Learning From The History Of Resistance To Survive In Trump’s America

The specter of a Trump White House is unconscionable and traumatizing to many. Some have suggested that we give the president-elect a chance, and hope, even pray for his success ― as if Donald Trump is a normal politician, and it is normal to place one’s faith in a candidate whose ascent to power was based upon raw appeals to ethno-nationalism and white skin solidarity, with a promise to punish an array of religious, racial, ethnic and political scapegoats if elected. We cannot and should not acquiesce to this kind of dictatorial power.

Mainstreaming Trump’s policies and associations means normalizing a fascist leader. Amid the mad rush to normalize a leader of fascist hooligans, Trump’s policies and associations are being mainstreamed. Vowing to deport millions of undocumented Latino immigrants, create a Muslim registry and bring back torture, the president-elect is assembling a cabinet of white supremacists, anti-Semites, Islamophobes and homophobes.

Among Trump’s inner circle are Steve Bannon, the 21st century version of Goebbels and an Ivy League hate-monger as his senior adviser; Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the reincarnation of Himmler as national security adviser; Sen. Jeff Sessions, a white-collar Klansman and the reincarnation of Bull Connor for attorney general; Betsy DeVos, a child labor proponent as secretary of education who wrested the position from homophobe Jerry Falwell, Jr.; Steve Mnuchin, a vulture capitalist who peddled subprime mortgages in communities of color and profited from their fraudulent foreclosures; Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, a potential pick for Homeland Security would send 1 million people to Guantanamo and who has had four people die in his county jail, including a newborn baby; Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who as HHS secretary would end Obamacare, Medicaid, Medicare, funding for Planned Parenthood and access to contraception, and Ben Carson, who as HUD secretary would to bring back racial discrimination in housing. This, as the nation experiences an increase in hate crimes, committed by individuals emboldened by the rise of Trump.

As Americans of good will brace for the revanchist assault on democracy that surely will come—on civil rights and civil liberties, freedom of the press, women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, the environment and the rule of law―we realize our collective backs are against the wall, that the bully who makes our children cry is coming to get us. And we know the lives of millions are in danger because history tells us this. As James Baldwin said, “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” Railing against political correctness and multiculturalism, angry white male supremacy is asserting itself, with the intent of inflicting pain on the multitudes.

While the disenfranchised and marginalized under normal circumstances may turn to the government as a last resort to seek relief from violations of their rights, in Trump’s America made great again, there will be no relief or respite from hate crimes when Trump will enact hate crimes into law. What do we do when the president is the leader of the lynch mob―the very person inciting the violence, then codifying and institutionalizing it –and there is no one to help you? We organize and resist, and learn lessons from those with an education in suffering.

Although there is a long history in this country of authoritarian governments abusing power, there is also a rich history of resistance and rebellion.

As the precedent for the president-elect’s Muslim registry, Japanese Americans—of whom 120,000 were forced from their homes and imprisoned like criminals in internment camps, two-thirds of them U.S. citizens—understand the threats inherent in Trump’s America. Vilified and their loyalty and patriotism questioned, Americans of Japanese descent lived under barbed wire―their lives uprooted and destroyed, their property seized, all without due process. And yet they resisted. Some were draft resisters and conscientious objectors, while others renounced their citizenship. As a community, Japanese Americans fought for and eventually received $1.2 billion in reparations in 1988.

Meanwhile, as Trump plans to immediately deport or imprison up to 3 million undocumented Latino immigrants, it is telling, though not surprising, that Jewish Americans who survived the Holocaust are now reliving their trauma, as the election of Donald Trump triggers memories of being rounded up under Nazi Germany, their families sent to concentration camps and exterminated. They know it all started with hate speech, followed by acts of violence and oppression codified into law―with Jews deemed non-citizens and non-persons with no rights and no humanity, forced to wear yellow stars and numbered tattoos. Now, Jewish American millennials are awakening to a resurgence of antisemitism in America, compelling them to learn lessons and draw strength from their ancestors, who led uprisings in the ghettos and death camps of Europe and joined partisan resistance groups.

In addition, Trump would deprive Americans of their most cherished rights by criminalizing political protest and dissent, imprisoning flag burners and ripping them of their citizenship. Native Americans―who have suffered centuries of official government policies of genocide, relocation, containment and deprivation, along with broken treaties and empty promises—have fought for their land for 500 years. And they have continue to resist their oppression at Standing Rock, the emergent civil rights cause of our time. Water protectors have faced an assault of freezing water cannons, dogs and pepper spray, as they block the 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline across the Missouri River, which crosses into Sioux land without their consent, and could have disastrous environmental consequences in the event of a spill. As a result of the protests—in which veterans participated—the Army has halted construction on the pipeline, demonstrating the power of resistance.

Further, as a multitude of Americans fear for their lives and safety under Trump, black people in this country have always lived with the trauma that comes with facing the incessant threat of death. The notion that black people’s lives are in constant danger—a concept which the Black Lives Matter movement has illuminated and magnified― is by no means a new one. After all, slavery was not merely an institution of economic exploitation and oppression, but also a plantation police state. The threat was so severe, so palpable that 30,000 African-American slaves escaped to Canada in the nineteenth century, liberating themselves from state-sponsored terrorism, imprisonment, forced labor and police violence in America. Similarly, 5 million blacks fled the violence and exploitation of the Jim Crow South during the Great Migration of the twentieth century.

In the wake of this election, I have been reflecting on my great-great grandfather, Henry Whaley, born in South Carolina in 1862. Henry was a baby when his parents Clarissa and Daniel escaped to James Island in Charleston with a group of slaves to save their lives during the Civil War. He was wrapped in an apron on his mother’s back as they crossed the river, with the slave patrol approaching in the distance. According to our family’s oral history, Henry started to cry, and Daniel told Clarissa to kill Henry lest the baby attract the attention of the slave catchers. Had Clarissa killed Henry, she would have taken her own life as well. Rather, she breast-fed her baby to quiet him down, and saved the lives of her son, and all the other refugees in the process.

Those who have endured intergenerational trauma stemming from the relentless drumbeat of injustice have responded by strategizing, organizing and fighting back. Now we must resist the very real prospect of living in Trumpland, that abnormal yet very American place which will expose us to irreversible physical harm, psychic damage and assaults on our dignity—all cloaked in the red, white and blue. Just like the black refugees fleeing slavery, the Japanese-Americans who refused to go quietly to the internment camps, the Jews who resisted in the ghettos and concentration camps of Nazi Germany, and the Native Americans who would not give up their land without a fight, all Americans must confront the climate of oppression and retributive justice in our midst―and fight with our humanity.

It is time for all of us to draw from our collective suffering and fight the good fight against oppression—resist our current circumstances rather than normalize them.

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