While the U.S. was electing Donald Trump, I was participating in an Amazigh Culture Night during Peace Corps training. For part of the night, we listened to Professor Sadik Raddad from Sidi Muhammad Bin Abdullah University give a brief overview of Amazigh history. He spoke about Amazigh identity in the context of Greek, Roman, and Arab conquests, and argued against the assumption that the Amazigh people originated from the modern-day Middle East. History, we were reminded, is written by the victors.
In the wake of industrialization and nationalism, Professor Raddad hoped for more development and empowerment in rural Amazigh communities, so that Amazigh women become aware of the “value of their culture” during a time when we are losing about one language every two weeks. Amazigh activists have linked up with Kurdish and Native American activists in the movement for indigenous recognition and rights.
But why were Amazigh, Kurdish, or Native American peoples marginalized in the first place? In the context of nationalism and colonialism, the victors determine the system, historical narrative, and players. There are diverse tribes and languages among indigenous identities. This diversity is beautiful. But large and peaceful groups like the Amazigh, Kurds, or Native Americans are not monoliths ready to mobilize into a political party, in a newly-imposed system where the currency is power and force.
Recognition and Rights in Whose System?
My most meaningful education on Native American history and identity came from a course I took in college. I’m not sure that the course's professor, a man of color who was an activist from another country with a policy of blatant racial hierarchy, would be especially surprised by Trump’s victory within the U.S. political system.
The course was called on apology and justice in public policy. I heard repeatedly that the course was among the most thought provoking and relevant that students could take. So, I enrolled with high expectations, ready to earn an A.
But I spent the semester in frustration. I didn’t want to be affected by the course material, because it asked me to confront the subjugation and inequality that our own society is based on. I didn’t want to face the fact that my own privilege, as a white, college-educated, American woman, came at the expense of other people, or that the exceptional America I loved, emerged from a patriotic narrative of white, landowning men oppressing other people.
Americans are Not Exceptional
Yet here I am, four years later, still putting my anecdotal observations in the U.S., Morocco, and Turkey into that one professor’s sobering context. Trump’s victory reminds us that Americans are not exceptional. As most young and idealistic Americans learn when they go overseas, people are not the manifestations of the leaders and systems that represent them. People everywhere are all different, complex, and kind beings. I have hope that Moroccans who have heard Trump will keep that in mind when they meet me.
Like all people, Americans internalize political rhetoric and systemic norms. My international friends have been posting comments like “welcome to the club, U.S., now you see that populist rhetoric really does work” or “now you, too, can experience the corrupt leaders you help install in other places” or “U.S., don’t lecture my country on our human rights anymore.”
These comments are hard for me to read. But actually, they put Trump’s victory into a humbling context that lacks the shock and grief of me and my American friends’ reactions. We’re in shock, because now we cannot keep living in our liberal and cosmopolitan areas, immune to the systemic injustice in American society. Now, like many other countries in the world, we have a xenophobic, racist, sexist, classist President-Elect.
People Never Stop Hoping
When I heard that Trump won, it was about 4 am in the U.S. But I knew that my America-loving Turkish friend in DC would be awake and would answer my call. Despite not being American, this friend knows more than me about the U.S. political system, and is the most ardent reader of U.S. news and analysis I know. As I cried to her on the phone, she comforted me by saying, “You have checks and balances. You have an independent judiciary. You have strong civil society. Everything’s going to be okay.”
The summer after I graduated college, I moved to Turkey during the Gezi Park protests of 2013. The protest was historically inclusive, with people from Turkey’s right- and left- wing coming together to speak up for freedom and democracy. Like they were in Turkey, maybe the millions of people who have been alienated by Trump’s rhetoric will be mobilized now, like never before, to speak up for inclusive freedom and democracy.
Don’t Ask “Why Hillary Lost,” But Rather, “Why Trump Won”
Trump supporters, Clinton supporters, independents, and apathetic citizens alike see that the systemic inequality and power structures highlighted by social justice movements like Black Lives Matter are not fabrications. Indeed, the inequality that people in the U.S. and around the world experience is staring me right in the face. Trump won because of the same injustice I’ve had the privilege of avoiding my whole life.
I am painfully aware now, that my Facebook newsfeed of Hillary Clinton campaign logos and brilliantly sassy #ImWithHer statuses, and my liberal bubble in Northwest DC, does not reflect the reality of our society. As someone that voted and made an #ImWithHer post and did nothing else to support Hillary Clinton’s campaign, I also realize I’m guilty of slacktivism. I wrote my post to express myself to my other equally pro-Clinton friends. Slacktivism made social justice more about my own image than about learning from, empathizing with, or empowering others.
Real social justice needs this humility. I think that people like me, in our privileged bubbles, will be more motivated than before to discuss what got us to this point of Trump’s win, and what in our system has led to the internalized prejudice and disenfranchisement of so many people in our country. Maybe social justice movements will become mainstream.
Americans are not exceptional, but the exceptionalism of America was up for debate. Ambassador Bush told our group of Peace Corps Volunteers during orientation that we’re doing a service to Moroccans by importing our culture, because America is exceptional. During this campaign, Hillary Clinton said, “When we say America is exceptional, it means that we recognize America’s unique and unparalleled ability to be a force for peace and progress, a champion for freedom and opportunity.” On the other hand, Donald Trump has said, “I don’t think it’s a very nice term, we’re exceptional, you’re not … I never liked the term.”
Ironically, Trump was right—our country was not above his fearmongering rhetoric or sexist, shallow critiques. In every country, since the beginning of governments, some people have been confronting the exclusive systems that block inclusive governance. Critical thinking and political activism is not uniquely American. But holding our political system up on a pedestal, or on a “city upon the hill,” detracts from the social injustice and barriers that make opportunities in society, and our policymaking process, exclusive.
I have hope that Trump’s win will mobilize many Americans to recognize that we’re not exceptional, and to confront the historical and present-day realities that I didn’t want to confront in college. As an over-analytical second-guesser, I have always been scared to call myself an activist. But life is now asking all of us to step up to systemic injustice, and to keep learning from and advocating for one another, in our own ways. And even though we’re not exceptional, we are in the experienced company of activists around the world. To quote Clinton once again, “fighting for what’s right is worth it.”