The sight of refugees and other Muslims barred from America thanks to President Trump’s recently signed executive order has produced a shock and revulsion unlike anything else he did in his first week in office. Up until now, most of Trump’s actions had been abstract. Suddenly, actual people were being harmed. It was the realest thing that’s happened so far—a visceral horror.
Now, the question turns to how we deal with this. One reaction that many will surely have is to say that what Trump has just done is “un-American.” The official Twitter feed of the Democratic Party summed this approach up pithily on Saturday morning.
“America is better than this,” the Democrats tweeted.
It’s a soothing thought, but it’s wrong. America isn’t better than this. How could it be? America just did this. This is who we are. Not only that—it’s who we’ve been time and again. And if we really want to become a different country, we need to own it—all of it.
More to the point, we’re the country that has spent nearly two decades demonizing Muslims. We’re the country that embraced the torture of Muslims around the world and on our TV screens. We’re the country that let the people who did the torturing off the hook. We’re the country that allowed people like Bill Maher to reframe rank Islamophobia as a form of edgy, anti-PC truth-telling and still be lauded by people who consider themselves to be good liberals. We’re the country whose media all too frequently treats the idea that Islam is inherently evil as a point to be debated, not a statement of crude bigotry. We’re the country where the racist harassment—and worse—of Muslims has become normalized, an everyday thing.
And yes, we are the country that elected Donald Trump. He told us what he was going to do. He could not have been more clear about it. He made the hatred of Muslims one of the central planks of his platform. He promised to ban Muslims from American shores for nearly a year. And then we put him in the White House.
So what is happening now shouldn’t be a surprise. America asked for this to happen. America laid the groundwork for it to happen. America now has to deal with what is happening.
It can be difficult to accept this about the country you live in. But the good thing is that once you own these facts—once you feel like they are, on some level, your responsibility to deal with—you can start fighting back, like the people who flooded into airports across America to protest Trump’s ban, or the people who went to court to protect innocent Muslims caught in Trump’s crosshairs—and won a partial (if temporary) victory.
It’s only when enough people fully acknowledge the reality they are living in, and decide that it’s no longer acceptable for them to live in that sort of world, that anything gets better. This is, of course, particularly important for white people—those who America mostly does things for instead of to—to grapple with.
We—all of us—live in a country where the persecution of Muslims is escalating every single day. We—all of us—have a president who’s determined to continue that persecution. Both of these things have to change—and we’ve got to be the ones who change it.
It’s not enough to say “what about the popular vote” or “it wasn’t me” or “Donald Trump doesn’t speak for me.” He does speak for us. It’s our government that’s doing this. Own it. Embrace that fact in all of its nastiness. Let the bitter taste of it settle in your mouth. How are you going to get that taste out?
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