Politics & Society

This article was first published in polish in Polityka on November 13, 2016.

From the “Ivory Tower”

When the election season began, I was working in the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science in Kiev helping to develop education policy in a post-Maidan Ukraine. At the time, Trump had already proposed building the wall between the US and Mexico. He had relegated the Mexican population to rapists and murderers and had proposed an all-out ban on Muslims entering the country until we could “figure out what was going on.” This was long before the recorded tapes on the Access Hollywood bus revealed Trump’s egregious behavior towards women.

A colleague paused one day as we carried out our usual research at the Ministry and asked me if I thought Trump actually had a chance of winning the election.

“Yes.” I said simply and began typing anew. At once she regaled me with questions like how? why? In America, really? In America, everyone is equal…

So then I explained to my co-worker the resentment people felt against the establishment, against the perception that Clinton was dishonest and criminal. Make no mistake, for most of the voter base, these are imagined accusations because the large majority of voters never read the “Podesta papers,” the set of e-mails released to WikiLeaks outlining the “pay for play” transactions that took place between corporate America and the Clinton Foundation. Indeed, most people, fueled by the irresponsible reporting of the mainstream media, chose to focus instead on the ominous and dangerous private server. But they were smart enough to know she was lying, she was cheating and that something wasn’t right.

Additionally, most of the population feels that Clinton was mysteriously and clandestinely involved in the Middle East, giving rise to what we now call ISIS. Very few truly understand the longstanding American policy of regime change in the Middle East, largely backed by Saudi Arabian money, that has been carried out by almost every American President since at least 1953. Syria today is no exception (See Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s great article on EcoWatch for more on this: http://www.ecowatch.com/syria-another-pipeline-war-1882180532.html).

But more than that, I had to try and explain the nature of race relations in America, and the tensions that have been building in the country. I explained that, for the last eight years, Americans have been grappling with Stop & Frisk policies and unapologetic police violence against black and Hispanic populations. I delineated the systemic racial injustices that plague our inner cities, our schools, our neighborhoods and our prisons. I recommended Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Era of Colorblindness as a primer on some of these injustices.

I told my colleague and dear friend that the racial tensions in the United States are, and always have been, very real. After all, Trump chose to run his campaign on racist rhetoric for a reason- it works and it resonates.

I have to admit, even as I said those words, I didn’t truly want to believe them. Indeed, the media points us to an entirely different America, one where Trump’s inflammatory remarks are unacceptable and where racism is only harbored by an extreme few, those remnants left behind and illegitimatized in a post-Civil Rights America. My education taught me that we were a country of immigrants, a melting pot, a place where we could be anything we wanted to be if only we could dream it. But I was also raised in a minority family in the United States and I taught in the inner city of East New York, Brooklyn. I knew very well that structural racism and unspoken racism permeated our society.

Towards the end of my term in Ukraine, the United Kingdom shocked the world by voting to leave the European Union. As a graduate of the College of Europe- an institution founded after WWII to bring together and educate European, and now truly international, youth on the principles and concepts of the European Union- I was amazed. The one question on my mind in the aftermath of Brexit was this: Will the United States follow in Great Britain’s footprints and knock on the door of disaster in a protest vote for Trump?

To add insult to injury, Bernie Sanders lost the primary elections and, soon after, WikiLeaks exposed the collusion between the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton to support her as the Democratic candidate even before the primary voting had begun. The DNC- required to be neutral throughout the primary- and Hillary Clinton undermined the primary elections, perhaps the greatest betrayal of the American people in this election season.

My Ukrainian friend still didn’t buy it. None of the information, statistics, or sources would convince her that the bigoted man on the airwaves could ever become President of the United States and Leader of the Free World.

It didn’t work in my favor- a half-Mexican, half-Iranian, female, millennial- that none of the mainstream media outlets seemed to support my claim of Trump’s likeliness to become President nor of the widespread appeal that his inflammatory rhetoric was garnering. Only The Young Turks, “the largest online news show” preferred by millennials, seemed to really take seriously the potential of Trump becoming the President, galvanizing support for Bernie Sanders and then urging the mainstream media not to underestimate Trump when a Sanders candidacy was ruled out in the primaries.

I left Kiev in July and made my way to Warsaw, praying that the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine would reap the rewards the people had hoped for when they demanded a corruption-free, democratic, and pro-EU government in 2014. With the Brexit vote still on my mind and the US election drawing nearer, I considered the double-edged sword that democracy can be. Heading to Warsaw, I was aware of the elections that had taken place here too, the results of which shocked many Varsovians. All I could think was: What is the world coming to?

