The election is over. And this being a weekly newspaper I did not get the benefit of learning the result before this column was due. But that's no matter. Regardless of who won, 2016 has laid bare stark truths about our country. And now, in this quiet aftermath, is the best time to take stock.
The most obvious lesson: We are racist as hell. As a nation, America’s got issues—deep-seated ones—with race.
This isn’t news to people of color. Anyone who grew up black, brown, Hispanic, Asian—anything but white—has lived with a frontline view of America’s racism. To them, it’s self-evident truth, and to think otherwise is ludicrous.
But not so much for white people. We knew America’s ugly past, but we were taught about our progress, about the Civil War, the 14th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Perseverance carried the day. Men like Martin Luther King Jr. overcame. Racism was our past but not our legacy. The modern era is free of such baggage.
That’s what we learned as white children born after the struggle: Racism exists but as an anathema, something ugly, fringe, its practitioners under constant threat of ostracization should they come up for air.
That sure seems like a lesson from outdated textbooks today. Ignore if you want the string of police shootings and the unprecedented antipathy enjoyed by the first black American president, but you can’t ignore this election. You can’t ignore the calls to build a wall to keep out Mexicans, a ban on Muslims, and the sneering comments about the inner cities. Not restricted to the shadows, American racism has gone mainstream.
I get all kinds of emails. Some come from liberal groups, others from conservatives, all trying to push their agenda. Yesterday I got one from the Breitbart News Network, a conservative web outlet, that opened in all caps: “UNDER HILLARY CLINTON PRESIDENCY, U.S. MUSLIM POPULATION WOULD EXCEED FRANCE’S BY 2024.” It went on to outline how a Clinton presidency (in partnership with Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan) would open the floodgates to Muslim immigration: “These projections suggest that after seven years of a Hillary Clinton presidency, the U.S. could have a Muslim population that is larger than France’s current Muslim population of 4.7 million.”
The email was the exact text from a story on the Breitbart website.
“Neither Ryan nor Clinton have explained how importing hundreds of thousands of migrants that come from nations which may hold sentiments that are anti-women, anti-gay, anti-religious tolerance, and anti-America, benefits the United States or helps to protect our Western liberal values.”
My first reaction was an argument based on statistics—4.7 million Muslims in France (population 66 million) versus 4.7 million Muslims in America (320 million) is hardly a realistic comparison—but then I caught myself: To argue the details, to worry about the numbers, is to accept the premise that Muslims are bad, dangerous and a group of people Americans have reason to fear.
This is the country we live in today: A “news network” that cites other nations’ “anti-religious tolerance” as justification for excluding people from America based on religion.
What? What does “religious tolerance” mean at Breitbart, I wondered? Isn’t freedom from persecution based on religion one of the “Western liberal values” they are so hungry to protect? Or what kind of America are they fighting for?
Answer: A racist one. One where Muslims are singled out among Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and atheists. Blatant, unabashed bigotry, posted online and available in your inbox. No more “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” That door has closed. Religious preference has become an acceptable form of “other,” a suitable reason for exclusion from “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” particularly if that religion is Islam.
Bigotry is back, and it’s mainstream.
In fact, it never went away, was only forced underground by a united coalition unwilling to accept the argument.
But today racism has resurfaced. And it’s loud, in our faces. If 2016 has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that.