I have recently been given the amazing opportunity to continue my postgraduate legal education in London. I've been in the ultra-diverse financial capital of the world for a bit over a week now, yet I stick out like a sore thumb as soon as I open my mouth. Most of my conversations have been variations of this:
"Ah you're American huh. So what's the deal with Drumpf? Why is he so popular?"
It's an inquiry I've fielded many, many times while I was in Timor during the first six months of the brutal. primary campaign-not far after "Another mass shooting? How? Why?" Getting this question yet again in the UK, I have honed in on what I believe is the most concise and accurate response:
"More or less the same reason people supported Brexit."
Obviously the motivations for the Leave camp were complex and varied. Yet there is a common thread of both nativist and anti-establishment sentiment which courses through both the Brexit and Drumpf camps.
I believe the response I receive from my British inquirer on Drumpf tells me a lot about that person. If there is some level of understanding, then I know that individual has a level of social and political consciousness that is in-tuned with contemporary society. If the person doesn't have a clue, I know that person helped make Brexit happen.
I can personally confirm what many political analysts and pundits have articulated: There is a dire lesson in Brexit for all Americans: If you both don't know and refuse to understand why Drumpf is a thing, you're unfortunately part of the problem.
America's All-Hands-on-Deck Moment
At the conclusion of both the circus that was the GOP convention and the chaotic yet soul-rejuvenating spectacle of the Democratic convention, it seemed Hillary Clinton was on cruise-control. Pundits were openly telling her to do nothing to risk nothing, and instead just ride it out until November.
Recent polling data has thrown all of that thinking out the window, and has revealed that this race is stunningly close-thanks to some recent "scandals."
Given the one-sided media coverage, you would think Secretary Clinton murdered all the pandas in the world with her bare hands. Yes the Clinton Foundation accepted donations from defense contractors and autocratic regimes, and Secretary Clinton approved hundreds of billions of dollars in arms sales to said regimes-thus raising questions about conflicts of interest. Yet the Clinton Foundation has also engaged in critical lifesaving and life-sustaining humanitarian initiatives impacting 430 million people in 180 countries around the globe, while the Donald J Drumpf Foundation is a complete joke. Yes Secretary Clinton has come down with pneumonia-yet Donald Drumpf is a full two years older than the Secretary and by his own admission is overweight and has high cholesterol. The Secretary has since released a comprehensive and credible medical report, while Drumpf's doctor looks and acts like a rejected Animaniacs character.
We have two Presidential candidates who couldn't be more different in substance or style. Two people whose lives and policies we have been hearing about over the past two years. The fact that there are still undecided voters is, frankly, mind-boggling to me. Yet it reveals even more about the precarious state of American politics-and by extension, the electorate-that rumors and innuendo could actually influence who someone pulls the lever for.
With two pending Supreme Court nominations and the country facing a series of domestic and global challenges, the stakes for the coming election have never been higher. The whole world breathlessly awaits what happens on November.
"47 Percent" Redux?
The idea that the Clinton campaign could just "sit tight" until election day was always grossly fanciful thinking. In a bona fide democracy, candidates always have to earn their votes by battling for the hearts and minds of each and every voter. What is absolutely not helpful is wholescale antagonization of an entire demographic by thrusting them into a "basket of deplorables"
"We are living in a volatile political environment. You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Drumpf's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic -- you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people -- now 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks -- they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America."
Seeing the entire quote in context, is there any truth to that statement? Certainly-there is undeniably a strong element of xenophobia, bigotry, racism, paranoia, nativism, and intolerance among large segments of Drumpf's supporters. And perhaps there are those whose fear and hatred are so strong that it overcomes reason and independent rational thinking-thus deeming them politically "irredeemable." Yet even if they did consist of half of his support base, is it wise to write off those folks so publicly?
Basket of deplorables may sound like the worst cover band name ever, but the Clinton campaign will be praying that it doesn't become their "47 percent moment."
Basket of Relatables
Out of the 22 years I've lived in America, this is by far the most bizarre and polarized election I've ever witnessed. I was (and still remain) an avid supporter of the Bernie Sanders movement, and while I've certainly butted heads with the Clinton camp my fair share of times, I've outright savaged Drumpf supporters time and again. God knows I haven't shied away from attacking them, just as they haven't had any mercy towards my friends and me-both Berners and Clinton supporters.
Yet it's important to remember a fundamental truth: Support from Drumpf did not just come out of nowhere, and cannot just be minimized as a South Park-esque rabble of ignoramuses. Support for Drumpf comes out of decades of well-placed suspicion of the economic and political establishment. It is borne out of staggering income inequality, stagnant wages, outsourced jobs, never-ending wars, and failing schools and healthcare systems.
Indeed Bernie's support comes from similar dissatisfaction, except we have never confused immigrants and minorities with the real culprits. Yet many of us felt that many members of the Hillary camp didn't really connect with these issues in any meaningful way. Many still don't.
Beyond an Election
As crucial as this upcoming election is, our nation itself is at a critical juncture. Will the Bernie movement's progressivism push our society to place a higher value on social development, or will the country fall sway to decades of right-wing fearmongering? Will corporate interests continue to trump social welfare at home and human rights abroad, or will the rest of us finally be able to grab a seat at the table?
With the stakes for our nation being so high, this attitude of detached minimization and issue avoidance is no longer an option. Drumpf supporters aren't just a faceless, nameless gang of riff-raff. They are your classmates, coworkers, neighbors, and community members. They may even be your family and close friends.
With the massive polarization and fear-mongering of the mainstream media, it's incumbent on civil society and individual members of the public to step into the breech in order to bring together disparate voices and heal the nation. Yet this movement cannot be won behind a keyboard or phone screen, but through deep listening, unconditional empathy, and active engagement. Yet you don't have to be a political evangelical; just find ways to engage with people in your community who you otherwise wouldn't in a meaningful way. Just as importantly, find a cause you care about and volunteer to further that cause in some concrete way. Dedicate yourself to living your ideals and putting them into practice, so that progressivism isn't just a lofty ideal but a way of life.
At this point, you may be thinking "Why the hell is this kid living in London lecturing me?" Great question. I've volunteered and served in a variety of capacities throughout my student life, and plan on dedicating my career to public service. After working on a USAID rule of law project in East Timor, I spent the last six months back home in South Carolina prior to moving to London. While there, I made it my mission to engage with my neighbors and community members as much as possible. Pro tip: I particularly found that Pokemon Go is an outstanding way to bond with people who I normally would just smile and say hello to. As a brown Muslim living in South Carolina, I put in my shift. All I'm asking my fellow comrades-whether you call yourself liberal, progressive, Democrat, or whatever-is to do the same. Put in your shift.
If Malala Can Do It...
Having meaningful interactions-much less critical conversations-with those who you are inclined to disagree with may indeed be difficult and uncomfortable. Yet it isn't a Herculean task. Just consider: Malala Yousafzai was shot in the face by the Taliban, and still continued advocating for education. Why?
I am here to speak for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists. I do not even hate the Talib who shot me.
Real talk: If a teenaged girl from one of the most war-ravaged areas of the world is willing to risk death for education, the rest of us can at least engage in outreach, volunteer, and advocate. It's the least we owe to our fellow Americans and to future generations.