We’ve emerged from Week 1 of this new president a country made worse by fear and ignorance. A parade of executive orders—building a wall, reinstituting the global gag rule, denying Muslim refugees entry to the US—are an assault on Democratic ideals. The protest of words that’s poured forth from esteemed columnists in the press and elsewhere has been inspiring. I won’t water down their eloquence; I encourage you to read them all.
Rather, today, what has me worried our society is skidding down a perilous, un-American path is this: Where does it end, this discrimination, this singling out? Because the problem with authoritarians is that the list of undesirables always grows.
On the campaign trail, we heard the president’s denigrating comments about immigrants and women. He dismissed Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers. He boasted that pussies were to be grabbed. He made fun of a disabled reporter, and showed abject disdain for freedom of the press. He sowed fear about Muslims, spread it far and wide. He repeated lie after lie after lie. Now that he’s been catapulted to the highest office in the land, he’s ordered a wall to be built, slammed the door on healthcare funds that would benefit women across the globe, and mandated discrimination against Muslims at our borders.
And so, the question is: If you’re not already, when will you become an undesirable in the eyes of this president?
Will it be because you’re LGBTQ? After all, the vice president believes in the abhorrence that is conversion therapy. Will it be because your skin is a bit too dark? Will it be because you’re Jewish or Mormon or atheist? Will it be because you have a disability? A drug addiction? A mood disorder? A mental illness? Will it be because you’ve burned a flag? Had an abortion? Will it be because you altered your feminine parts so you couldn’t have children? Will it be because you have a learning disability? Will it be because you’re overweight and, frankly, this president doesn’t like fatties? Will it be because you’re a journalist? Will it be because you spoke truth to power a little to vocally? Will it be because you have an accent? A lisp? Or, for all you parents out there, will it be because a child of yours can identify with any of the above?
Or, what if it’s because someone said you were something that’s been deemed undesirable by Dear Leader? What if you’re a friend to an undesirable? What if your name ends up on a list? What if there are many lists? It’s chilling, right? It’s full-stop Orwellian meets McCarthy-ism meets The Handmaid’s Tale. But that’s what happens when authoritarians are in power, when demagogues are unleashed and allowed to rule with fear and prejudice and ignorance. This president has demonstrated zero regard for the truth, or for learning. What’s worse is that he’s surrounded himself with the same—people who will scream down the truth in rabid defense of a lie. This is how authoritarians rule.
Now, me saying all this isn’t the mere ranting of someone on a coast. Yes, I live in New York, but I was born and raised in Cleveland, am a proud product of Midwest upbringing. I was taught in kindergarten that discrimination of any kind was bad. It’s a pretty simple concept that this country has tried to uphold—granted, America has failed miserably on this front at times. We’ve discriminated against black Americans, made it criminal for them to have the same freedoms as whites. We’ve rounded up Japanese Americans and put them in internment camps. We like to extoll the freedoms that America stands for, but we absolutely cannot forget the cruel, fearmongering and inhumane impulses that compelled leaders to enforce detestable laws in our nation’s past—laws that would be unthinkable today. Or…would they? Given this last week’s events, I’m more than a little concerned.
As a country, we’re always supposed to be striving for better. Our goal is to be more inclusive, more accepting, more welcoming. We should act better than invoking the horrors of 9/11 to justify blatant discrimination against an entire religion, against an entire people. Those of us who value facts see this for what it is: an authoritarian issuing a hateful decree that serves as another blow to our democracy.
Don’t parrot the ignorant, the uninformed. If you’re angry and feel left behind, there are other steps you can take to better yourself. But don’t blithely accept what’s happening to a group of people simply because you’re not in that group. That said, if you ever find yourself in a targeted group, I will stand with you. If you voted for this demagogue who now sits in the Oval Office, and you are targeted, I will stand with you.
Maybe if we all do that for one another, if we all raise our voices as one, we’ve got a shot. Because the line separating desirables from undesirables not only can move—history suggests that it will. Which is why we must stand together, regardless of political affiliation, to reject the deplorable actions of this president. If we don’t, what’s to stop each one of us from eventually being labeled an undesirable?