You’re either sitting at the table, or you’re on the menu. That’s what my dad’s mentor told him when he first immigrated to America, and that’s what he told me when I left for college. He made me feel like I could achieve anything if I put enough work into it.
— Nada Eldawy, MiC Assistant Editor
Unfortunately, this immigrant mentality that hard work equates to success is wildly inapplicable to real life. Not everyone who puts their all into succeeding is actually afforded the opportunity to make it — it is the explicit responsibility of all Americans, but particularly immigrants and people of color, to dedicate themselves to uplifting those who, for whatever reason, couldn’t even grab a chair, let alone join you at the table. Voting is the first step to exercising that responsibility.
From casual conversations with community members both in Michigan and in Florida, we have gleaned that Arabs who support Trump tend to do so for two main reasons — they don’t want to pay more taxes, or they agree with his more conservative social views. These Arabs also might distrust both candidates and the political process, or just believe Trump’s discriminatory policies won’t impact them in any way. However, no matter what your religion or how white-passing you are, being Middle Eastern/Arab inherently paints a target on your back. If you are lucky enough to vote based on taxes or socially conservative values, we would like to remind you that your success, while definitely hard earned, comes with an element of privilege. For these issues to be your deal breaker, you are neglecting all of the harmful effects of another Trump presidency on those less lucky than you.
With the election nearing, we Arabs must recognize what is at stake for our communities. As people who are historically neglected and left out of census data, showing up to vote — and voting in our best interest — is crucial. Many Arab Americans voted for Trump in 2016, and it appears many could be voting for him in the upcoming election as well. To better understand why this is occurring, we have compiled a list of the most common reasons we’ve heard for why Arabs are supporting Trump or not voting at all, along with rebuttals we can use to encourage our fellow Arabs to vote for Joe Biden.
Debunking Reason 1. I support him fiscally, at least he’s not raising my taxes!
Arabs are very entrepreneurial people. We’ve all heard the narrative of “coming to America with nothing but $5 and the clothes on our backs,” building ourselves from the ground up. Donald Trump is a businessman who promotes the individualism and independence championed by so many Arab Americans. So it comes as no surprise that wealthy Arabs support his narrative, not wanting to fork over their hard-earned cash.
What they don’t seem to realize is that under Biden’s plan, only the wealthiest of Americans, those making more than $400,000 annually, will experience hikes in their taxes — and analyses of Biden’s tax plan find that the percentage of earners who would experience these tax increases is less than 2%. Even then, those between the 95th and 99th percentile in the income bracket will only experience a tax increase of about 1%, which is too insignificant a difference to influence your vote.
The truth is, if your taxes increase marginally, you’ll survive. Not only that, but coming from a culture that highly prioritizes charity and giving back, you can rest assured that any extra taxes you may pay will be going towards noble causes, like public infrastructure, child care, education, housing and healthcare accessibility. While you will survive either way, the same can’t be said for our Arab and POC brothers and sisters who are more directly targeted by Trump’s racist and xenophobic rhetoric and legislation. The detriment to your bank account should not influence your vote more than the lives of those most vulnerable to Trump’s ideologies.
Debunking Reason 2. But I agree with his social policies and his values.
Another major reason Arabs support Trump is for his more conservative social views, particularly the way he adamantly opposes LGBTQ+ rights and abortion. Regardless of our own views on these issues (which are not the purpose of this piece), to champion Donald Trump as a savior of good values is, in our opinion, a very illegitimate rationality.
Let us be clear — Donald J. Trump is a sexist, bigoted, racist, Islamophobic, xenophobic and genuinely awful human being. Must we remind you of his various sexual assault charges and derogatory comments towards women? How about his mocking of disabled folks? Even if you don’t believe the women who alleged sexual assault against him, there is video evidence that he’s encouraged sexual assault, saying “grab them by the p****.” Though you may share some similarities with Trump’s baseline conservative views, we hope your values don’t align with his, because he represents the complete opposite of good Christian (or Muslim or ANY) values. No religion or belief system has the foundation of hate that Trump has spread throughout the nation and the world.
Debunking Reason 3. Okay, but this just doesn’t affect me.
