Trump: When the Joke Goes Sour

Unless the underside of a rock has been your home for the past several months, you know that Donald Trump was just endorsed by KKK member David Duke and that his current polling position all but guarantees that he will win the Republican nomination for the presidency with a strong showing on Super Tuesday.

I do not think I need to remind anyone that a Trump presidency would be catastrophic and dangerous. Even the most steadfast conservatives on this campus — at least the ones that I have talked to — agree that a Trump presidency would legitimize racist, xenophobic narratives, particularly about Latinos and Muslims, whom he has repeatedly targeted. Most reasonable people can see that his lack of thought-out positions and policies and abrasive personality would put the United States in trouble both domestically and abroad.

But if we can see the writing on the wall we have to ask ourselves “Why is this happening? Why is someone who is so blatantly racist in a position to win?”

Because no one decided Donald Trump needed to be stopped until it was too late.

Trump announced his candidacy in June of last year. From the beginning it was founded on the same principles of racism and hatred toward other groups. I remember Donald Trump unveiling his problematic political slogan “Make America Great Again” — as though there was some perfect past moment in American history that we ought to return to even though, for a large portion of Americans, non-white or otherwise societally marginalized, it would result in an inherent regression in quality of life and quantity of opportunity. I remember him making the first in a long line of outlandish, offensive claims when, on the issue of immigration, he said that Mexico was sending its worst people — including rapists and criminals — to the United States.

From the very beginning, racism was foundational to the Trump bid for the presidency, yet most people brushed it off. Many said he had absolutely no chance of winning at all and that we did not need to take him seriously. Many decided that his campaign was nothing but a good source of comedic material and had no serious consequences, prompting the Huffington Post to relegate news on Donald Trump’s campaign to the entertainment section. Political analysts assumed that Trump could not sustain a national campaign for a plethora of reasons and that his momentum would fizzle out eventually. Most people were not worried because it seemed impossible that an openly racist billionaire had any shot at becoming president, let alone run a campaign or win a primary.

Fast forward to today, and most of us are eating our words. Trump’s rise has been far greater than anyone could have expected. It also shows us that we were perhaps too optimistic about racial progress in this country — the racial element of his campaign both cannot be denied and has been incredibly potent.

So now the question is: what does any of that have to do with us here at Georgetown?

The answer is that we cannot postpone speaking out against racism until the problems show up on our own doorstep. Every time we laughed at Donald Trump and tuned in to be entertained by his ridiculous behavior, we tacitly condoned the spread of his hateful message. It wasn’t a big deal because it was just a joke — how many times have we heard that one before? Every time we told ourselves we don’t need to take action because a racist like Donald Trump just cannot win in America anymore, we bought into the comforting, but ultimately false, myth that America is somehow post-racial and that, while we still might have some isolated instances of racism, the worst of system oppression is behind us.

Clearly, everyone was wrong. Racist attitudes motivate violence and discriminatory policy on an almost daily basis in this county. Just this past weekend, a KKK rally in Anaheim, Calif. — about 20 minutes away from where I grew up — devolved into a violent riot when three people were stabbed and more beaten and arrested while the police struggled to maintain order. Police officers have been caught on video far too many times shooting and killing unarmed black men. Racist violence is incredibly damaging and far too common.

But racism is more than just the extreme cases of violence and terror. The #OscarsSoWhite movement shows that discrimination is just as much because of marginalization and erasure of the experiences of people of color. The problem is, we only seem to be motivated to action when the situation becomes egregiously dire.

Being anti-racist is a commitment to being diametrically opposed to prejudice. That means that we must act — and not just when it leads to criminal injustice because of the color of one’s skin or when a hashtag and social movement is spawned in the wake of a tragedy. Those things are important, but we must take it seriously when politicians, public figures and even our friends and families say or do problematic things.

Because while many of us have the privilege to only witness racism but not experience it, for those of us who do experience these problems, it’s not a joke. It’s not funny to Mexican Americans or Muslim Americans for Donald Trump to surge to the top of the polls by disparaging them while the rest of the country just laughs it off and dismisses the problem. Don’t misinterpret my words. I don’t think that not calling out someone for their offensive joke makes you responsible for the terrible, racist actions of others. However, I do believe that racism is a systemic problem that pervades every element of our society and that if we ignore that reality, we put ourselves in the dangerous position of allowing that ideology to fester and spread until it is too late to avoid harmful consequences. And I can’t help but believe that if someone had spoken up and said this is not funny and this is a serious problem that needs to be stopped, we wouldn’t be in a position where politicians are scrambling to make sure Donald Trump does not become the next commander in chief.

 

Anthony Palacio is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service.

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