US Elections: Fascism has not left the building
I didn't burst into tears of relief and joy when it was finally announced that Joe Biden Jr. had won the presidency of the United States. A quiet sonic boom released in my heart, radiating up to my brain. I sat still for ten minutes exactly. I know, because I checked my phone. A friend sent me a message on WhatsApp. It was matter of fact, strictly information, telling me Biden was the winner. I know how happy she was. Like me, I think she was shell-shocked. This is how trauma presents itself in some people. The cause of the trauma might be gone but the feelings of abuse do not dissipate immediately, if ever. And traumatised is exactly what the American people have been since 2016, though it must be unequivocally understood that Black America, Indigenous America and all BIPOC have been traumatised since the inception of the United States. But since more white people have fallen victim to the ever-insidious spectre of American fascism, the collective trauma of the nation has been front and centre.
For Black, indigenous and minorities of all stripes, white America has always been a fascist state. For Muslim Americans, we understood that we were the latest group to be labelled "The Big Bad", like communists were before us. Politicians, on both sides of the aisle, have always attempted to unify the country by presenting a collective enemy we can all get behind fearing and hating. It is how, in part, wars are justified and sometimes won. In the end, it's the lowest hanging fruit, appealing to the basest, bigoted instincts in all of us—and a mainstay of the American political playbook. Trump certainly did not invent bullying and race-baiting. Remember it was a beloved Democrat, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who herded Japanese Americans into internment camps for the duration of WW2.
When Trump was elected, it didn't come as a shock to many of those who have always been victims of systemic racial oppression. Washington DC was the seat of an imperialist power for many citizens, not a haven of democracy and freedom. Most people, including myself, thought that Barack Obama's election indicated that the nation had evolved past its racist roots. This was naïve on our part. Obama's presence did move the needle forward in many respects. One example involves Native American issues. Obama launched an Indigenous Initiative to address the cycle of poverty and denigration faced by Native Americans, yet in some areas of the country, Native American women are still more than 10 times more likely than the rest of the population to be murdered, according to a Department of Justice-funded study (University of Delaware and North Carolina, 2016). This horrific statistic actually reflects a ten-year period, and thus the issue of missing and murdered Native women did not abate under Obama, nor did police brutality against Black men, women and children, even though the sitting president was half-Black and decidedly more vocal about racial profiling. Why is that?
The murder of George Floyd further propelled police violence against Black Americans into the spotlight and, I think, contributed to the downfall of Trump, but his death was not an anomaly. Not by a long shot. Plainly put, America is an intrinsically racist country, and Trump's election in 2016 just reminded white Americans and others not directly and daily impacted by systemic racism, such as myself, that this is the case and always has been.
Eight years of having to watch a half-Black man, his Black wife, and their coterie of liberals gambol around the West Wing, dismantling white American privilege, and making nice with foreigners was too much for the segment of the population that believed the nation was being muddied by immigrants and minorities and those who espoused non-Christian values, such as being pro-choice or gay. Never mind that Obama's White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was both an Israeli and an American citizen and decidedly pro-AIPAC and not a proponent of Palestinian rights, and what of the number of drone attacks on foreign soil under the Obama administration? Under his watch, he took over the programme set out by George W. Bush and doubled the attacks in one year, dropping more bombs in that period than Bush did during his entire presidency. Also, we must acknowledge that the separation of children from their parents at the US-Mexico border was begun by Obama, not Trump. He just didn't build a wall. These are irrefutable facts. Perhaps Obama, understanding that large swathes of White America and the GOP would find his presence intolerable, wanted to show his might, and that he was not going to favour POC at all costs, simply because he was one, and that he was willing to be hawkish against foreigners.
If we follow that line of reasoning, it points right back to the underlying truth that America, at least 70 million of them, the number that voted for Trump in spite of his mishandling of the pandemic, are most likely complete and utter bigots. At the very least, they are only concerned with their own needs and security, the rest of their fellow citizens and the world be damned. As one woman said to me when I asked her why she was voting for Trump, "I need to protect my wealth." She said it without batting an eyelash. What she said doesn't reflect what America has become under Trump; it's what it always was. Trump just allowed it to come to full light.
Perhaps that is why I wasn't immediately joyful when I knew Trump would finally be gone. Seventy million voices made themselves heard. They expressed that they were fully committed to supporting this atmosphere of venality, violence and cruelty. I am surrounded by 70 million fellow Americans who think I am a terrorist, or less than them, or that I don't deserve affordable health care or they want to police my uterus or tell me who I can love. Seventy million Americans who want to protect their bubble of privilege, even if it means fellow Americans may die. And not all of them are white. Yes, a new day is dawning, and I do feel a certain measure of relief, but 70 million is too great a number to think the national nightmare is over. They are already amassing strength and planning on how to extinguish the light in 2024. Fascism has not left the building.
Sharbari Ahmed is a Bangladeshi-American writer living in the US.