“Donald Trump is poor.” Not something you hear very often. But when a homeless woman in Washington D.C repeated this over and over while I walked past her last week, I knew exactly what she meant. Not poor in wealth, but in every other way imaginable: poor in character, behaviour, knowledge, social progress, law, economics, empathy, leadership, respect for others, for women, for the environment and so on.
I arrived in New York City on Monday January 23rd – the first day Donald Trump officially took the highest office in the country, some would say the world. It was pouring with rain, and despite NYC never failing to impress, the usual buzz of the city was different. People openly talked about Trump and the events of his first hours as President on the metro, in book stores and over drinks. People looked as harrassed as ever, but also sad and uncertain. While life carried on, people operated in a zombie-like or agitated state and the normal day was regularly punctuated by someone announcing the latest shocking action by the President and the efforts to resist.
In DC, things became more surreal. Daily reports of outlandish and damaging executive orders were met with protests in front of the big government buildings that represent “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Justice’; lawyers, activists and refugee workers camped out at airports and a lot of concerned international workers from the international organisations who worried they might be sent to their country or origin, even if they no longer called it home. Eerily, in between these outbursts, the city was quiet, not buzzing as usual, perhaps reflecting the anxiety or trepidation of its population.
I also visited family in a part of Virginia that principally voted for Trump. We attended an interfaith protest to tell immigrants they are welcome. The speakers included an excellent Egyptian American citizen who employs 100 of Americans, a reverend who reminded us of the struggles of the civil rights movement and an imam. It didn’t stop the haters driving by shouting ‘Allah is a paedophile” with ‘Americanah’ music blaring from the radio or a group of Trump supporters standing across the street with a Confederate flag, who said when invited to join us that ‘we were all Muslims’ and our protest was a conspiracy. Notably, despite the diversity of protesters, there were no Mexicans to be seen. Afraid of the consequences to even be seen in public?
This is an unprecedented time. America is currently led by a man with no regard for the rule of law or thousands of years’ establishing structures, rules, protocol, the rule of law or a public service system. The Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says by the organisation’s reckoning, Trump is well on his way to violating the First, Fourth, Fifth and Eighth amendments of the US Constitution.
All because he mastered a simplistic, offensive, abusive and lazy narrative that appealed to those who felt left behind socially and economically, that convinced them he could “shake things up”, “drain the swamp” and make their lives “great again”, despite him having no intention of benefitting anyone other than Trump and co.
In his first two weeks, he has certainly ‘shaken things up”, but in a way that has frightened, insulted and attempted to expel those who have integrated to America and who work hard to make the country a productive nation. He has emboldened terrorist groups, sparked worldwide protest and surrounded himself with a group of unqualified, right-wing ideologues that have no desire to govern ‘on behalf of the people’, but to control and implement their own right-wing vision of the world.
However, its not all doom and gloom. The crisis is mobilising and organising people like never before. The ACLU had received over $24 million by the end of January and within 24 hours of the refugee ban announcement, volunteer lawyers had set up work stations at airports across the whole of the USA. In the UK, a petition to stop Donald Trump’s state visit picked up so many signatures that the Speaker of the House added his voice to say Trump was not welcome to speak to the Houses of Parliament and his trip is now being organised for the summer when no one is around to receive him.
Protests have been consistent in the US and around the world. In London protests continued over three weeks not only against Trump’s actions but also our own Prime Minister’s failure to condemn them. I’ve heard of several young American friends giving up travels or corporate jobs to work for Planned Parenthood or interview Trump supporters to understand their frustrations. So far, the fatigue is at bay.
It is rumoured that powerful corporations are also mobilising against Trump, in spite of his giving the green light to drilling projects such as the Dakota Pipeline – which has been so boldly opposed – and abandoning the regulations of the Dodd-Frank Act. The district and federal judges’ ruling suspending his immigration ban has so far upheld, to the relief of many families and the increasing apparent anger by the President that he can’t just do ‘exactly what he wants.’
An industry that is definitely benefitting from the current crisis is comedy. From the brilliant impersonations on Saturday Night Live, to the withering and hilarious critiques delivered excellently by John Colbert, John Oliver and Trevor Noah on the Late Show, Last Week Tonight and the Daily Show, these comedians are being given dream material. And boy, don’t we need it. As Alec Baldwin, stunning impersonator of Donald Trump on SNL says himself, “With Trump, the show just writes itself!”