by Ahmed E. Souaiaia *
Trump said many things that offended many people. Muslim Americans were among those offended by his comments on refugees, terrorism, and Islam. Now that he is elected to be the 45th president of the United States, should Muslims freak out?
To answer this question, I include this essay, which I drafted in June of this year in response to some of my colleagues’ comments. I said then that support for Trump was not a passing moment: Trump will be president. Here he is: President-Elect Trump and in about two months he will lead this country… to somewhere. I did not publish the essay then because it could have been perceived as an attempt to influence young voters, like the ones I have in my classes. Now that the elections are over, I will share it. It is still as relevant now as it was then.
I should add one thought since we now know for sure that Trump is elected president: He is the legitimate president produced through the system as is. But his election and the process should not and cannot be allowed to legitimize and legitimate racism. The task of resisting falls on the shoulders of civil society institutions as understood in the broadest sense possible. A democracy is as strong as its civil society institutions.
Electing Donald J. Trump president of the United States of America
by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
June 9, 2016
Thus far, Donald J. Trump used some of his own money to finance his presidential campaign and he thinks that his support comes from outside the political establishment. With such real or perceived autonomy, he was able to make some of the most outrageous comments that allowed him to be the lead story in every news outlet–for free. Some conservative commentators thought that his campaign will eventually collapse because Mr. Trump does not represent the Republican Party. To his credit, he is now the presumptive nominee and that did not come easy.
Unlike Mrs. Clinton, for whom the field was basically cleared–a decision Democrats might regret later, she faced just two other contenders. Mr. Trump beat sixteen other candidates. He earned the Republican nomination. Still, some thought that since he is now the GOP nominee, he will stop making inappropriate and racist comments to widen his base of support. Last week, he suggested that Hispanic or Muslim judges cannot be partial because of their heritage, drawing rebuke from many Republican leaders, including the person who stands third in line to become president of the United States, Speaker Paul D. Ryan.
He replied to Mr. Trump’s reported comment saying that “claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment.” Then he added, “I believe that we have more common ground on the policy issues of the day and we have more likelihood of getting our policies enacted with him.” In other words, Republicans want to have it both ways: condemn racist comments and embrace racists. That is why many people, including myself, believe that racism in America is unique, deep, and systemic. Such racism, exceptional as it is, cannot be addressed unless the institutions that originated and have sustained racism are purged. The lack of thus understanding racism is the reason why, I think, Mr. Trump will be elected president.
I resisted interjecting into a crucial political context. However, when colleagues and acquaintances who rarely talk about politics approach me these days to tell me how sorry they were to see politicians like Mr. Trump feeding the flames of prejudice against and hate of Muslims, I felt that I should say something. Then, when politically active colleagues use Mr. Trump’s example to suggest that Muslims will be safer with a Democratic president, I was even more frustrated. To use fear to create a default political position for Muslims is just as offensive, in my mind, as Mr. Trump’s comments about ethnic, racial, and religious disempowered social groups. Today, Muslims are facing systemic racism the same way all other disempowered social groups have faced it since the founding of this Republic. This is not a Republican problem. It is an American problem.
It will not be the end of the world if Mr. Trump were to be elected president of the United States, and I think he will be. He may not be America’s worst president because, unlike party-favorite presidents, Mr. Trump will be heavily scrutinized by both parties and every other civil society institution in the country. A democracy is as strong as its civil society institutions. It is values and rules enshrined in the Constitution, unfulfilled many of them still, that provide comfort to citizens, not the person sitting in the White House. It is the distribution of political power and role of civil society institutions that curb the hunger to grab more power and use it to destroy opponents that would allow American society to weather corrupt politicians, authoritarian presidents, and zealots. The presence of dangerous men in power should empower activists and civil society leaders to collaborate more, to unite, and to take their role seriously to overcome the power and violence unleashed by the state, which is controlled by power hungry persons.
President Trump will be just as capable or incapable of carrying out his personal agenda as President Obama. After all, candidate Obama promised to close Guantanamo, bring home the troops, stop bombing other countries, honor the Constitution respecting torture and extrajudicial killing, treat immigrants with dignity, insist on public option within a universal healthcare law, and rebuild the image of the country abroad. Eight years later, Guantanamo is still housing detainees. He sent more troops back to Afghanistan and Iraq. He played a role in creating two more failed and near-failed states–Libya and Syria, and he allowed corrupt rulers of so-allied nations from the Middle East to arm and supply Wahhabi genocidal fighters to overthrow the Syrian and Iraqi governments. He continued to appease and shield human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Bahrain. He carried out more drone-assisted extrajudicial killings of American citizens than his predecessors. He deported more immigrants than his last three predecessors. And standing on grounds where the U.S. government dropped its weapons of mass destruction, he refused to apologize to the Japanese victims.
This catalog of shortcomings were not due to a hidden agenda or his lack of trying to do the right things. They were due to the deep state that control the long-term strategic posture of the United States, slow moving wheels of bureaucracy, and the resistance from some civil society institutions, interest groups, and political expediency.
So we expect a president Trump to fail to act on some of his threats the same way president Obama failed to deliver on many of his promises. If he succeeds, it is because civil institutions leaders and citizens failed to comprehend their role and act as a counterweight to those in power. It will be an opportunity to transform society and overhaul outdated institutions like the press, which has become a tool in the hands of the powerful, not a voice for the people.
Muslim Americans will not move to Canada or return to their ancestral homelands. They will stay here, at HOME, in their country where they sweat and bleed everyday, and resist bigotry, racism, and discrimination the same way millions of other Americans have done before them.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His teaching and research interests cover both classical and modern legal and political thought in Islamic societies. He is currently documenting and writing about the social movements and armed conflicts triggered by the events popularly known as the Arab Spring. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.