The Trail of Tears, slavery, internment camps, the Chinese Exclusion Act – America’s history is filled with discriminatory actions. Unfortunately, we can now add Trump’s travel ban against seven predominantly Muslim countries. And although his Mexican immigration executive order is not a ban, per se, we will see if it plays out that way in the long run.
Whether or not the ban survives in court, I am curious why this sort of discrimination continues to occur in our country. It is so prevalent in our history one must ask: Is America inherently bigoted?
I am certain there is some level of bigotry, but I do not believe it is an overwhelming majority. We are too diverse a nation for that to be the case. Additionally, in the past, the country managed to move toward acceptance and equal treatment of those targeted by these acts. It took many years in some cases, wars and protests, but eventually progress was made.
So perhaps it is something else that drives us to discriminate. It is my belief that you cannot correct a behavior if you don’t first identify and understand it. Although it would appear that these are simply acts of hate, the fact that we were able to overcome them means something drove the hate rather than hate being the foundation of the issue.
I think George Washington Carver was correct when he said, “Fear of something is at the root of hate for others, and hate within will eventually destroy the hater.” In my own conversations with people on both sides of the political divide, everyone says they have a sense of fear. The fear varies from “wanting my country back” on the left to “we’re losing our country and values” on the right, but there is fear nonetheless.
But where does this fear come from? What drives us to discriminate on such a large scale like we have with previous acts and with Trump’s recent executive orders?
To me the answer is a relatively simple one. Our politicians, who utilize a win-at-all-costs mentality, are the root of our fears and therefore the root of our bigotry. They play on emotions to win votes and build momentum around their campaigns. As campaigns grow longer and longer, the rhetoric builds to the point that crowds are chanting political mottos that openly discriminate against large portions of our nation. And once you have built that level fervor, you cannot renege without committing political suicide.
Around this time last year, PBS Newshour spoke to Stephen Walt of Harvard University and Beverly Gage of Yale University about the role fear politics have played in past elections, as well as their expectations for the 2016 campaign. They provided practical solutions for dealing with the politics of fear, including:
- Pressing politicians to provide details on the issues and solutions,
- Framing issues as problems to be solved, and
- Not allowing fearmongering
It’s important as citizens that we not allow our politicians – whether in office or running for office – to build our concerns to the point of hate and intolerance. Unfortunately, that is where we find ourselves now. If we do not gain control of this, however, we run the risk, as Carver said, of bringing about our own self-destruction.
Last month, The Economist Intelligence Unit downgraded the US from a full democracy to a flawed democracy, meaning we no longer have faith in our government to govern properly and we are no longer the world’s poster child of democracy. Although these issues were around before Trump began his campaign, his behavior continues to erode our faith in government, our faith in each other, and I fear the cost may be our democracy.