Op-Ed: Reflections on the American election

Op-Ed: Reflections on the American election
Drew Angerer, Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

“Every Trump voter is certainly not a white supremacist, just as every white person in the Jim Crow South was not a white supremacist. But every Trump voter felt it was acceptable to hand the fate of the country over to one.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy

As I write, the 2020 election is still undecided. Trump, true to form, has sent his gaggle of lawyers to stop the counts in Michigan, where Biden leads by the slimmest of margins. As a Canadian, I don’t like that I am so fixated by events south of the border. Every day I wake up to give thanks I was born and live in Canada, B.C., Victoria: an outsized privilege if we’re counting on a global scale. But as a Canadian, born into the privilege of the middle class, a fourth-generation descendant of Scots and Welsh immigrants who came to Manitoba, Alberta and, eventually, British Columbia, to build a life for their children and so on and so on, I am unable to fathom how, given what the world knows about the Criminal-in-Chief, so many can still, four years on, STILL, cast a vote for the man who, if re-elected, is content to let herd immunity be the ‘plan’ for combating the worst global pandemic in a century.

I remember reading Ta-Nehesi Coates in the Atlantic a few months after Trump’s inauguration, (I’m paraphrasing but it follows the thread of the quote above) “Not every one of the 63 million republican voters is a racist, but the question that should be asked of each of them is, why did you vote for one?” A fair question, and there’s a range of responses I’ve heard and read in the intervening four years of this clown-car-going-over-a-cliff that is the Trump presidency.

“He’s saving me money.”

“Roe v. Wade”

“Build the wall (and make Mexico pay for it).”

“Tax cuts for the wealthy will benefit everyone.”

“He’s making Libruls cry.”

I’m not going to argue the merits of any of these (they’re bulls**t, btw) but instead reflect on the concept that, as a block, white Americans don’t want a truly equal society.

Umair Haque, a writer and founder of the website Eudaimonica&Co, writes, in an article published Nov. 1 entitled America’s Problem is that White People Want it to be a Failed State, that white Americans, in the majority, have never embraced equality for all. I reacted with, “That’s not right, no way that is what is happening south of the border.” Then I read the article. Here’s a couple of quotes, but I highly recommend reading the article yourself. Haque is certainly not the only writer who claims, like George Packer in the Atlantic, that the USA ticks all the boxes of ‘failed state’. Here’s a sample from Haque:

This election is about white America, and if it really wants to live in a democracy — or if it’s happier living in a fascist society. White America is America’s problem. A big, white, ignorant problem. …the question is: “well, who brought it to this point of self-destruction?” and the answer is….white Americans. White Americans are the rich world’s most hostile, ignorant, violent, cruel, and selfish social group — by a very long way. “Voting conservative” after all doesn’t mean nearly the same thing in Europe or Canada. There, even conservative parties agree on the basics — people should have healthcare, education, retirement, that the only point of the public purse isn’t endless war and death machines.

As a Canadian, I can verify that American conservatism is not like here. Certainly not on the social side of the ledger, where it is almost universally a given that government stays out of our bedrooms and minimizes the role of religion in the public realm. When I was a first-year student at SFU, I took History of the American Civil War, and I remember clearly what the professor (Aberbach, I believe was his name, himself an ex-pat) said when discussing causes for the conflict. That liberating slaves meant that a huge segment of impoverished, Caucasian Americans no longer could pretend to be superior to an entire group of people. Horrific for them to contemplate and they would go to any length, including self-imposed poverty and indentured labour, to maintain the status quo. I didn’t believe my professor, but 40 years later, and watching things unfold in real-time, I have changed my mind. How else to explain what is happening in the USA? There is a swath of white Americans, a swath that comprises the majority of white Americans, that embrace guns and God but who do not embrace real equality. They react to the Black Lives Matter movement with “All Lives Matter.”

No matter the outcome of the election, and we’ll know soon enough, I look ahead with both pride and relief that I am Canadian, but there’s no escaping the enormous influence the USA has on Canada and the world. (I know, too, that we’re far from perfect here, and that condemning events in the south does not mean I get to be smug, there’s plenty to do here.) But searching for a reason that 60 million Americans shamelessly check the box next to Trump’s name, I find myself surrendering to the arguments of people like Coates and Haque and coming to the conclusion that until the white majority in the United States come to truly embrace a view of society no longer rooted in Jim Crow I will no longer be shocked or surprised by events, as hard as I wish it to be otherwise.

This opinion piece is by Mike Ippen. Mike Ippen lives in Central Saanich. His new novel, Saint Illuminator’s Daughter, is available on Amazon and Indigo. When not writing, Mike may be spotted in his garden feeding hummingbirds or passing judgement on delinquent squirrels.

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