I stayed up last night checking various election result sites hoping against hope that, somehow, Trump will not win the presidency. For me, a lapsed Muslim from Pakistan, a professor of literature, and as a brown man married to a white woman there was more than the presidency at stake. I was hoping that the more hopeful version of America will sustain this reactionary onslaught, for that is the America that keeps me going, that gives me some hope for the world. I am not naive enough to believe that Clinton inhabited all these good values: But her public vision was connected to the kind of America that is noble, open, and lovable.
In opposition to her, Donald Trump, in so may ways, talked of an America of the past and his personal behavior and the collective behavior of his followers portrayed an America terrified of its neighbors, afraid of differences, and comfortable in publicly shaming anyone who looked or acted different.
So, when Trump won last night, his version of America won. In other words a majority of Americans elected the “Ugly American”as their president. In doing so they also, by the power of their vote, sanctified his positions and his views of the world and his views about people like me. I know they have a right to their political and cultural opinions, but that does not necessarily mean that their opinions are right and good for America. So, I will say these few words and then stop thinking about this and about the future of America.
So, go ahead America: build your walls, turn back the clock and call us what you want to call people like us, tell women to stay at home, tell the minorities to know their place, tell the gay people to go back into their closets. Become a racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, monocultural space; your enemies already impugn all these qualities to you. Their arguments now will be more convincing, more forceful, but maybe you will be fine behind the walls–literal and metaphorical–that you will build. But even a cursory history of the world and walls built by other great powers teaches us that walls cannot save them and that all empires, including America, implode because of the cultural rot within. This siege mentality, this insistence on a purist past, this normalization of bigotry is not your strength but the symptoms of that rot.
Yes, I am deeply aware of my insignificance in the great hierarchy of things. I am a humanist in this highly technologized and corporotized world; all I have is words and a few impractical ideas about making this world better. Trump’s America does not need people like me . For the past fifteen years, however, I (and many others like me) have been fighting your ideological battles in far-flung parts of the world. No one asked us to do this, but people like me, with lived experiences in America, felt impelled to always tell our Muslim, Pakistani audiences that America is not just a super power; that America is not just Hollywood or the American government. We said to our skeptical constituencies that there was a lot of good in America and that most Americans were decent, caring, and compassionate people. This line of argument allowed us to create a space in our own polarized native countries, a space for the more hopeful and caring America: it humanized America to our native audiences. I know, I know, what people like me do is not really significant; it does not even registers on anyone’s radar here. But I have been doing this work of culture incrementally for more that fifteen years now. I have talked to hundreds of audiences and stood unapologetically and called them on their “generalizations,” on their misperceptions of “true” America. It took a lot of courage to do so, for it is easier to bash America to please a crowd.
But today, I have lost my faith in this so-called goodness of America. I know, to the followers of Trump losing someone like me is not such a big loss. I am, after all, just another brown person from somewhere out there, from one of those unpronounceable places. You have lost me America. Go redeem yourself. Send out YOUR best to the world to do YOUR work of culture. I am done with being an “apologist” for the kind, progressive, and tolerant America, the America that died last night!