As the most divisive presidential election I've witnessed comes to a conclusion in a few weeks, I'm reminded of a tweet sent by former Congressman Joe Walsh during the tragic shootings of police officers in Dallas, "This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you."
What does he, and many others, define as Real America? And who are they to define an American? It seems that Walsh and a growing number of people emboldened by the Donald Trump campaign see anyone not like them as "other" and have deputized themselves to be the American arbiters by retrofitting McCarthyism, sans the communist angle, which provides a broader and therefore more divisive set of criteria. Who are Real Americans?
Surely the actual President of the United States is a Real American? Hmmmm, not so fast. President Obama doesn't seem to qualify although he was born in Hawaii, which last I checked has been a state since 1959, or after being elected twice. Trump has been inferring that the President wasn't a "Real American" with the middle name Hussain, which he over-annunciates in continuing his not-so-veiled questioning of Obama's faith and birthplace. No other president has been subjected to the scrutiny President Obama has over the past eight years. Could it be because he is our first Black president and has a name given to him by his Kenyan father? Uh yeah. But Trump knows his audience. Even after the President produced a birth certificate, according to a recent NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll, 72 % of registered Republican voters continue to still doubt his citizenship. In addition, a CNN poll from last year found that 43% of Republicans think the President is Muslim . President Obama is not Muslim but what if he was? How biased is our electorate against the "other" that being Muslim would be seen as a negative? I imagine a Jewish presidential candidate would be under attack for not being Christian. That was evident as Trump went after a Muslim Gold Star family whose heroic son made the ultimate sacrifice for his troops and country. What if Trump had insulted Chris Kyle's family instead of Humayun Khan's? Hmmmm. Attacking the "other" is accepted. As another example, what if Trump had body-shamed a high-profile country singer instead of former Miss Universe who was from Venezuela who he called a pig and a housekeeper (as if those two insult-intentions were somehow related, I admire hard-working, noble housekeepers). Hmmmm. Like most bullies, Trump and his followers pick on the easiest targets, never the biggest kid on the playground.
Another target is the Black Lives Matter movement. Let's be clear, there would be no America without the bold, powerful, organized dissent of our Founding Fathers (guess women weren't allowed to dissent back then). Protesting, organizing, and trying to make change is as American as watching NFL on Thanksgiving while gnawing on a turkey leg. Remember the Suffragette movement? The Civil Rights movement in the 60s? El Movimiento or Chicano Civil Rights movement and now the Dreamers movement? Or the Stonewall Rights movement? These movements were all seen as disruptive yet have shaped America forever, although we are still works in progress. And so will the Black Lives Matter movement and other efforts which will rise up in the near future to address injustices. Does that threaten Trump, Walsh, and others as it did George Wallace in 1963 when in reaction to the Civil Rights Movement he declared "Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!"
I wonder how conflicted Wallace would have been rooting for the US Olympic gold medal gymnastics team that made up of Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas, who are African American, Laurie Hernandez who is Puerto Rican, Aly Raisman, who is Jewish, and Madison Kocian who is White? To me, they represent what makes America great RIGHT NOW but not everyone roots that way.
Reports continue to pop up of high school students waving pictures of Trump and shouting "build a wall" at Latino-majority opponents during basketball, soccer and football games. Are immigrants and the sons and daughters of immigrants, even those who were actually born in America, not considered Real Americans? Trump would say yes (except for his wife of course, she's not that kind of immigrant).
But be clear that Trump, Walsh, and their disciples are not alone.
According to the Public Religion Research Institute, which conducted a survey on the subject last year just as the Trump train first left the station, 58 percent of those surveyed believe that you have to be born in the US and nearly 90 percent believe speaking English is critical to being "truly" American. Then there is religion. According to the same survey, nearly 70 percent said belief in God is critical to being considered a "real" American and 53 percent that you have to be a Christian. Do you see how Trump has been able to spew his hateful rhetoric against immigrants, refugees and Muslims with impunity among his adoring fans? The table was set and he simply served up the meal that the customers ordered.
On that note, I opened my copy of Costco magazine, boasting the 2nd biggest circulation in the US, which featured two young, innovative visionaries who are "undoing" food by creating products with educational components that promote healthy, sustainable, accessible and fun products. These social entrepreneurs have been recognized by BusinessWeek, Inc., and CNN as examples of what America needs to better compete globally ... Uh oh, one is Colombian immigrant and the other first-generation of Indian-descent named Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora respectfully. I guess they don't count.
Let's see who else has or is bringing great value to America ... Albert Einstein, Elie Wiesel, Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Van Halen, Sergei Brin? All White but all were immigrants. Maya Angelou, I.M. Pei, Muhamad Ali, BB King, Ellen Ochoa, Harriet Tubman, Yo Yo Ma, Dr. Pedro Jose Greer, Langston Hughes, Junot Diaz, Duke Ellington, Carlos Santana, Bruce Lee, Isabel Allende, Charles Drew, Delores Huerta, Sundar Pichai, Rita Moreno, Dr.Ahmed Zewail, Thurgood Marshall, Sonia Sotomayor, I could go on and on - but think of how different history would have been without them ... but they were all, well, too colorful in the eyes of some to be considered "Real Americans."
Here's the problem for the people who have taken it upon themselves to decide who is or isn't a "Real American" ... according to Census projections by 2044 we will have a majority minority in this great country. In other words, minorities will make up more than half of the population. In our school system, it is already a majority minority. The population trends will further define what America looks like. But let's focus Whites instead of non-Whites - subtract from the White population all of those that aren't Christian, all those who are GLBTQ, all of those who are against semi-automatic weapons being protected by the second amendment, and so many other criteria that define being a "Real American" to some. Who is left? More importantly, who is being left out?
REAL AMERICANS like me and many others including those I mentioned in this post -- that's who. I'm a "Real American" and so are the millions who are being targeted and defined as "other." We bleed red, white and blue. We admire the journeys of Americans throughout history including the one to get here. We understand our responsibility to help other Americans survive and succeed. We also dissent and fight for justice. We respect the religious beliefs or non-beliefs, heritages, sexual orientations/identities, ethnicity, gender, political leanings, and so many other features that make America great. America is actually great because of us. WE are all "Real Americans."