Over the past year, I’ve been asked a different variation of the question: “What has Trump done to you personally?”
At first, I rejected this question completely on account of its innate racism, with the implication being that I, a white person, was immune to nefarious political reform.
The question, of course, ignores my privilege and downplays this administration’s continuous assault on human rights by asking how they affect “me” and me only.
I am a heterosexual, white person in the wealthiest nation in the world, and to say something is not a problem, or as big of a problem, because it impacts people of color, immigrants, Muslims, the LGBTQ+ community more than myself is itself supremely intolerant and representative of Trump’s supremacist rhetoric.
Yet, this question was put forward again and again by people, by friends assuring me of their genuine curiosity, and I began to wonder if they might actually be that clueless.
So, I’ve decided to respond but with the understanding that human rights violations, blatant misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, and racism affect every single one of us.
A world full of hatred and intolerance harms us all. We should take it personally.
When Trump ran his entire campaign on fear and pushed for a border wall, revealing his separatism and intolerance, I had just begun teaching college writing courses. With his election, numbers in white supremacist and other extremist organizations soared, and fear abounded among minorities and the marginalized. Understandably so, for Trump unfoundedly accused Mexicans of being criminals, rapists, and drug dealers on national television to nods and applause—suddenly, people of color felt publicly “othered” in a way they hadn’t experienced in 50 years.
When he attempted to end DACA and then banned immigration from Muslim countries, two of my students stopped coming to class. They were international students. They were afraid. The university—a place that had once been safe and welcoming to them—was now another institution of a government out to get them. Would they be safe to pursue their degrees? Would their path to citizenship be honored? Or would they be labeled criminal, dangerous, and alien, and sent off to a country they didn’t remember?
I had to fail them for attendance.
I had to stand up in front of 25 other students and explain that international students make up large percentages of our student body and faculty, they are valued members of our community, and any suggestion otherwise would not be tolerated in my classroom.
I had to ask a student to leave for making intolerant remarks about his classmates, remarks that were emboldened by this administration and repeated on media outlets, remarks that made some of my students afraid to pursue their education, and made them feel unwelcome in a place that is supposed to feel safe and open and diverse.
When Trump laughed at the exposition of his “grab them by the pussy” remarks, he reinforced the idea that it’s okay to talk about and behave toward women this way, that we were created solely as receptacles for the sexual urges of men. I heard many men I respected echo him and make light of the historical hatred, abuse, and dominion over women. Some of my friends even said, “Well, we all have spoken like that before,” and laughed it off.
Locker room talk, they call it.
A man at my work said, “They were taping him; he wouldn’t have said that if he’d have known it’d come out.” These reactions suggest that this behavior is okay, acceptable, just not “politically correct.” The idea here is we can talk down to women, we can objectify women, and we can even physically assault women because their own bodies aren’t under their control—so long as we do it quietly.
And maybe you think this shouldn’t bother me. It doesn’t directly affect me, you say?
But, now, I find myself acting differently around those friends, dressing differently at work, and being timid with my opinions or perspectives in all circumstances lest I “step out of line.” I’m cautious, unsettled. I know I am safe to disagree but only slightly, not enough to provoke men. Often, I feel like a joke. Like I’m not being taken seriously. Like the men around me smile and carry on the “real” conversation.
I’m just some angry feminist, right? Men are actually in control, right?
When Trump made fun of war heroes, when he mocked Senator John McCain for being captured at war, when he suggested that the only military members who should be celebrated are those that come home whole, unhurt, and uncaptured, he directly insulted every one of us who knows and loves a service member.
When Trump made these obscene, un-American remarks, I was married to a disabled veteran, a man who, even after our divorce, remains one of my dearest friends.
My ex-husband enlisted at 18 years old, became a military police officer, and then left for 13 months. He came back with an injury that led to seven back procedures before he was medically retired from the United States Army. Because of his injury, he had to endure procedure after procedure; there were days that he could not walk up the stairs or uncurl his toes. He had to leave his career; we had to move to a new state; he was denied position after position in police department after police department because of his medical history. He never once complained or regretted his service. When asked about his disability, he makes light of it or dismisses it as “an old back injury”—he doesn’t want pity or attention or everyone thanking him.
He is a hero.
And Trump is an arrogant jackass who insults us all, directly and personally.
When Trump called non-white nations “sh*thole countries” and stated that the U.S. does not want immigrants of color (only white immigrants from places like Norway), Trump directly offended me, my partner, and many of our friends.
I have visited Haiti. I have studied Haiti and the disastrous French and American policies which have crippled Haiti. I have friends living in Haiti right now. Anyone who has been to that beautiful country knows that it is far from a sh*thole. And anyone who has half a brain and reads a bit of history before they run off at the mouth knows that Haiti’s economic situation was not caused by a hurricane or a series of them, but rather by purposefully destructive French and American policy.
Haiti spent over 100 years paying France for the inconvenience of losing their slaves when Haitians led a successful revolt; yes, they paid for over a century for being stolen from their own country and traded, enslaved, tortured, burned, hanged, and raped. Talk about reparations! America backed France on this. Look it up.
Furthermore, I have friends, students, and colleagues from several other non-white nations that aren’t deemed worthy by Mr. Trump. The most intelligent, compassionate, badass woman I know is a first generation from Barbados. A great friend and translator who risked his life to help the U.S. during its occupation of Iraq had his visa revoked as a part of Trump’s policies. A young boy I know, yes personally, had his process halted after he spent hundreds of dollars applying to come to the U.S., hundreds he did not have, and now lives on the streets in his home country trying to find a way to pay for his next meal.
Once upon a time, Italian and Irish immigrants were the unworthy. Yes, not so long ago, we were unworthy. And yet, as we have climbed the ladder, not only have we forgotten what it was to stumble up each rung, but we have pulled it up behind us so that none might ever climb again.
But maybe the thing Trump has done which has affected me most is indicated by this very question: “Seriously, what has Trump done to you personally?”
You see, I will never lose friends or disconnect with family over politics, never. But I will detach myself from relationships over core values and the denial of basic humanity. And this very question has lost me friends.
What has happened during this presidency, which differs from all during my lifetime, is widespread division.
Trump has divided us.
He has turned us against one another.
His beliefs and remarks and policies have justified fear of others, disdain for people of color, hatred of women, abhorrence of Muslims, rejection of the LGBTQ+ community, repudiation of transgenders, and, most recently, the destruction of immigrant families through forced separation.
And you have the nerve to ask what he has done to me personally. You sit there and insinuate that these things are inconsequential because they do not directly touch those of us who are white, heterosexual, and Christian.
And that is what drives us apart—your denial of the humanity of people who do not fit your categories. You somehow believe that these things do not affect us, do not harm “us,” because we, thus far, fit Trump’s definition of what is human and worthy of basic rights.
You are wrong. It does hurt us. Denying humanity has always hurt all of us.
We, as Americans, have broken friendships, separated from partners, disowned family members, stopped attending our churches, left our jobs, and closed the door on our neighbors. Even right now, though I am answering your question, I have lost respect for you. I now understand that you do not acknowledge injustice unless that injustice is pointed directly at you. I understand that you believe women are lesser. I understand that you believe my partner is other. I understand that you believe my friends and family members are unnatural and unworthy and criminal. I understand that you are not the type of person I will want my children around.
And so, where does that leave us, old friend?
Now, you know what Trump has done to me personally. He has taken you and all the others whom I used to love.