American politics, these days, attracts global disbelief and revulsion. The contest pits against each other two of the most unpopular candidates since polling began. One of them, the Republican nominee Donald Trump, is endorsed by the country’s leading white supremacists.
There is no question that Trump has tapped into something. Most of his supporters are not now and never have been members or supporters of the Ku Klux Klan or similar fringe groups. They are, in fact, a large and mainstream enough group that he won the nomination of the Republican party and now stands just a couple of points behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in polls, with at least two in five Americans saying they intend to vote for him. Among white Americans, if they alone were the electorate, polls say Trump would win a landslide.
Leaving aside his nonchalance about the fact that David Duke, the former imperial wizard of the KKK, and other of America’s most prominent racists think he would make a top-notch president, Trump has legitimized a host of barely more discrete forms of bigotry, chauvinism and hatred. People who strive for human respect have responded with two approaches. They have condemned the most overt examples of Trump’s racism, while acknowledging that many Americans are experiencing economic and social displacement that could justify their scapegoating of other groups or otherwise find reason to support a candidate whose policy positions are nothing more than accumulated Twitter tantrums.
If Trump wins, there will be more issues to address than this space can accommodate. If he loses, there will still be a divided country where parents have to explain to their children why it is inappropriate for them to express ideas that have been so effortlessly articulated by one of the two leading candidates for the highest office in the country.
Incongruously – or is it? – we are also in a time when the United States is engaged in a deep public reflection on race. The Black Lives Matter movement, which is partly a result of the murder of young African-Americans by police officers but also of broader systemic racism, has opened an overdue public discussion. Decades after legal racism was upended, there remain serious issues that the country needs to confront. Small gestures like that by Colin Kaepernick, a football player who is refusing to stand for the national anthem as a protest against discrimination, have aroused outrage but also raised legitimate awareness. Can you love your country and still condemn aspects of its nature?
Israelis, perhaps foremost among others, have faced this question for decades. And Canada is also engaged in a discussion around race. While we, too, have a history of racism against people of African descent, this history is different from that of the United States in myriad ways, including the absence of slavery in our history. But our past includes racist and antisemitic immigration policies, social and systemic antisemitism, racism and mistreatment of women, degradations of many varieties and, in something we are only beginning to come to terms with, treatment of indigenous Canadians that was intended to erase their cultural identities. And these are not the only areas where our society fails to live up to our ideals.
It is certainly tempting to look at what is happening to our south and feel superior. It would be more productive as a society for us to acknowledge that, while we see fault in others, we will be a better country when we keep our gaze closer to home, and use our stones for repairing, not throwing.