I woke up Wednesday morning from a nightmare and did not recognize my country.
My children overslept but their father and I decided to let them sleep. How to send them out into a country that hates them? And my kids are grown—teenagers and one young adult. How will small brown and black and Asian and Muslim and Jewish children go to school today, knowing that the epithet that mean kids use to taunt them—“Trump”—now is the name of the next president of the United States? That they will have to learn his name alongside that of our first black president, Barack Obama? What does that horrifying fact say to children of color?
“Take our country back.” It’s a phrase meant to convey the desire of some white Americans to return the country to the 1950s, before civil rights and women’s rights set the stage for a modern America.
But it’s worse than that. In the 1950s, the black men and women and their white allies who fought for civil rights and basic human dignity could look to the federal government. If the racist sheriff and his troops beat them with batons or sprayed them and their children with water cannons, the attorney general would act. The National Guard would come. The national media would communicate the outrage, and white men and women of good will would see the images of brutality and horror and sympathize and demand change. The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department would defend their right to vote.
In the coming years, the worst impulses of the racist cop will have the full backing of the federal government. The Trumpists won’t just be the local police officer with a badge and a gun and a license to kill. It will be the attorney general—Rudy Giuliani, maybe? He delighted in defending the unleashing of violent police hell on black bodies when he was mayor of New York. How much more damage might this man – who compared Trump favorably to the genocidal Andrew Jackson—do with federal power? The New York FBI, revealed to be a bastion of Trumpism, could well come under Giuliani’s control.
And what of our other federal institutions? James Comey, the benighted FBI director, will be just another lackey to the authoritarian that he, through his unprecedented intervention in an American election, helped elevate to power, as will the speaker of the House, and every member of the Republican Party. Everything from the economy to the Supreme Court will be shaped by a man whose vaunted business career is festooned with extravagant failure, who is in untold debt to foreign banks, and who is surrounded by the rejected and scorned fringes of the GOP.
The state legislature that seeks to disenfranchise people of color will be in perfect communion with the Trump Justice Department. There will, for all intents and purposes, be no civil rights division. Perhaps Clarence Thomas and John Roberts will finally achieve their mutual dream of repealing the entire Voting Rights Act. It is as good as gone. There will be no federal protection for your right to vote.
And the men and women of “good will?” They saw the images. They saw the beatings and the tear gassings and the brutality, and they didn’t sympathize. They voted for “law and order.”
They heard the Republican candidate boast on tape, about assaulting and degrading women, and they chose him, over a woman no less, to lead the country. That includes a majority of white women, who voted against themselves.
They think they’re getting their steel factory jobs back, from a real estate developer who never utilized American steel? They will wait and wait and wait. No revived manufacturing industry will come. No wall will be strung across the Southern border. The browning of America will continue. All that will change is the permanent fraying of any sense that we are one country; one culture. We are not. We will stare at each other across a gulf of mutual and permanent suspicion.
And the media? We have covered ourselves in inglory. By first treating Trump as an amusement, then as an opportunity, then as an impossibility, my profession normalized the American nightmare. By treating Hillary Clinton as merely the other side of a bad coin, and her bland political indiscretions as tantamount to criminality, we dragged down an eminently qualified woman to the level of an historically unqualified man. And then we were shocked—I was shocked, and shattered—when he defied all political logic and won.
Last night, Old America and New America held an election. And Old America prevailed. And while Hillary Clinton and her supporters can take some cold comfort in her winning the popular vote, the fact remains that a majority of white men and women, college educated and not, rural and urban, Southern and Northern, Rust Belt and exurban, said yes to white nationalism, yes to anti-Muslim bigotry and the naked anti-Semitism of the alt-right; yes to hatred of immigrants; yes to the degradation and assault of women, and yes even to the elevation of Russia to global leadership. They made Vladimir Putin the leader of the free world. They made America the world’s laughingstock. They handed an unstable narcissist and authoritarian the nuclear codes, along with the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the IRS and the drones. They made a mockery of the nation that elected Barack Obama.
We aren’t going back to the 1950s. We’re going back to the turn of the 20th century.