When he first joined the race, I enjoyed laughing at the ridiculousness of Donald Trump as much as the next person. He called names, he lied, he picked fights and made absurd comments about building a wall between the USA and Mexico. His craziness was almost as entertaining as Sarah Palin saying she could see Russia from her house. Yeah, he is number one in the polls, I thought, but polls aren’t reliable, right? While the people putting him in first place appreciate his “honesty” and his ability to say whatever he wants, they know deep down that he can’t really be president, don’t they? I hope so.
Donald Trump’s rhetoric goes deeper than political parties. It goes deeper than trying to win the race to the White House. I don’t disagree with him because he is a Republican or because he is conservative. I don’t disagree with him because we have different beliefs about policy. I disagree with Donald Trump because he is perpetuating hate in the country which is supposed to be the leader of the free world.
America is nicknamed The Melting Pot. Virtually everyone’s family came as immigrant at some point in time – even Trump’s. There are millions of children and adults alike living in the US as legal citizens who hear all of this hateful rhetoric and a seed is planted in their heads – the thought that they don’t belong or that they are somehow lesser because of the color of their skin, their accent or their religion. If someone running for president of the United States says these things, they think, then everyone must believe it. This seed is a dangerous seed – it makes them feel like they don’t belong. If you’ve ever felt this feeling, you know how powerful it can be.
Even worse, Trump’s hate isn’t contained within our boarders, it has spread. Around the globe, people look to America as the Land of Opportunity. Billions of people dream of coming to the US and building a better life for themselves and their children. At least two or three days a week there is a front-page article in the Indian newspapers about the US presidential race. This is the impression that Indians (and countries everywhere) are getting about America and they think that this is how Americans feel as a whole. As an American abroad, sometimes people assume that this is how I feel. It makes my heart hurt.
One of the most dangerous things a person in power (or the media) can do is to instill fear without giving a solution – which is exactly what Trump is doing. I understand that there is fear of the unknown – this is perfectly natural. I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania where everyone went to either the Catholic church downtown or the Lutheran Church nearby. Everyone was white and no one was divorced (looking back, this is so weird). I never saw anyone wearing a hijab until I moved to France at the age of 25. Fear is a natural emotion, and it’s easy to succumb to it when everywhere you look, someone is telling you that Muslims are dangerous. And even easier when you don’t know any Muslims personally. I would guess that there is a high correlation between the percentage of people who fear Muslims and the percentage of people who don’t have any friends who are Muslim.
I challenge you to rise above what is easy. If you are apprehensive, educate yourself. Read about Islam and its beliefs (hint: Islam and ISIS are NOT the same thing.) Read the stories of others, like on the Humans of New York blog. The writer, Brandon Stanton, has been doing a lot of work telling the stories of Syrian refugees and posting them both on Instagram and on Facebook – they are both beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. Stand up to fear and make your own educated choices. Have conversations with your friends, your children and your colleagues. Fear is perpetuated by ignorance and you can help to stop the spread.
Above all, please remember that these are real human beings – people like you and me. So next time Donald Trump makes one of his comments, don’t laugh. Discrimination and hate aren’t funny and they’re certainly NOT how to make America great.