“The greatness of humanity is not in being human, but in being humane.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
As Americans grapple with the results of the recent election, I have also struggled to understand certain elements of what happened this year. Sure, I can empathize with Midwesterners struggling with the effects of globalization and industrialization. Losing your job and struggling to pay your bills and provide for yourself and your family is very real and depressing. While globalization and technological advancements have prompted the decline of certain industries, this was, in many cases, inevitable and necessary. Our President Elect, who staked his campaign on the concept of making America “great” again, has peddled a narrative in order to manipulate these folks into voting for him, all the while knowing that he will not be bringing coal jobs back to Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. Coal is a dying industry. While I empathize with anyone losing their job, our world and your children’s futures depend on the extinction of coal energy and other fossil fuels.
The sad part of this story, is that his message resonated with a lot of people. There are a lot of angry white men in this country who don’t want to hear an intelligent woman telling them how they should move forward in their lives, and how She is going to help them provide for their families. The “Great America” that once was would see this woman in her rightful place, back at home taking care of the family, and trying to hide their financial shortcomings by whatever means necessary. She would not be publicly acknowledging them and offering solutions the Man was unable to procure on his own; humiliating his pride in the process.
There are a lot of angry white men in this country who don’t want to hear that a Black Man could have possibly helped them in any way shape or form. There is a segment of this population that believes to be great is to be white, and to be white is to be great. There’s no need to sugar coat that any longer for fear of being politically incorrect. Another tenant of Donald Trump’s campaign was this idea of saying “Fuck You” to political correctness, and telling it like it is. The man has suggested grabbing women by their genitals against their will, and he will now be the next President of the United States of America. Apparently nothing is off the table. There is a segment of this population that does not recognize the humiliation of seeing Donald Trump’s name written in our history books alongside our Founding Fathers because their racism has blinded them beyond the point of sound judgement. Barack Obama brought this country back from the brink of economic collapse, provided healthcare for millions of America’s most vulnerable citizens, progressed the rights of millions of LGBT Americans, killed the mastermind behind one of the most horrific acts of terrorism ever experienced on American soil, potentially saved us from WWIII with Iran, and made strides to combat one of the greatest threats facing the world and its future which is climate change. But he is black. There’s no way he could ever do what his white predecessors were unable to. Go back to our previous lesson if you must. White is great remember? He must be discredited. “I don’t even think he’s American?” This is racism folks, and if you voted for Trump you are guilty by association at the very least. He was the first to craft this lie about President Obama and then lie about creating it. And there is a segment of this population who does not care that he lied to their faces more times than is even necessary to count, because he is white and a man, and that is the “Great America” that they want to see restored.
Personally, as a gay man in this country, I don’t want to go backward to any point in America’s history. There will always be things to improve as we move forward, but that’s the necessary effects of an imperfect people seeking “greatness.” As a gay man in this country, I empathize with our Hispanic population who have seen their prominence rise in society throughout recent history, only to become demonized as rapists and drug dealers murdering our innocent children in the streets. As a gay man in this country, I empathize with women who fear that their access to contraception and inexpensive healthcare from organizations like Planned Parenthood will become obsolete. The same women who struggle to understand why their paychecks continue to be 2/3 of what their male counterparts are making even though their work is equivalent and often times better? As a gay man in this country, I empathize with young African American males who have the highest unemployment rate of any segment of the American population, and who are now facing blatant racism and discrimination that we thought unspeakable until President Elect Trump made his vow to restore us to our past “greatness.” And no, my “gayness” does not dictate my political views, but my social values very much do, and they are undeniably shaped by the life I’ve lived and the experiences I’ve had as a gay man in America. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
So when your President Elect Trump calls for “making America great again,” really understand what that means. Who was America ever great for? Honestly. America, throughout its history, was only “great” if you were an angry white man. Now those same angry white men have been given a voice and a power. You see it in the horrifying acts of racism and discrimination being plastered across social media lately. You see it in the anti-sematic markings popping up around high schools and colleges across the country from kids who never knew what life was like in the 1930’s. But we also know that hate is not something we are born with. Racism is not something engrained in us. We are taught to hate and fear what we perceive to be different, which means we can also learn to love and accept those very same things. We see that “love” in much of our youth, who are still able to maintain their innocence in a society wanting them to become cynical. As Gandhi reminds us, “The greatness of humanity is not in being human, but in being humane.” What this tells us is that to build a truly great America, we can not simply wish it true, or hand the responsibilities off to an individual and relinquish responsibility. To be great, we must treat each other with kindness and respect. We must bridge the gaps that divide us, and recognize that without equality for all, the rights of every American are in jeopardy. This is no easy task to accomplish, and we may never fully accomplish it to be honest. But our constant strides toward this ultimate end will only seek to move this country and the world forward in our common quest for “greatness.”