The flood of text messages and emails of concern from my white liberal friends began late Tuesday night when it was clear Donald Trump was going to win. And the outpouring continued through Wednesday with listeners calling my SiriusXM radio show offering similar sentiments.
Some expressed fears and even said they had shed some tears thinking of what life would be like for those in the Muslim community under a President Trump. Others were more playful in expressing their apprehension, such as one friend who texted, “If you need a safe house while waiting for your steamer to Canada, let me know.”
The fear many Muslim Americans—as well as other communities of color—have at the prospect of life under a President Trump is very real. I saw an example late Tuesday when I was leaving Clinton’s “victory party” at the Javits Center in New York City. There I walked by a young Latina girl who was 10 or 11. She was crying about Trump winning. Her mother then tenderly comforted her with the words, “It’s going to be okay. We are going to get through this.”
She was right. We will get through this. True, it’s painful that Trump won but Muslims and other minorities have a thick skin given the hate we have been subjected to in recent years such as the recent spike in hate crimes against Muslim Americans by self-professed Trump supporters.
But let’s put this in context. We may have lost an election but we are not defeated. We will neither move to other countries nor retreat to the shadows. We will never surrender. In fact we must do the opposite. We have an obligation as not just progressives but as Americans to make it clear that we will not be silent in the face of Trump's sexism, racism and bigotry.
All of us who value pluralism, equal treatment for people of all races and faiths, and believe in respect for women must become more active in politics. We must speak out even more. We must push back even more against any attempts by Trump to turn his hateful rhetoric into laws.
We must also inspire each other in these dark days to realize that our best days are ahead—and not because it sounds good, but because it’s true. How can I make that promise to you? Well the history of our nation tells us so.
For example, when George Wallace the racist pro-segregationist took office as governor of Alabama in 1963, I doubt many would’ve predicted the very next year the Civil Rights Act would be passed. Or that the following year the Voting Rights Act would be signed into law despite other Southern states having elected openly bigoted officials. But the activists back then achieved these feats by tireless grassroots work often marked by bone-crushing setbacks. In fact Dr. Martin Luther King’s words from that time are perfectly fitting for today: “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
Of course, we can’t pretend that racism and bigotry did not play a role in Trump’s victory. As CNN’s Van Jones powerfully and insightfully told us Tuesday night, Trump’s win was part of “a whitelash. This was a whitelash against a changing country. It was a whitelash against a black president.”
But we must not dismiss America as being horribly racist because Trump won. The facts just don’t bear that out. First off, Trump did not in any way get a mandate. In fact, with almost all the votes tabulated, Clinton beat him by over 200,000 votes in the popular election. (Imagine how much Trump would’ve whined that the election was “rigged” if she had won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote by that margin?!)
Plus 52.5 percent of American voters voted against Trump. We should be proud that we are part of the 52.5 percent opposed to Trump’s campaign, a campaign openly championed by David Duke and other white supremacists and anti-Semites.
And there are more reasons to be optimistic. In this election the poster child for racism against Latino immigrants, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, lost his bid for reelection in Arizona. We also saw history made in Minnesota where Ilhan Omar, a Muslim and a refugee, became the nation’s first Somali-American to be elected as a state representative.
But I don’t want to sugarcoat this. Life under Trump will be challenging for communities of color. Imagine Trump actually picks Rudy Giuliani, a man who has called Black Lives Matter “racist” and “un-American” as he his attorney general as is rumored?! And I fear what Trump would do if God forbid we have another terrorist attack on U.S. soil perpetrated by a Muslim. At the very least he will call for us to have less constitutional rights. But Trump would likely propose for more drastic measures, such as special ID cards or worse.
Yet still I remain optimistic because I believe Trump will be a cautionary tale for progressives. His victory will be invoked to inspire more people to get involved in politics in coming elections to ensure that we elect local and federal officials who embrace American values and reject hate. And hopefully in the 2018 midterm elections we can replicate the success the GOP saw in 2010 when they regained control of the House and took five Senate seats.
So my fellow progressives take it from a Muslim American who has been through a lot, if more good people become active and work together for a common cause, in the end we will prevail. And that is not just good for liberals, it’s good for the United States of America.