President Obama, the 44th President of the United States was recently a guest on The Shop, a show featured by HBO. It was here that he made the astute point that when he was elected, many in America felt as though the problems surrounding race and fear were now solved. However, with the election of President Trump, these feelings of security and safety quickly dissipated as he was using fear as a driving force. Mobilizing a majority suburban and rural white base of voters, President Trump threatened the loss of the “American Dream”. Often using strong language to describe foreign immigrants as thugs and dangerous people. In 2016 he ran on a campaign promising to “build a wall between us and Mexico” as a way to protect our American way of life. This type of rhetoric continued throughout his presidency and into the 2020 campaign when he would promise to “protect our suburbs”. In a discussion with my father this week he drew an apt comparison; “build the wall” means “Protect our suburbs”. Frequently on the 2020 campaign trail President Trump would say that our “suburbs are being threatened”. But what is really meant by this? If you were a conservative white, working class family, this message probably struck hard. Your factory may have been closed; jobs are harder to get as competition stiffens, healthcare is becoming more expensive. You most certainly would have had reason to feel that your way of live was shifting under your feet. President Trump played off of these feelings to mobilize these voters with promises to protect their families and livelihoods. But protect them from what? The implied answer: minorities and immigrants.
As Americans we have gone through periods where fear from what is different prompts relapses in social justice change, economic policy and world views. The ironic thing is that the United States is one of the most diverse countries on earth. So, in actuality a lot is different from ourselves to our fellow Americans. Fear is a powerful tool and has been used throughout history as a driving force behind some of the most dangerous movements. We can look back through history to find numerous examples where fear of what is different from us has caused some of the darkest times. From medieval times, where crusades were waged against Muslims on behalf of Christianity, to Japanese imprisonment camps here in The United States. The cold war era and fear of socialism and communism resulted in the jailing of many progressive thinking Americans, and more obviously untenable wars across the globe. Fear of our differences has been used to enact war and policy that only end up hurting us as humans. In his speech to the American people Friday night, now President Elect Joe Biden, said that while he “Ran as a democrat, I (Joe Biden) will be a president of all Americans”. Hopefully he can live up to these words as it is becoming quite clear that our country is going through a major shift in how we view our futures.
Community, nation and macroscopically, civilization are unique, polymorphous and ever-changing constructs. Naturally we were built to fear differences. When we were Neanderthals living in groups of 12-20 it was necessary for our survival to fear a rival group or tribe. This has slowly evolved as we have become more stagnant, technology has made world communication better and the world population grows. However, from time to time our natural instincts kick in when we feel our world shifting. Certainly, in the last 20 years our Nation has endured significant events; a major terror attack, decades of subsequent war, financial crisis, job loss, weather related catastrophe and viral pandemic. That’s a lot. It is only natural for all of us to want to protect what is closest to us, to grab what we can and shelter. This is why the phrase “protect our suburbs” and “build the wall” resonated so strongly. Without a doubt the implied idea that minorities to the U.S. pose some innate threat because they are not indigenous to our lands is most clearly racist. Additionally, it is ironic and sad that as a white male I say “our lands” like I have some claim to them unique to my family, as my ancestors most certainly did not originate here. I highlight “minorities to the U.S.” to make a very distinct point. That Black, Latino, Asian or other ethnicities are not minorities everywhere, and would likely view the stereotypical “white male/female” as minority had that person been born or lived in Africa or Asia. This plays back to those Neanderthal tribe days. The best part is that we have diversified. Some of our greatest strengths and accomplishments come from diversity. I would encourage all of you reading this to draw strength from our diversity. The Declaration of Independence writes, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. What a unique and compelling idea that we as citizens are guaranteed the right to pursue happiness. Yes, there are some significant challenges facing us as we move forward, but we will likely have a greater probability of success if we diversify and embrace different solutions and ideas towards our pursuit of happiness. I challenge you to break down walls and open your gates to those around you. Embrace our differences and allow ourselves to adapt and thrive as we have done for centuries before.
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Ben Velardi, Author/Founder