This American Swamp // On Trump's Dystopia and the American Problem
Emily Jessee returns to Boshemia to share her reflections on the weeks following the 2016 American election, dissecting The American Problem and looking ahead to Trump's America. Emily is a young feminist creative who uses platforms like photography to portray the harshness and vulnerability of the world around her.
It is as if reality has become something that dystopia cannot even begin to describe.
America—the land of the free, the home of the brave—where all are not free, and certainly not all are brave. Here we shame cowards, we reject progress, we live in fear. We have grown from soil that was once farmed by slaves and seeded with injustice—rooted in the fear of the future we have never seen… and of the future we may never see. We have been raised in an idealistic state, taught not of the injustices that are embedded in our culture, but of how to ignore the ones that exist in our everyday lives.
Most Americans are told to ignore what makes them uncomfortable. We are taught that we fundamentally cannot change this overbearing and giant power that controls all of us. So when things seem too difficult, or too much to bear, we succumb—it is easier this way. Many have been questioning since the election—what happened? How did we get here? How is this possible? Russian interference and electoral college aside, we have a far larger problem on our hands than we maybe could have foreseen before the election.
It has become very clear, in the wake of the new Presidency dawning in a few short weeks, that we have an American problem. The problem is not you—the problem is us. The American Problem is a Gordian knot of complex, interwoven injustices that are embedded in every aspect of our society. This American Problem includes what we choose to ignore, what we are taught we cannot change, and the problems that we tolerate because we may not know the answer—such as enduring issues of racism, sexism, and classism. Our American Problem is made up of a prejudice that is so deeply rooted in the underbelly of our American life that those in power remain resilient, and those provoking progress are quieted, and thus the Problem seems unsolvable.
It's difficult to know where to go from here. So many have expressed not only their frustrations since the election, but also their exhaustion, their deterring motivation, their loss at what to do, and a lack of a sense of direction. America is suffering from collective grief, reeling with the knowledge that we are in Trump’s America now, a land of abstract promises of Making America Great Again for the white, elite, and privileged, with no regard for the suffering or safety of the rest of America.
In a speech that shook the American public, President Barack Obama said, “There's not a liberal America and a conservative America - there's the United States of America.” This statement, along with many others Obama has said during his Presidency, proved his overwhelming optimism of the American people, and their ability towards a fruitful future for the country. For the entirety of his life, Obama has straddled the line for racial acceptance and identity, thus understanding the battle that comes with existing in the margins in this country. His quote discussing political identity can’t help but be ironic foreshadowing to the 2016 election. This election, if no other modern one, proved the strongly prevalent divide between liberals and conservatives. This wasn’t just an election: it was a fight for our fundamental rights and a fight for our identities—a fight to be American. And many feel as if they lost more than the election, but also their voice.
Earlier this year, President Obama had invited key figures from Black Lives Matter, along with other civil rights leaders, to meet at the White House in an attempt to discuss social justice problems currently derailing the country. BLM refused to attend, declaring the meeting as nothing but a photo-op. It represented what BLM and many Americans felt before the election, and especially afterward: their voices aren’t being heard, but rather, appearances of them being heard are used to create a false image of progress. And the public is tired of it.
It has been alleged that this civic exhaustion is why Trump won the election. A toxic combination of two key factors catalyzed this civic exhaustion: (1) the large turnout of white Americans that feel as if their country has failed them, through rising poverty in rural areas and the drastic rise in equality from marginalized groups; and (2) the true lack of empathy in the liberal party, and their failure to move past being labeled as progressive, to actually being and acting like the truly progressive party. If we can't move past this civic exhaustion, then these issues that spurred the 2016 election result will root themselves deeper into our Gordian knot.
Unfortunately, those who will most likely suffer the most consequences from our next President aren't from the elite class that he so selfishly represents, but rather the working and impoverished classes that are already growing astronomically in this country. Trump’s promises to further relieve the top 1% and CEO’s or their “incriminating” taxes will only put more burdens on the working class’ shoulders. It was mainly poor or middle-class white Americans that got Trump elected, and they will be the ones to feel the economic effects of his presidency. He spoke to them of a different America, one that wasn’t painfully holding them back or leaving them hungry. To the middle class, he promised to “drain the swamp” and to lead a new America. And yet since he’s been elected, we have watched him fill his cabinet with his own prejudiced, white-supremacist pals. Rather than "drain the swamp," Trump has created his own.
As we count down the weeks to the new dawning of Trump's presidency, Americans are scrambling to find the answers to what kind of future our country has. Some in positions of privilege tell us to “sit back and watch,” reiterating the idea of not really knowing what will happen and thus giving Trump carte blanche to carry on without being challenged. But others are ready to make war with Trump's presidency. What will happen if we do fight back? What if we stopped living in fear of his leadership, of the seemingly unsolvable problems that define America? We cannot let our collective and civic exhaustion prevent us from creating our own definition of a Great America, one the is nothing like Trump's New American Swamp. It is time for us to get to work, or get to war.
You can follow Emily's writing and photography on Twitter @emmma_jess.