Make Me An America I Am Not Ashamed Of

Trump outlines his immigration policy to a rally in Phoenix, Arizona.
Sept. 1, 2016.
Trump outlines his immigration policy to a rally in Phoenix, Arizona. Sept. 1, 2016.

I am ashamed to be American.

I stayed up until 5 a.m. in London, watching as the electoral votes slipped from Hillary’s grasp into the hands of a demagogue. I went to my lectures, facing sympathetic looks from my international peers, commiserating with my fellow Americans abroad. Because everywhere else in the world, we are not celebrating.

How can we? How can we consciously celebrate the wholesale announcement that America is made of a majority of Trump supporters? Of people so disillusioned and terrified that they would pick an illusion of security over the rights of their coworkers, neighbors, daughters. In September, Trump visited my home state of Arizona to deliver his hallmark address on immigration policy. Out of curiosity, I attended the rally. I left shaking. It wasn’t his own words that scared me—though they were disturbing in their own right—it was the reactions of his supporters about me.

Intermixed with “USA!” chants: a woman shouting that illegal immigrants ought to be tattooed, two men conversing near me about how women who receive abortions ought to be jailed, parents instructing children, little girls no more than five, to shout “Lock her up!” People approached me, a woman of color, sweetly praising me as “one of the good ones,” implying that goodness was an exception for my ethnicity. When mothers that lost their children to border conflicts were brought onto the stage, some with tears and choked voices as they accounted their trauma, the audience screamed and interrupted at them to repeat themselves, to speak louder and more clearly. When a disabled man in a wheelchair parted the thick crowd, he left a wake of disgruntled supporters muttering about how “a wheelchair doesn’t give you special treatment, he shouldn’t have even come.” Trump locked onto their uncertainty, and transformed it into undefined fear of faceless opponents: the immigrants, the un-Christian, the unseen manipulation of the polls.

Before the rally began, it seemed like a normal homogenous crowd in Arizona. People were polite, joking about the repetitive pop music that played before speakers took the stage, even ensuring that those with children had a view. But Trump flipped the switch, and let the demons out.

Trump has whipped his supporters into a frenzy more cult than political party, supporters that through their votes have said: Your rights and dignity as a woman, as a minority, are not American. Your rights as LGBTQ, are not American. Your faith, whether you are Muslim, Jewish, anything outside the Christian “norm,” are not American. Respecting you, respecting the actual tenets of the Constitution or democracy, is less important than my fear of a tenuous unknown.

No longer are Americans the kindly neighbors next door. They are what Trump has made them. And they have made Trump president. They have defined America. We are not the home of the brave. We are home to cowards, cowards that have claimed the label “American” by force. And for that, I am ashamed to be an American.

We ask, “What will his presidency look like?” It does not matter. We ought to ask, “What does his presidency represent?” For even if Trump cobbles together coherent plans for the economy, health care, and foreign policy― it starts here, the decline of the American brand. This election, most notably the character of the electorate is telling to the world that the grand American experiment is over. There is no going back. Make America great again? Prove to me that you can make an America I am not ashamed of.

Unlike many Trump supporters, I can put a name to the face of my fears. Social media posts haranguing Clinton voters, extolling a new era of “extreme vetting” and isolationism have been rampant, celebrating that all three branches of government will be under one wing. Friends told me of Trump supporters harassing Wellesley students of color as they exited a school building the day after the election. Trump’s own first 100 Days plans and statements are worrisome—they include the rollbacks of guarantees for equal wage, anti-discriminatory practices, health care, and much more for myself and vulnerable populations. Under Trump, a new generation is out of opportunities for careers in the federal government, as he pledges to institute a hiring freeze for all federal jobs outside of military and security positions and eradicate the Department of Education entirely. I fear that America’s international strength and image will be tarnished, that our status as a moral leader is diminished, that our credibility and ability are irreparably harmed. I fear I’ll be out of a job, let alone be able to receive equality in pay, hiring, and respect. I fear that the social progress in the last eight years will suddenly unravel, unchecked by any branch of federal government. I fear that when I return to my country, more people will feel emboldened to shout at and attack me for my gender and ethnicity.

Some of these fears do mirror those of the Trump electorate―I understand some of the motivations for a Trump vote. Feelings of being left behind in a globalizing world, distrust in government, preference for a certain tax or health care policy that would benefit you, personally. These reasons make sense.

But allow me to address a Trump voter directly: no matter how justified you felt, no matter how legitimate your reasons, you decided that your privileges and advantages trumped equality, trumped my safety and fears and hopes, trumped the basic inalienable rights that the Founding Fathers held so dearly. You may not have considered yourself racist, homophobic, misogynistic, or sexist—but your vote indicates that you don’t care that others embody those dangerous qualities. You are telling me that I am not important, valued, or safe in the country I was born in. And it is difficult to forgive you for that. But I readily recognize your importance, and the rationale of your fears, no matter my personal beliefs. I went with you to your rally in an attempt to understand, to empathize. I patiently heard your arguments. I concede. I respect you as a citizen, I respect your right to vote and to have an opinion. I respect the extent of your efforts to make yourselves heard and your interests realized.

In the next four years, I only ask you do the same for me.

CONVERSATIONS