The next point we will address is the misconception that Trump’s hateful rhetoric just doesn’t apply to these voters. Put simply, it does. No matter how well off or white-passing you are, the wellbeing of your community, your people, is at stake. A misconception we have seen from Arab and Middle Eastern Christians is that Trump is their savior, targeting the same Muslims who may have targeted them back in their home countries. Without needing to get into Middle Eastern politics, all we ask is that you recognize that, as minorities, none of us are safe. And if that doesn’t work, here are ways Trump’s policies actually do affect you.
First, while commonly known as the Muslim ban, Executive Order 13769 targeted all migrants coming from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia regardless of religious background. Also, white nationalist hate groups have increased by 55% since Trump took office. These terrorists will not ask about your beliefs before perpetuating hate crimes — they will see your skin color or hear your accent and that will be enough. Another Trump term also brings about a question of safety, for yourself and also for your children. Trump has consistently sided with the NRA and gun lobbyists despite his term seeing the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history and 263 shootings at schools. To further elucidate the dangerous impact of Trump’s ideologies, the murderer in the Christchurch Mosque shooting in New Zealand quoted Trump as justification for his violence, casting him as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” This is not the only example. Trump serves as a beacon of hope and empowerment for violent white supremacists everywhere.
In addition, the Trump administration’s current response (or lack thereof) to COVID-19 affects us all. Trump knowingly downplayed the seriousness of the virus instead of acting in the early stages, admitting to slowing down testing to reduce COVID numbers. He rushed to reopen the economy without ensuring safety measures or a solid plan to control the disease. He eliminated a White House office set up by the previous administration to combat pandemics and made cuts across other areas of the federal government. As a result, the U.S. has about seven times more COVID deaths than any other developed country, and hundreds of thousands of lives have been needlessly lost. Voting for Trump means no end in sight for the pandemic, no return to our normal lives any time soon, and continued suffering and death of Americans. Don’t let the (singular) stimulus check fool you. As long as there is no COVID plan, the economy remains in a state of disarray.
Debunking Reason 4. The Obama Administration had record deportation numbers and was notorious for war crimes — we don’t want another Democrat in office.
In reality, the president has very little influence on domestic policy. Where he does have a tremendous amount of influence, however, is foreign policy. And Trump’s foreign policy thus far has been disastrous. Let’s take the “Middle East peace plan” for example — led by Trump’s son-in-law, a fervent Israel supporter, this plan has an explicit goal of further meddling in our countries and depleting the Palestinian state even more than it already is. Or the fact that he encourages American companies to sell bombs to Saudi Arabia so they can further destroy Yemen. Trump has also passively accommodated Turkey’s extension of influence into Syria, Iraq, Qatar and Libya. He callously strengthened an embargo against Iran, so that Persians — regardless of religion — could not access medicine for COVID-19 patients, even threatening to go to war with Iran when his poll numbers were low. The list goes on and on.
While Joe Biden’s work and attitude towards the Middle East are nothing to applaud, especially during the Obama administration which saw disastrous effects on Iraq and Afghanistan, at this point, there is no good option for Arab foreign policy. We must assess both of our (albeit threatening) options and choose the lesser of two evils. Biden has called for an end to U.S. support for Saudi war in Yemen. While his policy towards Israel still errs on the side of Zionism, he has been vocal in his opposition to annexation of the West Bank and his support for a two-state solution. The Democratic caucus has also discussed conditioning the billions of dollars in aid to Israel depending on their actions and human rights violations. At the end of the day, Biden is not particularly a friend to Arabs either. But his policies leave way more room for growth and political pressure, meaning we could get more out of his presidency than we ever could with Trump.
Our countries should not be a game for American politicians to toy with. We deserve agency — the ability to make our own decisions free of foreign interference that does not have our best interests at heart. Out of both options, Trump certainly does not have our best interests at heart.
No one’s asking you to pull up a seat for everyone yourself. All we’re asking is that you scoot over and make some space for others. A vote for Trump not only prevents your POC brothers and sisters from joining you at the table, but it also makes your privileged seat all the more precarious.
Voting is not the answer to all our nation’s problems. But it is a place to start. We have the power to put someone in office who will at least try to make things better for us and give real activists a foot in the door to affect real change. Right now, when millions of lives are at stake; when the pandemic is still ripping at full speed through our nation with no sign of relief from the current administration; when millions of Americans are still unemployed or barely making it; when our brothers and sisters are being separated, incarcerated and killed; it is not the time to be apathetic. Our vote does count, so we hope that you show up to the polls and vote for Biden.