On November 8, 2016, I sat on a panel of TV commentators, trying to comprehend Donald Trump’s surprise election victory as it happened in real time. I was asked by the host to reflect on what the Democrats did wrong, and I broke down — not into tears, but into the biggest truth bomb I’d ever offered on live television.
“This is literally white supremacy’s last stand in America,” I said. “This is it. This is what it looks like.”
It was true then, and it’s true today. Since that night, it has become even more clear how limited Trump’s appeal truly is as his popularity hits unprecedented lows. Only the most hardcore of believers remain committed to the cause — and it is a doomed cause.
After I announced on national television what many had been thinking, the positive outpouring I received was overwhelming. Following such a hostile campaign and devastating loss, people were genuinely concerned about my safety upon my return to the states. I had countless Canadians tweet me and message me on Facebook offering my wife and I asylum. I knew in that moment, as I read through their messages, just how heavily my statement had landed with viewers. They watched, just as I had, as a country that was once viewed as the “beacon on a hill” became a shadow of its former self as if reigniting the Cold War; but this time within its own borders by electing a man that only wanted to govern his deplorable base while freezing the rest of America out.
But on Tuesday, a year later, we witnessed what I am calling an “electoral reckoning.” Millions of people came out to vote against bigotry, racism and xenophobia by ushering in a slew of inclusive, diverse and thoughtful politicians to office from the schoolhouse to the state house — not to mention two historic wins by transgender candidates Andrea Jenkins and Danica Roem in Minneapolis and Virginia. Roem’s win in particular against “Bigot Bob” Marshall — who ran his campaign modeled after Trump, worked aggressively to stoke transphobic and homophobic sentiments in order to win, and failed bigly — was a moment of reckoning. Her win and the wins by Phil Murphy in New Jersey and Ralph Northam in Virginia signal to Democrats and the nation that campaigns steeped in progressive values and inclusion are indeed a winning strategy.
Election night proved that Democrats initial desire to run away from “identity politics” after 2016 in favor of pandering to the “White working class” isn’t what will help bring back the House and Senate, but quite the opposite.
Tuesday night’s election wasn’t just a major win for Democrats, who frankly forgot what it was like to want to turn on the news, but a deep repudiation of Trumpism that many of us saw coming a mile away. We saw it when millions of women and their allies took to the streets following Trump’s inauguration. We saw it when thousands of Americans showed up at airports around the country to rally against the Muslim ban. We saw it when Republican Senator Jeff Flake stood on the Senate floor to announce his resignation from Congress because he refused to stoop to race baiting and pandering to the Trump base in order to hold onto his seat.
This is what it means to resist.
This is what it means to stand against white supremacy and the desire to roll back the 21st century and relegate people of color, queer people, Muslims, immigrants and all others to the margins of our society because they don’t fit into the Trump mold.
While many of us saw white supremacy at the heart of Trump’s appeal, politicians and the media had their own euphemism of choice to explain it: “economic anxiety.” This was the phrase used among White Americans to explain what supposedly led to a known misogynist, a xenophobic and a racist homophobe being elected to replace the nation’s first African American president.
Economic anxiety also just happened to assuage white guilt over a difficult truth: many White Americans are indeed deeply racist and have always been. America’s changing demographics and Black president had them desperate to get “their” country back, and they ate up the lies that Trump spoon fed them: Mexican rapists and lazy Blacks are stealing their hard-earned jobs and ruining their country.
None of this is true, but the impulse by White Americans to hold onto power they believe they deserve is the foundation of white supremacy and the birth of our nation.
The economic struggles facing White working-class Americans are what Black and Brown communities have been living with since the beginning of time. The average wealth of a White family is seven times greater than that of the average Black family, and much of that wealth is tied up in home ownership — a privilege that centuries of racist government policy denied to Black families.
In the wake of his election, Trump and his band of white supremacists believed they were taking their country back, and leaving the rest of us to fight for the scraps. But a year later, on Election Night 2017, they were proved dead wrong. There are more of us like-minded, anti-racist, progressively minded Americans than there are tiki torch-carrying white nationalists. We proved our numbers the day after the inauguration and this week as we showed up in mass to vote against Trump’s America and in favor of the possibility of what an inclusive America can be. Americans united and voted to take their country back from the grips of white nationalism and nativism.
White supremacy will not have the last word and we will not go quietly into the night, so they can resume their reign of terror over our streets and government agencies.
As I said a year ago, this is white supremacy’s last stand. And those words never held as much weight as they do now as we see that system falter.