On Feb. 1, 2016, I heard the words coming from presidential candidate Donald Trump’s lips on national television:
“I want to thank the people of Michigan,” after he won the Michigan Republican primary.
Seeing the popular support for Trump in my home state sparked my curiosity to answer the question: Why do people support Trump? What I discovered was many Trump supporters want security for themselves, a strong leader who does not walk on eggshells and/or economic prosperity from a leader they think cannot be bought by lobbyists. Trump gives people, at face value, exactly the type of anti-establishment rhetoric they look for and he always has a solution for problems presented to the public, but at what cost?
Trump supporters highlight that his hate-filled rhetoric and hasty generalizations are not the source of the problem, but are instead simply the manifestation of fear that U.S. politicians and mainstream media have perpetuated for years. He puts the blame on minorities, which causes an increase in the negative portrayal of minorities — a cost that has great ramifications in Black and brown communities. This also encourages people to express themselves using hateful speech, essentially normalizing it. This is dangerous in itself because instead of taking a nuanced approach to each issue, people look for action and quick solutions.
As Trump supporters use the slogan “Make America Great Again,” we should think about the implications of such a statement and what it means to go back to an America of the past. Trump’s rhetoric really is not so far from what people have been hearing in the past years, but what he is doing is offering solutions that are hard-lined and to the point. As Islamophobia in America is perpetuated by the media, illegal immigrants are used as a scapegoat for America’s economic problems and Black youth are portrayed as thugs, the American people are left with the fear of seemingly imminent threats with no tangible solutions. Trump is thus seen as the savior from the same chaos that has been prophesized by the very media and the very politicians who speak against him now. When the foundation of fear has been built up this high, it is possible that there is no stopping the chaos from unfolding if Donald Trump becomes president. As many of us try to separate ourselves from the comments that Donald Trump makes, we should see him for what he is, which is a reflection of what America has become today. As we try to separate ourselves from his words, we should take a good look in the mirror and ask ourselves:
Are we all Trump?
Do we, even to a small extent, all embody what Donald Trump portrays on international news stations? Do we fear those who are different from us or hold implicit prejudice views of others, which Donald Trump is simply stating without apologizing for it? Do we really do things only for our own monetary success without thinking of the consequences of our actions? If we are Trump, then how is it that we can point to Trump supporters as bigoted or outliers in the American viewpoint? After all, these supporters claim themselves even more American than say, a small Muslim woman from the suburbs of Oakland County, Mich. And maybe they’re right, maybe they are just more American and we cannot blame them for wanting Donald Trump to become president — they just want someone to give them what politicians and the media refuse them: a secure future.
People are tired of living in fear, but the people they blame for their problems are their American neighbors. Donald Trump runs the slogan “Make America Great Again,” but what does that really mean? Is it back to the time when blackface was worn in theaters and put in headlines? Is it one where we have a president that the Mexican president and Pope liken to Stalin?
Progress is about moving forward and recognizing mistakes, and Donald Trump is just showing us what those mistakes are. What Americans are brought up to believe is that this nation was built on ideals of liberty and freedom, but the truth is that the constitution was not written to include minorities or women. Since that time, great progress has been made in the way of obtaining rights for these groups, but in a time when police brutality, racism and Islamophobia are on the rise, the movement to rid political correctness is a dangerous one.
As people begin to believe that hate speech is an acceptable form of freedom of speech that should be upheld as something progressive, more and more people are harmed by the rhetoric of Donald Trump and find it acceptable to unleash the part of us that is Donald Trump — the part of us that lives our lives based on fear of one another and clings to an old glorious past that never existed.
On the chance that Donald Trump does become president, I will not live my life in fear.
I will not let myself be Donald Trump.
Rabab Jafri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.