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A lesson I learnt in 2017? Hating Donald Trump can bring people together

Before Trump became president, too many Americans denied the existence of racism and sexism. Now, they must confront it, says Arwa Mahdawi

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By Arwa Mahdawi on

Want to know the best thing that happened in 2017? The greatest, most tremendous, most bigly thing that happened? Well, Donald Trump, of course!

Look, I admit that when the election results came in last year I was horrified. I’m a Brit who has been living in New York for the last seven years and I thought the Trump presidency had put a full stop to my time in America. That’s it! I’m leaving! I said to everybody who would listen. Of course, like everyone else who threatened to leave, I didn’t. And I’m glad I didn’t because, while the past year has been terrifying, it has also, in many ways, been incredibly uplifting. While I’m not often overtaken by optimism, I honestly believe that, as long as one of Trump’s 3am tweets doesn’t trigger a nuclear apocalypse, America – and the world – is ultimately going to emerge from the Donald dynasty a better place. Hear me out.  

The first step is admitting you’ve got a problem. That’s what they say isn’t it? That in order to recover you’ve got to stop denying you’ve got a problem. Well, America’s been in denial a very long time. It’s been drunk on the delusion that it’s a post-racial society; high on the lie that it’s a country where everyone’s welcome.  

THIS ISN’T AMERICA! I’ve heard that claim again and again from white liberals over the last year. THIS ISN’T AMERICA! I’ve heard people exclaim, aghast, as Trump implemented his Muslim ban; as Nazis marched in the street; as Trump insisted violent white nationalists comprise some “very fine people”.

But as most minorities could have told you a long time ago – as most minorities (in particular, black women) were, in fact, telling you a long time ago – THIS IS AMERICA. Unfortunately, not many people bothered to listen. And when they did listen it was normally in a dismissive sort of way. You’re not going on about that whole racism malarkey again are you? Not when there’s a black president! There’s no point being stuck in the past. It’s such a downer! Move on!

It’s not just racism that has nowhere to hide anymore. With a proud misogynist in its highest office, America has been forced to confront gender equality in a much more urgent way

It’s nice to believe that November 4, 2008, marked the death of intolerance in America. That as soon as Obama was elected into the White House the United States packed up its racist baggage and consigned it to the dustbin of history. But that’s far from the case. Trump may have emboldened bigots, but he didn’t invent them. And now America must confront the racism it has spent a long time trying to deny.   

It’s not just racism that has nowhere to hide anymore. With a proud misogynist in its highest office, America has been forced to confront gender equality in a much more urgent way. It’s an urgency that got millions of women marching in the streets around the world last January; that got the sort of people who’d never been to a political protest in their lives demonstrating. Discussions about feminism are no longer dominated by questions of ways women should Lean In to the status quo, or whether wearing make-up is empowering. They’re dominated by a fear that, if women don’t mobilise, we’re going to be living in a version of The Handmaid's Tale in the very near future. I really believe that we wouldn’t have had the #MeToo movement if Trump hadn’t been elected. He was when we decided enough was enough.

Now America’s starting to come to terms with what it has spent so long trying to ignore, we’re witnessing what may be the beginning of real change. I’ve never seen so many people so passionately engaged with politics – on both sides of the Atlantic. I’ve never seen so many people so scared but I’ve also never seen so many people so energised.

Women and minorities are running for office in record numbers. It’s been reported that since Trump’s election, 15,000 women have contacted She Should Run, an NGO which is committed to getting more women to run for office. In the UK, Trump’s election has boosted membership of the Women’s Equality Party.

And record numbers of women and minorities are being voted into office. In November’s local elections record numbers of minority Americans became the change they wanted to see in the world. Andrea Jenkins became the first out trans woman of color elected to public office in America. In Virginia, Democrat Danica Roem defeated the Republican incumbent who once referred to himself as Virginia’s “chief homophobe,” to become the state’s first openly transgender elected official. Seattle elected its first lesbian mayor. A Liberian refugee became mayor of Helena, Montana. In December, Democrat Doug Jones beat the Trump-supported Roy Moore in Alabama.

Some people have written these results off as a blip. But I think it’s just the beginning of the Trump Effect. Sometimes you need to go backwards to go forward. There’s no denying Trump is dragging us back but he’s also put an end to complacency and spurred real action. It’s my hope that, in the not too distant future, this will bring us all forward.


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