Martin Luther King once said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This, like so much of what King said, is true, but sometimes it bends the other way too.
And so we find ourselves on the brink of a transition from America’s first black president to its first president endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan in modern times. Why wouldn’t the haters embrace Trump? He launched his presidential campaign by calling Mexicans criminals and rapists, and he subsequently mocked or threatened women, Muslims, blacks, immigrants, Asians, disabled people and others. With each new racist, misogynist, homophobic, Islamophobic, or xenophobic attack there were those who were sure that Trump had gone too far. Many measured the days until his campaign imploded. Now Team Trump is measuring drapes for the White House.
Klansmen, neo-Nazis and white nationalists of all stripes are rejoicing today and boasting about their significant contributory role in Trump’s historic victory. Make no mistake, what happened last night was a rejection of the cumulative social progress won during the Obama era. What’s coming won’t be pretty. When Trump talks about restoring “law and order,” we all should sit up and take notice. Some of us more than others. Muslims are positively horrified at the prospect of a Trump presidency, with some Muslim women already saying they’re hesitant to wear hijabs in public for fear of falling victim to the surging wave of Islamophobic hate crime that has risen along with Trump’s popularity. It may soon, too, be open season on Latino immigrants, as Trump has vowed to deploy a deportation force to remove many millions of men, women and children from their homes, violently if need be, beyond his big, beautiful wall back to the deadly violence and destitution of their homelands. Movements for positive social change should be wary as well — witness possible Trump attorney general Rudy Giuliani tarring Black Lives Matter as “racist,” “anti-American” and accusing #BLM of “putting a target on the back of police officers.” Many black Americans, especially young males, feel like they’re the ones with the targets on their backs now.
The election was also a referendum on the changing role of women in American society. Apparently Americans prefer a serial sexual predator and accused rapist who has not only confessed to, but openly boasted about grabbing women “by the pussy” over an eminently qualified elder stateswoman who has overcome a lifetime of seemingly insurmountable obstacles with grit, grace, intelligence and élan, only to find her hopes and ambitions — and those of tens of millions of Americans and people around the world — dashed and shattered upon that highest of glass ceilings.
Trump’s election is largely the answer to the question of how much change can straight, white American men can handle, and last night we found out. We looked into the mirror and saw the true face of our nation. Some may call this the last dying gasps of an aging old guard losing its battle with the inevitability of social and demographic change. Well, it looks like there’s still lots of life left in that “basket of deplorables.” The dinosaurs aren’t extinct yet. A nation built on a foundation of slavery and genocide does not reform so easily. But take heart; history is progressive, and we’ve been in more dire straights before and emerged a more just society. The great gains of the past half century will not be easily or quickly dismantled. You can thank progressives for that. But we now face the fight of our lives as those who would take us back to much darker days prepare to take the reigns of power.
So what do we do now? We stand up. We fight back. We’ve seen this before, even if we’ve never quite seen anything like Donald Trump before. Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation of black slaves during the victorious Civil War and the subsequent Reconstruction era under Ulysses S. Grant, which saw an unprecedented level of black political participation, gave rise to the Ku Klux Klan and racist repression of blacks that often rivaled enslavement for sheer injustice. The great gains of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, culminating with the Civil and Voting Rights acts under Lyndon B. Johnson, led to pushback in the form of the election of the original “law and order” president, Richard Nixon, and the drug war and mass incarceration that followed. History is action and reaction and we are very much entering a reactionary phase right now.
Our future, and the future of those who follow us, depends upon our resistance to the forces of injustice. Bigotry, hatred and fear may have Trumped love yesterday, but love is greater and stronger than fear. We must love each other. We must fight, united and peacefully, for each other. And may our spirits be buoyed by the certain knowledge that like other dark chapters throughout our American adventure, this one too shall one day be consigned to the pages of history books future students will read with incredulous shock and the righteous disgust of a gentler tomorrow. Until then, stay strong, and good luck to us all.