Before I get crucified for that headline, hear me out.
It wasn’t his fault.
Obama didn’t create Trump willingly, but his presidency did create the conditions to enable the election of Trump. This is the main issue that we have to take from this election, and the thorny one that America – and the world – is going to have to tackle. That the mere fact of an African-American family occupying the White House could lead to such an outpouring of vitriol and hatred from many Americans – and, indeed, ultimately lead to the election of a quasi-fascist demagogue – is probably the most terrifying consequence of the Obama presidency.
When Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, the United States – and the world – it seemed, were united in elation at the election of the first black President. Except they weren’t. There were many people in America who still viewed Obama as a “Negro”. Sixty years after desegregation, there were still many people in America who found the idea of a black President abhorrent.
And there were quite a few white gentlemen in the House and Senate who shared the same views. And those gentlemen decided they would do whatever it took to stop any kind of change that this new President suggested. And in doing so, they started a movement. They started a movement that put paid to any kind of rational debate. Anything that the left – or Obama – suggested was wrong. Full stop.
The movement first emerged as a loose affiliation of gun advocates, Christians, and right-wing conservatives that became known as the Tea Party. After that movement started to wane, its members were left looking for political leaders.
The remnants of the Tea Party were a natural fit for Trump. These people are the ones America rarely even acknowledges exist. This is the ugly detritus left over from the Civil War, from the Jim Crow laws, and from desegregation, that has been bubbling under the surface of American society. Trump just gave them a face.
I heard a phrase recently which resonated with me: “The left thought they had won the cultural war.” And this is true. The left in America thought they had achieved “relative” equality for women, for the LGBT community, for minorities. So much so that they thought they could delve into the details and parse some of the more nuanced issues, such as, transgender bathrooms, the conversation around the issue of consent, safe spaces in colleges, etc. But it appears they were wrong. It would seem that they put the horse before the cart. They started to parse the nuanced issues without realising a large percentage of the population still weren’t on their side for even the larger issues.
For the past eight years, a large swathe of the population (white, conservative, Christian) felt that their voices weren’t being heard, that the only people Barack Obama and the “liberal” media cared about were minorities and LGBT folk. I’ve personally heard Americans complain that they’re sick of hearing about rights for transgender people, about the plight of refugees, and so on. (What they seem to ignore, of course, is the fact that issues such as transgender bathrooms only became hot button issues because Conservatives chose to fight against them.)
And, of course, we all know that not everyone who voted for Trump was a racist and a homophobe. There was another demographic that he appealed to: the millions of disenfranchised Americans who were having trouble paying their mortgage, paying their healthcare, and putting their kids through college. These weren’t necessarily the types of people who would ordinarily have found themselves on the side of homophobic, guns rights conservatives. But Trump started talking about immigrants coming and taking jobs, companies fleeing to offshore tax havens, and suddenly he started making sense to these people.
But there’s no denying that there are amongst Trump supporters, many who are racist and homophobic and xenophobic. One only has to look at his rallies: at the violence perpetuated against minorities, the anti-Semitic slurs shouted at the media, and the threats of taking up arms if the result did not go their way.
Now, this very vocal, very angry contingent – emboldened by Trump’s victory – is going to try to turn the tide of the past eight years. They are going to “Make America Great Again” by going back to a time before those eight years. Already, “Pink News” reports that the Trump-Pence administration is ready to “repeal Barack Obama’s landmark LGBT discrimination protections”. And this will have the support of many in the Congress and the Senate and many millions of Americans on the ground.
That is probably the most terrifying aspect of this election. And it’s something that America – and the world – must be ready to tackle head on. And, most importantly, they will have to appeal to those millions of disenfranchised Americans who don’t support repealing gay marriage, or deporting illegal immigrants, but who also have no faith in the system of politics as usual.
How do they do this? By starting at a grass roots level. By spending the next two years finding progressive candidates who can retake the House and the Senate, and the next four years finding a progressive candidate to run for president.
And to those who think “people power” doesn’t work, look at what Trump’s people achieved in this campaign. Look at what Bernie Sanders achieved. Remember that a few years before he became president, Barack Obama was a little-known Senator for Illinois.
It’s going to be a tough battle, but the left must try to hold onto every hard-won piece of legislation protecting women’s right over their bodies, protecting the LGBT community, and protecting minorities. The left must appeal to what Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature” lest we succumb to the demons that are surely already pounding at the door.