I woke up on election day, having already cast my vote at the U.S. Embassy, and hopeful that Trump would not be our President. Don’t mistake me, I do think that Clinton is an extremely flawed, entirely establishment, and corrupt candidate. But I worried much, much more for my gender, my people, and the delicate state of race relations in the U.S., and what Trump would mean for them. The bar was lowered this election, instead of focusing on ending corruption, reimagining America’s foreign policy and fixing the economy, many of us voted to save our identities and liberties, things which we thought were long since secured before this election.

Trump’s election as President of the United States impacted me a lot more than I thought it would. After all, I had been prepared for the possibility of him winning right? I watch The Young Turks right?

Wrong. I realized in that very moment when I woke up on Wednesday morning and saw the results, that I desperately wanted to be wrong.

The first emotion that unexpectedly crashed into me was fear. I was afraid for my former students in Brooklyn. I was afraid for my sister in California. I was afraid for the LGBT community. I was afraid for friends and family who fall into the baskets that Trump has sought to condemn throughout his election campaign. I didn’t fear mass deportations or a quick tumble into fascism, rather I worried what this validation of bigotry and sexism would do at a grassroots level. In a country torn by a divisiveness I have never experienced in my lifetime, what would it mean to have a President that legitimized the feelings that people have been keeping under wraps for so long?

I am not afraid of Trump. I am afraid of what Trump has ignited in people, feelings of hatred and prejudice that have become unacceptable over the past five decades.

On the day after Trump’s election, the media, Hillary Clinton and President Obama urged Americans to accept the results of this election and to be hopeful.

The media has asked those of us who supported a Clinton victory to reconsider our position in society as “elites” who sit in “ivory towers” in places like California and New York and to try to see the other side of things for those less fortunate than us. As a millennial, Hispanic female who has student loans and likely no prospect of ever owning a home, in the U.S. at least, my ivory tower is feeling mighty exposed to the elements right about now.

I do understand that we were forced to vote between an incredibly flawed establishment politician and a man who chose to make bigotry his great equalizer. I understand that this was a tough decision for many. But when something is wrong, it is never okay to let it happen, to accept it, to support it. What happened throughout this entire election was not okay, but that is not an excuse to allow darkness to prevail.

As Americans, we have a lot of work to do. We need to get money out of politics. We need to fix the economy. We need to ensure that education is equally available to those who want it. We need to keep guns off of the streets. We need to stop the exorbitant and racially biased patterns of incarceration. We need a media that focuses on the important issues and provides real information, not catchy headlines. We need to take real steps towards removing fossil fuels entirely and turning towards sustainable and efficient energy sources in order to sufficiently combat climate change. We need to reconsider the relevancy of the electoral college in today’s society and consider amending the constitution to remove it; transforming the United States into a direct democracy.

Trump may not turn out to be the monster he portrayed himself to be in this election season. Maybe he is not a racist bigot or a sexist. Maybe he won’t pull the US out of NATO, the Paris Accords, or our commitments to our many partners around the world. Maybe, as Trump is known to do, he will have changed his mind about everything tomorrow. But the campaign he ran exacerbated some of the darkest feelings in America. A leader should be one who brings out the best people, not one who feeds off of the worst.

I have watched the past two days unfold from Warsaw, Poland. I found myself worrying for our Polish partners, even though Polish leaders were quick to reach out to Trump and congratulate his victory. If Trump is to be trusted at his word, then he is very likely to make amends with Russia, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As someone who never experienced the Cold War, I personally don’t see Russia as my enemy, and never have. But I do know that Russia has taken aggressive military action over the past 20 years in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. I only wonder what this means for Poland and many neighboring countries who have long feared the threat of Russian aggression.

Perhaps Trump will change his tactics and begin bringing out the best in people. Perhaps he will serve “all Americans,” as he said he would in his acceptance speech. Perhaps he doesn’t treat women the way he bragged he did. Perhaps…

All we can do now is hope and stand ready to defend those things we believe in and hold most dear.

My Ukrainian colleague messaged me on Viber on the day of Trump’s victory:

“OMG Trump is winning”

“I know” I said “I told you…but I so wanted to be wrong.”

#millenial #minority #female #feelthebern #bringbernieback #tyt