It’s time to go low.
I’ve been looking forward to this year’s presidential election for nearly four years. Donald Trump engineered his first presidential campaign in part on the denigration of Muslim Americans like me. With Trump’s America realized, it’s been more of the same, yet somehow even worse: He pushed a collective-punishment approach to Muslim immigration, and he never stopped his constant stream of insidious lies and insults.
The past four years have meant living in a state of constant high alert. I took to shamefully scanning the news for anything that would put Muslims back on his radar. Even false rumors, like Muslim prayer rugs at the border, became dangerous once signal-boosted by the White House. There is a correlation between the president’s words and violence. My community is far from the only one he’s terrorized to the brink.
Trump gave us a lot of warning that this is the exact kind of president he would be, and Republicans elevated him to the highest office anyway. Many liked what they saw when he got there. For me, what was always worse than the president’s words was the gleefulness erupting from the audiences behind him. It’s still sickening to watch Trump’s audience indulge in his performative cruelty. Laughing at bad impersonations of muscular dystrophy, or chanting “send her back” at an elected representative who came to America as a child refugee. Many of these people have been enjoying themselves.
It’s embarrassing to admit it now, but I thought COVID-19 would be what brought Trump’s most devoted to their senses, and awaken them to what this administration has done to much of the country. National disasters are usually an opportunity for people to unite in a shared cause. But while some other world leaders seized on that chance and battled the coronavirus, Trump’s base was more than happy to wait and see what happened when it was the more dense blue states that were suffering. And even after that changed, with red states experiencing their worst rises in cases ever, there has been no hemorrhaging of support in the core Trump camp. We’re promised a close contest in some key states. Trump has a very realistic path to victory. And frankly, that’s making me embarrassed to be an American right now.
In Wisconsin, a state now experiencing one of the highest infection rates of COVID in the country, Trump joked about kissing the women and the men present at a recent rally. The crowd roared, even as the state’s test positivity rate marched toward 30 percent. The numbers should speak for themselves: A study conducted by infectious disease experts at Columbia University found that at least 130,000 of the 225,000-and-counting victims who perished after contracting COVID-19 were preventable, and possibly many more. A separate study found that around 38 percent of the misinformation on COVID that’s helping to perpetuate this pandemic was traceable back to Trump. So can anyone explain how 39.8 percent of Americans actually approve of Trump’s response to the virus? What will it take?
It’s easier to think that there are some issues that matter more to the president’s supporters, like the economy, but because of Trump’s handling of COVID, the economy is much weaker than the one he inherited from Barack Obama. As Trump continued to hurt the Americans they don’t like, most Republicans kept clapping for him. Now that he’s killing their own, many still don’t care. We’ve become numb to this, but the pathology is breathtaking.
Now, as the campaign has concluded, former Vice President Joe Biden has repeatedly promised to be a uniting figure in the country. “Make no mistake—united we can and will overcome this season of darkness in America,” he declared in August, a theme he’s struck in the debates and in his “closing argument” in recent weeks. But who is he speaking to, exactly? I don’t think I want to be united with Trump’s America. Who is expected to put aside differences, to pretend the past four years were simply a “season of darkness” while millions of Americans cackled at our misfortunes behind the president on television?
It certainly doesn’t seem like Biden is talking to Trump’s supporters. Are they ready to be “united” with us, should their candidate lose? Never mind the fact a sizable portion of them are committed to contesting the results even if that happens. For the last four years, many have developed a taste for punishing people, reclaiming an imaginary lost mantle atop American society. They have shown little sign of repentance. Trump’s shamelessness has removed any veneer of shared interests between the two dominating parties in America, between people who have accepted his vision for America, such as it is, and those who have rejected it. It’s not just the Trump base Biden needs to win over, but its victims.
How much longer will we Black and brown people be expected to be the ones to accept the past and move on? This administration’s policies were designed to exclude and even kill us—let’s not forget who this pandemic has affected most—and Republicans voters have punished us by voting for the candidate that promised to make life worse for us. He succeeded. Now what?
I want to focus on constructing a better future. That is, after all, what elections are meant to do. It’s what I’ve looked forward to for four years. But how can we do that without answering for the past four years and its horrors? The fact that the Republican Party has not yet wavered in its support—how can we work together to bring our country back? As Biden leans into former Obama-era language of hope and reconciliation, I can’t help but to think back to Michelle Obama’s famous admonishment that “When they go low, we go high.” That once meant something to me. It doesn’t anymore.