In the sort of bold stance against tyranny that has come to define this election, many white leftist Americans have taken to Twitter to send a message: “Donald Trump is #NotMyPresident.”
Both an easy means of protest and a canny moral PR move, these declarations serve to announce that while Donald Trump may technically be the heir to the highest office in the land, there are those who don’t think he should be. And they want you to know it. Badly. This isn’t their fault. Really. They do not support this guy.
I have some bad news.
Trump is your president, and he is mine as well. Most importantly he is the president of everybody his administration will attempt to deport, defame, torture, assault, silence, subjugate, and murder over the course of the next four years. Donald Trump is not just the President-Elect. He is our President-Elect.
I don’t mean this to say that Donald Trump is your president and is deserving of your respect. No. No way. Fuck Donald Trump and the gleeful wave of white nationalism he rode in on. If Donald Trump dies before he gets to office, I will not shed a tear. If Donald Trump happens to pull a Zachary Taylor, and celebrate the Fourth of July with a lethal cocktail of cherries and milk, this nation will be the better for it. You are not obligated to show any esteem for Mr. Trump now that he has been wedged into America’s political system by the spectacularly outdated Electoral College. You don’t owe him anything.
But as white Americans we do owe it to our fellow citizens to own the mess we made. We do not get to wash our hands of Donald Trump and the ruin he could bring on this country with a quick tweet. Whether or not we cast ballots for Trump or ballots that indirectly enabled him, he is our president and we do not deserve to escape that reality.
Because as pre-election polling illustrated, whiteness was the core of Trump’s appeal. Trump won a majority of white men. He also won a majority of white women. He won a majority of white Americans without college degrees, but he also outperformed Clinton among white Americans who had them. Whether you are old or young, if you’re white, Trump won your demographic.
In fact, men and women of color were the only groups by which Trump was solidly bested. If Hillary Clinton had somehow managed to stage some last minute coup to hit 270 before her opponent, it would have been because of no single demographic more than black women.
As a queer man, it was also quite shocking to see how much support Trump was able to pull among white gays, who seemed energized by the Republican nominee’s shameless pandering, rapt at how well he used the fallen Latinx men and women (many of whom were probably the victims of the racism that is present within the mainstream gay community) of the Pulse massacre as a new avenue by which to promote Islamophobia. Perhaps it was naive of me to think this wouldn’t be the case. I, maybe, should have been able to anticipate that―with calculated racist deflection―Trump would be able to convince wealthy white gay men that their skin tone and their money might insulate them from the barely hidden homophobia of the Donald’s campaign, which had regularly promised to appoint the sort of Supreme Court Justices who would shred marriage equality, and which touted a Vice Presidential nominee who openly supports the arcane evil of conversion therapy.
So, as I see it―whether or not you or I voted for Donald Trump, no matter how vehemently we denounced him on social media―he is absolutely a product of us, a Frankenstein’s monster comprised of the surviving institutions of this country’s white supremacist past. Donald Trump is the product of a system that we enabled, and that we regularly benefit from. There is no president in the history of America who is more our president than Donald J. Trump.
That might seem unfair to you. Perhaps Trump is the antithesis of everything you stand for, and you sincerely loathe and reject his legitimacy with every fiber of your being.
He is still our president. Because even the most passionately progressive of us, even the most vocally activist, have―at one point or another―turned a blind eye in order to save ourselves from discomfort. Whether it was before we knew what was happening was wrong, or because we worried how people might react to our choice to stand up, we have all been enablers at one point or another.
We have all normalized racism.
We have all normalized xenophobia.
We have, all of us, crafted progressive movements that have excluded or downplayed the voices of people of color. We downplayed skepticism of both Hillary Clinton among black voters. We celebrated the potential landmark victory of November 8th by creating a monument to the woman whose movement forced Ida Wells to the back of their parade.
Even if, when the sum of our thousand small failures came knocking at the door, we did all we could to keep it closed, we do not get to participate in this #NotMyPresident nonsense—the Pontius Pilate of hashtags.
Now, some might argue that this is a show of solidarity, a way of letting people of color in America know that there are some white Americans who will stand by them. If solidarity is the goal, however, this seems like a pretty lazy way to do it. Because rather than putting forward plans to protect people of color, or even by explaining one’s own experiences with the evils of Trump’s message, all this hashtag does is create distance between the poster and the Donald’s ascendency. It’s not saying, “Here are the ways I am with you. Here are the things that bring us together.” It’s just saying, “I’m not with him. Please don’t lump me in with that. I swear to God I didn’t do this.” Which is kind of a shitty way to show solidarity, if you think about it. It’s actually really not showing solidarity at all. It’s not about educating oneself and―through empathy and action―aligning oneself with the specific concerns of people of color. It’s sort of just about saying that you’re not one of the people who wants to trash those concerns. It’s more or less the solidarity equivalent of the kid in dodgeball who nails someone else then immediately says “I quit!” before a ball can come his way.
And we, frankly, run the risk of enabling a second such disaster. As people of color, immigrants, queer, trans, and disabled Americans contemplate what a Trump presidency might mean, we still see pundits settling on that true victim of this whole situation: the poor white people who we just didn’t listen to.
While it may be true that we as a nation have not done a good enough job listening to all economically disadvantaged Americans, it is also true that the largely white political establishment has done little if anything to criticize the racism and xenophobia that still hums like electricity throughout this country. We have tolerated proposals to downplay black history in our public school curriculums; we have allowed the persistence of racist cultural symbols and holidays; we have let America ignore its past and the violent ghosts that still haunt our nation; we normalized the foundations of the nonsense of white pride.
So, Donald Trump is your president, and he is mine as well. If Donald Trump is not the president you personally elected, he is the president whose path to victory was fueled by the same systems that have continually worked for both your success and mine.
As far as I see it, angry white Americans should not get the chance to make themselves feel better by symbolically escaping the realities of a Trump presidency that will be all too tangible for everyone else. For four years, Donald Trump will be our president to a degree that will be felt by some every single day. And while it might feel good for white liberals to express their hatred for the United States, it feels somewhat tasteless to declare it so loudly only now that the our ever-present ugliness has coalesced on such a public stage, and has been gleefully declared the next occupant of that house built by slaves.
So, we can fight Donald Trump. We should fight him with every ounce of energy we have. We should roll up our sleeves and get down in the mud, because this is a matter of life and death, and it always has been.
My fellow white Americans who find themselves shaken by this election: we must fight President Donald Trump from the day he sets foot in office. But we do not get the moral luxury of disavowing him. Only once we can guarantee that our whiteness will no longer be the cudgel by which this country’s hatred and fear is brought down on Americans of color may we say that a man like Donald Trump does not represent us.
Donald Trump is your president. Donald Trump is my president. He is the distillation of everything that has put us, as white Americans, front and center in this nation.
We don’t suddenly get to slink offstage.