I feel a bit disoriented. We have been in the middle of a heated presidential race for roughly sixteen months, and I almost forgot that someday it would actually end. But end it (almost) has.

Last year I listened as a friend told me that Donald Trump would not make it past the primaries. He laughed it off and said he had no chance. I was skeptical. "Really?" I asked. "No way," he said. But I was still uneasy. Up to that point, I had been actively reading the comments people were leaving on the news articles written about Trump, and his supporters were fired up. Their voices represented the fears and radical views that had long been dismissed and suppressed; many of his followers were viewed as people with fringe opinions, and nobody wanted to take them seriously. But Trump gave them not only a voice but also a podium; as he shouted from his megaphone atop his gold tower, he began to legitimize their thoughts and fears. He woke a sleeping giant while nobody was looking. Everyone was watching, to be sure, but they weren't paying attention, especially not the news media.  People were laughing. They were entertained.

To this day I still cannot understand how so many people laughed it off. It is almost as if we have forgotten about the events that unfolded during the twentieth century. We've seen it before, the rise of demagogues with little impulse control who expertly tap into populist fears and frustrations that have been simmering (and largely ignored) for years. Donald Trump has been compared to dictators like Adolf Hitler and perhaps that comparison is a bit extreme (or not). Maybe if he becomes President, he will not be as destructive. But there are stark similarities between their two personalities, and they cannot be ignored. At this early stage, it is primarily his divisive rhetoric that preys upon people's fears, especially during these times of political and economic uncertainty and hardship. More than eighty years ago, Hitler did the same as he gave Germans their scapegoats; today Trump has given us ours (Mexicans, Muslims, and Barak Obama, just to name a few). We can only make guesses about what will come next if Republican nominee Trump becomes President Trump, but I sincerely hope we never find out.

There is a fantastic meme going around social media that says,

"It didn't start with the gas chambers. It started with politicians playing on the prejudices of a Christian nation. It started with a message of us versus them. It started with intolerance and hate speech. It started with denying basic rights. It started with burning houses of worship. It started with ordinary citizens turning a blind eye."

I think that is an incredibly powerful summary of how dangerous someone like Trump can be (e.g. he has made racist comments about Mexicans, and threatened to ban Muslims from entering this country, even suggesting they will have to register in a database). Yet we forget the history. We laugh. We dismiss him. But to dismiss him is to also dismiss the people whose opinions many don't take seriously. People are angry and afraid: they are watching helplessly as their jobs go overseas, witnessing terrorist attacks by those distorting a major world religion, frustrated by the gridlock in Washington, and they think that America is abandoning its Christian roots. This time around, they want change they can believe in, and they are willing to dismiss Trump's hateful, racist, sexist and xenophobic rhetoric to get it.

Now, to clarify, I do not believe that just because we have freedom of speech that all opinions are created equal. I believe in thoughtful rhetoric backed up by facts, not rhetoric based on feelings and prejudices. The fact is that some of Trump's supporters' fears are unfounded. Feelings and facts are not the same, and what Trump is doing is preying on feelings of fear and anxiety and presenting them as if they are facts, facts which he is using as the foundation for his policy proposals. But some of his supporters do have legitimate concerns, and they should have been addressed long before Trump had the opportunity to fill the void with his outrageous and factless speech.

I have listened to journalists, both news and television, discuss how the news media missed the rise of Trump. They treated his campaign as both entertaining and legitimate at the same time. They gave him a larger voice than the other candidates, even when the story was not really about him (remember that Fox News debate that Trump decided not to go to, and how media coverage the following day was all about the fact that he was not there, instead of about the actual debate?). They did not even realize that they were aiding in his ascent, but aid they did. They, along with others, started to wake up on Super Tuesday, when they saw him sweep multiple states. What was previously an impossibility became a probability. People were shocked. The Republican Party, already splintering, started to scramble. Fears rose, but it was too late.

Now here we are, Election Day. Some people still say there is no way he can win. But there is currently only a 4-5 percentage point difference between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I'm hoping for a Clinton landslide win, but if Trump does win, it will be in part because we have become deaf to voices of some people and blind to their problems. We have also become so fragmented and intolerant, and less willing to listen to those with differing opinions, and his victory will be the consequence of that. We will have nobody but to blame but ourselves.


Photo credit: By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Donald Trump supporter) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Published by Alix Collins