central Park Five.
Even if Trump is not against any particular group, he unleashed a genie bottle of hate groups to act openly in ways that they haven’t felt in decades. Many minorities will just be subject to vandalism and low-level harassment for four to eight years but that should be unacceptable to all decent people. Anti-Semitic tweets should not be the price paid for being Jewish. Being told “Go home Chinaman” should not be a part of life in the United States just because a person is Chinese.
We also like to think that our laws and Constitution will protect us from the worse from happening but laws and Constitution are only as strong as the people themselves. A friend of mine posted another story on Facebook. The author of the post’s grandmother was a Jewish elementary school student in Hitler’s Germany. She needed surgery in 1932 and 1933. In 1932, all of the girl’s classmates and teachers came to visit her in the hospital. In 1933, no one did.
This story might seem hyperbolic (and it does raise Godwin’s Law) but it demonstrates that the norms of bigotry can change rapidly and seemingly overnight. Maybe the girl’s classmates and teachers did not become more anti-Semitic, but they knew it would be a serious social cost and possibly a physical cost to visit their Jewish classmate in the hospital. Most people are go along and get along types. You don’t need a nation of willing executioners. You just need enough people willing to commit acts of violence with the consent of government, and most of the rest of the people will just put their heads down to save themselves and their families.
Maybe the United States will not see the return to the days of Emmett Till and lynching. Maybe gay marriage will stay intact. Maybe the quota system that limited Jewish presence at private universities will not return. Maybe Muslims will not be forced to wear patches with crescents and Asians will not be put into internment camps. But that doesn’t mean minorities don’t have a right to be scared that the United States just elected a man who ran one of the most bigoted campaigns in modern American history.