By Aubrey Shayler
Executive Director & CEO of International Women's Initiative
From the beginning of 2016 until now I have overheard conversations between strangers, as well as participated in talks with friends and family all over the world about their disbelief in the popularity of Donald Trump, and his win in the recent US presidential election. The overwhelming sense of disbelief among those who did not vote for him has been strong. My response in early 2016, and my response now, is always the same: I am not surprised that he won because he has given a voice to a section of the American population that for decades has had to hide in the shadows, and share in their beliefs on the fringe of society. His presence on the world stage, and in all aspects of the media, has provided permission to those who have for decades been under the control of political correctness against their will. With Trump came permission and an unmarred stage for hate.
Trump’s campaign and subsequent election has energised white supremacist groups and jingoistic individuals by igniting their hatred and making the use of bigoted speech acceptable and encouraged. However, it is more than that. Trump has made hate normal and popular. Yes, there are a few of us holdouts who have resisted taking the low road, to crawl on our underbellies like vermin, going tit-for-tat in a game of “who is correct?”
As it is technically Trump’s right to spew hate, it is also the right of an American citizen to vote for whomever they choose. The “Make America Great Again!” campaign platform under which he ran expressed hope that America will go back in time to the glory days. Back to the times when being gay was the equivalent of perversion, when being a person of colour meant something shameful, when being female meant being inferior and childlike, and when being non-Christian meant damnation. When having the right to live, work, pray, learn and love was a distant hope rather than an achievable reality. For people who want our country to move backwards to the past when being white, in particular a white male, was great, Donald Trump is their saviour.
For those like myself who continue to resist the aversion thrust upon us by the new US president, it is vital that we stand our ground and encourage love and tolerance over hate. There is excellent cause to shun Trump, a man who has been alleged to be a racist, misogynistic, pathological liar.
Although there have been leaders who either gave nuanced nods to their bigoted beliefs, or have in an underhanded way made clear their opinions to the public, there has not been a president of the US in modern history who has blatantly verbalised hate speech and encouraged illegal, hate-filled behaviour and violence towards other people. His choice of language is not just words or sentiments, it is evil and it is dangerous. This evil settles into everyday life, when people are unable or unwilling to recognise it. It makes its home among us when we are keen to minimise its veracity or describe it as something other than what it truly is. This evil lies to us, and says things that only those with weak minds can understand. To them it is simply a normal verbal exchange, but to us it is the legitimisation of the beast that is Donald Trump. This is not a process that began a week, or a month, or a year ago. This kind of evil has always been here. But now it has been given permission to take centre stage.
I have heard at nauseam from those who voted for him, who have asserted that they do not agree with the negative things he says, but that they do agree with the policies he will enact during his time in office. There is a growing “us versus them” mentality between Clinton/Trump supporters, with the latter often feeling as if they are being portrayed as hate mongers for having voted for Trump. To those who voted for him I say the following: “I am unconcerned that we have differing political views. This does not make me think less of you. I think less of you because you saw with your own eyes as someone spewed clear racism and yet you voted for him. I think less of you because you watched this man equate a woman’s worth to her appearance and yet you voted for him. I think less of you because you heard him with your own two ears bask in the glory of sexual assault on women because he was entitled and yet you voted for him. I think less of you because you saw shown around the world this man ridicules a disabled person before a crowd of thousands and yet you voted for him. Your politics do not upset me. What makes me think less of you is your personal willingness to overlook a candidate’s cruelty, sexism and racism, and vote for them anyway.”
To get through the next four years, and possibly longer, I will take heed of former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, who said: “when they go low, we go high”.