JISHOU, HUNAN — Yesterday we had English Corner, a regular event to give students a chance to practice their spoken English. During a lull in the activities, one student came over to ask me questions about the election of Donald Trump (R-Blowhard) as president.
I’ll start with the last one, which floored me. “You know, I would like to study in the United States after I graduate. Will I as a Chinese be safe there?”
Before Tuesday, I could answer this fairly confidently, “Yes, of course.” For the most part, students asking that question were not worried about prejudice against Asians, but about Americans toting guns everywhere. This time, though, the reason for the question was different, and not easy to address.
Since Trump won, there have been scores of reports from across the USA about whites deliberately attacking African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, Asians, immigrants — anyone not obviously a white “American” — and telling them to die or leave.
The worst incidents end up on the news, and that news finds it way around the world. Once perceived as a country of tolerance which welcomed people from all over the world, the United States now is perceived as a dangerous place for anyone not obviously white and “native.” [Not to be confused with actual Native Americans.]
The student’s question was deeply personal, and to be honest, I did a poor job of convincing him he would be OK, because I am not sure he would be. I said only a minority of Americans would attack him for being Chinese, and that most Americans are welcoming and friendly to visitors.
Are they now?
Aside from that, Trump is also a sexist pig, a pathological liar, a cheat, and a narcissist with the attention span of a two-year-old. What the fuck were you thinking voting for him? Are you that stupid? Don’t answer that. I already know.
Trump spent his campaign declaring that all Muslims must leave and all Mexicans were rapists and drug dealers, and as white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and bigots of all stripes (now collectively self-referenced as the “Alt-RIght”) rallied around him, he did nothing to reject that support or their racist and nativist philosophies. In fact, some of the people closest to him are unabashedly members of the Alt-Right movement.
I’m a student of history. I watched in horror as Trump supporters threatened reporters at rallies, physically attacked anti-Trump protesters, and gleefully embraced the whites-only isolationist platform of their leader. Members of the Alt-Right refer to him now as “God Emperor” and “Our Leader.” Trump is now the center of a cult of personality, created by some of the most hateful members of American society.
I wish I could say those attitudes represented only a minority of Americans, but more than 60 million people voted for Trump, 26% of the voting population. Another quarter of eligible voters chose Hillary Clinton, while about 100 million just didn’t vote. [For that last group, I leave a nice big “fuck you.” (Unless you were prevented from voting, then pardon me.]
In a just world, in the vision of America I carried in my heart and mind, a racist demagogue like Trump would not have garnered 60 million votes. I was prepared for a small minority to worship him as their savior from the hellhole they feel the USA has become, and even to welcome his promises to expel the Other from the fictional White America they carry around in their hearts and minds.
I was not prepared to witness such a man be elected. I was not prepared to realize that my vision of a just and welcoming America was also a fiction. In one day, my perception of the USA and the people in it was demolished. And I have spent the last few days feeling as if I had lost a loved one to some horrible accident.
Anyone who voted for Trump, even after hearing his racist promises to work miracles to benefit white people, was patently supporting his racism. Just as Trump gave permission for the Alt Right vermin to scuttle out from under their rocks, anyone who voted for Trump gave racism their seal of approval, too. I now know for a fact that fully a quarter of American voters are totally OK with a candidate who attacks people of color and members of an entire religion for no good reason other than their non-white, non-Christian-ness.
So, if you happened to have voted for Trump, don’t tell me. Because if you do, my respect for you will be gone. I’d just rather not know.
My promises to that student were empty ones, because truthfully now I cannot guarantee any of my Chinese students (or any of my non-white, non-straight American students, for that matter) will be safe from some ignorant yokel telling them to go back to China where they belong, or assaulting them physically, or treating them like non-persons. I can’t, because Trump had too much support.
As for the student’s other two questions, my answers were also not exactly encouraging. It’s a hell of a position to be in, as an unofficial ambassador of the USA to China.
Question 1: How will Trump affect trade with China? Answer: He has said he wants to enact trade barriers and tariffs, which will raise prices for Chinese-made goods, which ultimately will reduce Chinese imports to the USA. China’s economy may suffer.
Question 2: What are Trump’s policies toward China? Answer: I don’t know. No one really knows, because he has not announced any policy statements.
America has had bad presidents before, and the nation survived. I can only hope we can survive and recover from four years of a unpredictable megalomaniac who ran on a platform of hate. Hope is all I’ve got at this point.