We are in the midst of the holidays and I ask myself, what compels me to write when I should instead simply be enjoying the holidays?
The answer: because the proverbial calm before the storm is upon us and it seems a bit too eerie for me. This past week, I filled out that professor watchlist petition because the times remind me of that Tagalog expression, Isang Balsak — when one falls, we all fall, and conversely, when one rises, we all rise. There appears to be a consensus that the incoming administration will be anti-education in general, anti-academic freedom specifically, and even more so, that it will be hostile to undocumented students.
In these past few days I have read and heard an inordinate amount of pleas to keep at least a few days free from politics, if not the entire holiday season. This is no different than every year, except this year feels different. They appear to be nervous pleas.
Without question, there is definitely something ominous in the air. When actor Ronald Reagan, and CIA man George H.W. Bush, were elected president, in 1980, 1984 and 1988, respectively, a similar feeling gripped the nation. The same goes for George W. Bush, in 2000, when half the country viewed his victory as part of a coup, and again in 2004 when his nightmarish ways of worldwide war continued. The same could be said before the days before Richard Nixon took office in 1968 and 1972.
The apprehension turned out to be justified as they all turned out to be warmongers in the tradition of U.S. imperialist leaders partaking in a modern version of manifest destiny, which has resulted in millions of casualties in Asia, Africa and the Americas. And yet there seems to be something radically different about this incoming president.
So why is this president-in-waiting being perceived as even more dangerous? The short answer: he seems to be the embodiment of the Ugly American. He is nasty, rude and offensive, the antithesis of, as he invokes, “politically correct.” While the other presidents listed here have advanced similar policies, they have arguably been civil, whereas the incoming president is actually pompous about being the Ugly American. But it is beyond that.
Some of those policies include waging wars against weaker nations, never against nuclear-armed nations. And on the homefront, it includes carrying out the same anti-people of color, anti-worker, anti-woman, anti-LGBTQ, anti-science and anti-education policies that the incoming president has espoused.
That being the case, why is there more apprehension today? One could argue that the only difference perhaps is that these previous presidents have hidden their biases and bigotry and were predictable, whereas the incoming one flaunts them and also appears to be unpredictable, unstable and narcissistic.
It is uncontested that he lost by some 3 million votes, so it is not that the majority of Americans voters support him; it is that his supporters are easily moved and incited by his hate, rhetoric and beliefs. Just since the election alone, the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented more than 1,000 bias-related incidents. Feeling unconstrained, we are likely to see a rise in right-wing hate, violence and vigilantism.
At the same time, there may even be no need for vigilantes as the government itself and its official forces may be those that will enforce his proposed unconstitutional or amoral policies, particularly against those peoples he has already been belligerent with, including against his perceived enemies. Dissent and mass protests may perhaps no longer be tolerated.
Again, those presidents mentioned above did as much, thus, why the extra apprehension?
Perhaps that is the point. Still fresh on many peoples’ minds are the illegal wars, invasions and military coups this country has carried out and supported, just since Vietnam. Still fresh on peoples’ minds are the wars at home that targeted activists of color and the progressive movement. And still fresh on peoples’ minds is the War on Drugs that has resulted in the tenfold increase in the U.S. penal system since 1970, an institution that has become virtually a warehouse for people of color.
Perhaps that is the reason for the trepidation. There has been a general perception that, as a nation, we were moving in a positive direction in which there would be less war, more human rights, less brutality, and less incarceration. With the incoming president, it appears that instead there will be a radical acceleration. Perhaps people should be celebrating during this holiday season, though truly, people should also be preparing for what is to come, as opposed to simply withdrawing.
On Inauguration Day, on colleges and universities across the nation, there will be walkouts, cancelled classes, teach-ins, rallies, and marches. The question is, what will be the “new normal” thereafter?
Dr. Roberto Rodriguez is an associate professor in Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona.