MONTGOMERY, Alabama — No matter where I go these days, people ask me the same question: Is it really possible that Republican Donald Trump could become president? My answer has been the same since Trump launched his campaign last June: Yes, it’s possible.
Recently, two national polls even put Trump ahead of Democrat Hillary Clinton. A Fox News survey showed that Trump was ahead by three points (45% to 42%), and one from ABC news put him ahead by two points (46% to 44%). Admittedly, those numbers are within the polls’ margins of error, but suddenly the presidential race has become tighter than ever.
For months, many pundits and politicians dismissed Trump as nothing more than an arrogant, self-centered windbag. But now that his winning the White House is a real possibility, they’re realizing that their big mistake was failing to take him seriously as soon as he started spreading his dangerous rhetoric and divisive ideas a year ago. Among Trump’s most outrageous campaign statements: He wants to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants within two years and build a wall along the Mexican border; he unjustly characterized Mexican immigrants as “criminals” and “rapists”; he called for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.; he criticized a war hero like Sen. John McCain for being captured in Vietnam; and he admitted to describing women as “dogs” and “fat pigs” during the very first Republican debate last year. There is much more.
However, by the time that politicians and journalists finally began to wake up to the real threat of a President Trump, it was too late. He wasn’t going away, and no other candidate was able to wrest the Republican nomination from him. And here we are today.
As I walked along the streets of Montgomery recently, I wondered how we Americans went from the era of Rosa Parks to the age of Donald Trump. No doubt, the American experiment got twisted at some point.
I visited the corner of Montgomery and Molton streets, the spot where Parks was arrested in 1955 after she refused to give her seat to a white passenger on a city bus. That gesture, individual and historic, marked the beginning of the civil rights movement in the United States. “The only tired I was,” Parks later recounted, “was tired of giving in.”
Parks’ courage gave rise to a 382-day bus boycott in Montgomery and later led to a momentous decision by the Supreme Court to ban racial discrimination on buses.
“No” is the most powerful word in the world, in any language. Parks’ determination to reject backward ideas in Alabama cleared a path for many people who would come after her, including President Obama.
Now, I’m not naïve. I realize that the 2008 election of the first African-American president didn’t herald a post-racial era in the U.S. However, Obama’s election clearly indicated that the country was heading in the right direction. The fact that a country that supported slavery for so many decades chose as its leader the son of an immigrant from Kenya was truly profound. But history is never linear. Obama’s election also awakened a strong countercurrent of anti-immigrant, xenophobic and extremist groups. And Trump’s rhetoric echoes the ideas of those very groups who are fighting against the reality that America is becoming more diverse and multiethnic.
Furthermore, it’s truly ironic that in the coming election, 31% of expected voters will be minorities, according to data from the Pew Center, yet the presumed Republican candidate hopes to win by appealing largely to the white male voter.
Today, the example that Rosa Parks set is more important than ever. “Somebody had to take the first step,” she said about her actions that day in 1955. She knew that she couldn’t wait for others to do what she knew was her responsibility.
These days I wonder how many people like Rosa Parks will refuse to give up their seats and their votes in November.
By Jorge Ramos Avalos.
(Jun 1, 2016)
Image by: kriddick1908 with license CC BY-NC-SA 2.0