If These Five Words Don’t Scare You, Then You’re Not Paying Attention—Or You Just Don’t Care
By: Mike Givens*/TRT Assistant Editor—
Tuesday, September 29, 2020, will infamously go down in history as one of the most traumatic days of my life, thanks to President Trump. When asked by Fox News reporter Chris Wallace to openly denounce white supremacy groups, to verbally condemn their hatred, bigotry, and violence, the 45th President of the United States, sheepishly called out a far-right, neo-fascist, white nationalist group, The Proud Boys, and told them to, “Stand back, and stand by.”
Eyes bulging, jaw hitting the floor, and heart sinking, I watched as Trump cavalierly told a hateful group of white men to mobilize. The alt-right Twittersphere erupted and men around the nation, yearning for affirmation from the President that their hatred was well-placed, received an incendiary dog whistle that gave their bigotry and violence the validation they needed.
Reading between the lines, in my opinion, Trump was really saying, “Stand back, and stand by … Be ready to cause a race war if I don’t win the election.” Republican CNN commentator Rick Santorum—who ran an unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2012—did his best to mitigate Trump’s disastrous performance at the debate and had the gall to try to reinterpret what the president was saying by claiming that the “stand by” comment meant that he’d make his condemnation later. This is what they call towing the party line.
My sleep that night was fraught. The next morning I woke up and was a virtual zombie through two meetings as my hands quivered, my stomach was in knots, my head swam with thoughts of how low America has come, and I restlessly fidgeted. I couldn’t keep my mind focused and I had the distinct—and horrifying—feeling of being under siege. It was a racial anxiety attack, one that I had never known before. I’ve struggled with anti-Blackness my entire life and will probably struggle with it until my death. To be nearly 40 years old and living in a nation with a leader who has made his hatred of people like me quite clear has been nothing less than nearly four years of psychological assault.
Trump’s behavior was inexcusable. Full stop. There is no justification for him not condemning an entire group of people who wish for the eradication of people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and anyone who isn’t Christian (I suspect that they only want to keep white women around to bear their hateful offspring).
If you’re reading these words and have been following the calamitous debate and aren’t fully enraged by Trump’s lack of civility, grace, poise, and basic human decency, then please stop reading now. This column isn’t for you and I’d kindly ask you to go back to watching makeup tutorials on YouTube, raving about RuPaul’s Drag Race, or otherwise burying your head in the sand.
Are my words harsh? Absolutely! But there is no way you can be an intelligent and moral human being—Republican, Democrat, Independent, or apolitical—and passively listen to the president make what’s akin to hate speech and then go about your day as if nothing happened. You can’t be even mildly annoyed, put off, or saddened. If you’re not feeling the extreme of any negative visceral reaction to the President’s behavior then either you’re not paying attention or, even more frightening, you could care less about the leader of this nation inciting a war over not winning reelection.
If you’re still undecided after September 29—and if you are, I can write a separate column about how problematic that is—think about what the last nearly four years have been like. In that time, we’ve had a president who has:
- Done nothing substantive for the LGBTQ+ community during his time in office;
- Continued an all-out assault on immigrants, painting them as criminals, rapists, and thieves;
- Stripped national resources for environmental protections and diverted those funds to building a wall along the southwest border;
- Become a laughing stock of the world with nations like Russia and China viewing him as a joke;
- Stoked immense racial hatred, never condemned white supremacy, and has done nothing to heal centuries-long racial tension in the United States;
- Actively tried to corrupt the election process and put American democracy in jeopardy for the sake of getting himself reelected;
- Refused to be transparent about his finances through releasing his taxes; and
- Abused his power to write executive orders that advance his own personal agenda.
Still not convinced? Well, I purposefully left off one massive black eye that the Trump administration has been carrying for most of the year: the pandemic. Trump publicly dismissed legitimate claims about the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic earlier in the year while all-the-while knowing that the pandemic was deadly. Early in 2020, while the virus—which has taken the lives of more than 210,000 people in the United States—began spreading across the nation, Trump was spotted playing golf.
He played an endless game of ping pong with the truth, at times denying how virulent and deadly COVID-19 is and then proclaiming the opposite while offering empty platitudes about how he’d address the rising death toll and sinking economy. He lied about when he learned about the pandemic’s introduction into the U.S. and dismissed it as being under control and a short-term problem. Trump racialized the pandemic by calling it “Kung-Flu” or “The China Flu” and re-weaponized coronavirus in xenophobic attacks on Asian people living in the United States. Just days after being diagnosed with COVID-19, Trump ignored CDC quarantine guidelines in favor of continuing his campaign, placing his staff and others at risk.
He consistently ignored the advice of seasoned experts, often refused to wear a face mask in public, and even encouraged people to inject themselves with bleach and cleaning fluids to cure themselves of the infection. Trump also touted the unsubstantiated benefits of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, to treat the virus.
Remember Stella Immanuel? I wish I didn’t. To refresh your memory, she is a pediatrician and purported minister in Houston who Trump made (in)famous this summer after retweeting a video of her praising the benefits of hydroxychloroquine. Mind you, this is a woman who also believes that women who have legitimate and treatable gynelogical conditions had dream-sex with demons and witches; has declared that alien DNA is being used to treat illnesses; and alleges that a subset of her contemporaries are working on a vaccine to cure religious beliefs. The Houston “doctor”—who also claimed that marriage equality would lead to adults marrying children—was abruptly abandoned by Trump when the media (rightly) pounced on her wild, unfounded beliefs.
Her five minutes of fame has led to a lifetime of infamy and shame, thanks to Trump. I don’t feel sorry for Immanuel because her ignorance and platform set her up to be ridiculed and laughed at. So, why do I bring her up? Because she represents each and every one of us.
You see, Immanuel, as ignorant and misinformed as she is, was a tool for Trump. He watched that video, put no effort into vetting her or her allegations, and then proceeded to give her an international platform to broadcast her idiocy and unfounded claims. When the media checked her and it became known that she’s a fraud and religious zealot happy to spout out unfounded theories—Facebook took down her video in the wake of the controversy and she threatened to crash their servers with the power of Jesus—Trump dropped her like a bad habit. He used her to advance an item on his agenda, and when she no longer was of use to him, he left her.
And that’s exactly what Trump is doing to us. We’re nothing but the lube he uses to stroke his own ego. The presidency has been nothing but an opportunity for him to exercise his hubris, advance his own selfish desires, and prove to the world that he’s something that he clearly isn’t: A well-informed, moral, and judicious leader. He’s manipulated his base and those who are undecided into thinking that he will lift them up when all he is doing is gratifying himself.
Reince Priebus, Rick Dearborn, Michael Flynn, Keyllanne Conway, Anthony Scaramucci, Hope Hicks, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, John Dowd, Rick Perry, Kirstejen Nielsen, and John Bolton are just a few of the appointed officials in the Trump administration who contribute to the whopping 91 percent turnover rate at the current White House. They were either dismissed or resigned from one of the most dysfunctional administrations of recent history.
For nearly four years, we have been just like Priebus or Conway, Nielsen, and Bolton. We’ve played a role in Trump’s plan to self-aggrandize and bolster his ego. On November 3, it’s time we submit our resignation.
*A graduate of the Boston University College of Communication, Mike Givens has been a social justice advocate for more than 12 years. During that time he’s worked on a range of initiatives aimed at lifting up communities experiencing injustice. Mike is currently the communications director for an international human right organization.