Erasure in the USA

Rain began with his words. It’s difficult to ignore the metaphor. We’ve heard it before: the sky wept. I admit, my own bias goes into that reading. For many, the rain bespeckling the president’s speech was surely just a product of DC in January. But to others, there was deeper symbolism.

Rain, beyond sorrow, represents cleansing and removal, and much was removed by his words. What we witnessed as the 45th president took the oath of office was the subtle erasure of millions. His words removed the humanity and the reality of many US citizens, Americans, and people of the world at large.

Indeed, even by referring to us as Americans he continued the long-standing tradition of erasing the rightful claim to the name held by those who live in the rest of North, Central and South America. This act was, of course, not unexpected or new. Neither was the display of the religious preference.

Having five Christian readings along with a Jewish one has the impact of isolating those of different faiths and the nonreligious, who make up at least 30% of the country and whose numbers continue to grow. This isolation was worsened by the readings chosen, which paint Christians as the victims of prejudice, when sadly, they historically inflict it, legally, racially, and colonially. This abuse of power is made easier by the fact that even today, the majority of US lawmakers identify as some form of Christian. It makes you wonder how representative a government can be when the demographics are so heavily skewed. As an agnostic, I rarely ever feel seen by this country, despite the growing numbers of those who share my beliefs. But it’s worse for other groups.

The LGBT+ was not mentioned at all by President Trump, though one of the speakers did very briefly tip his hat. The gesture meant less given the immediate removal of the group (in all forms of its initialism) from the White House website immediately following the inauguration. Over a week later, the term is still nowhere to be found. The most disturbing part is that this means not only current but historical references were expunged. Likewise, Native Americans were ignored, even as violence at Standing Rock resumed, and they too disappeared from the White House website (only reappearing today anecdotally in the bios of White House Fellows). Climate change as well vanished just as quickly as government scientists were silenced. Erasure in words and deeds. The word Orwellian is too often used to hyperbole, but for once, I think it’s appropriate. In a digital age when media is synonymous with information and truth, and when you can edit that media with the ease of administrative access, you can control reality by the keystroke. A couple clicks and facts, pages, and people disappear. What climate change? What gays? What lesbians? Bisexuals? Transpeople? Queers? Natives? What the government doesn’t say speaks just as loudly as what it does.

So, what does this tell us about their call for unity? About his call for inclusiveness? About the transfer of power from the government to the people? The subtext seems to be that he wants to unify and include those who already voted for him, and those who might’ve if they’d voted, which almost half the country did not. They exist. The rest of us do not. Their opinions and wants have weight. Ours do not. But perhaps there are worse things than being excluded. Just look to the groups damaged by their unwarranted mentions in his speeches.

Immigrants and refugees, illegal and otherwise, have been relegated to buzzwords for all the brutality inflicted upon them. With his executive order in place, along with immigrants and refugees, even visa and green card holders are having to fight to get into the country and many will fail. He wants to list their crimes in a disturbingly familiar type of periodical. He wants to build a fiscally impractical and environmentally devastating wall. Barriers and insular thinking are clearly discernable themes.

He turns our attention inward, away from the world, save to blame our connection to it for our problems. By condemning our aiding of other countries in his speech, he vilifies those who not only supported such causes, but those who provided the aid. What’s worse, he’s already vilified certain aid with action as well as words. Thus, he’s turned this country’s back on those who received and needed that aid. Culturally, this may lead to isolation from our allies on a governmental level, whilst simultaneously creating a backlash from those who are more globally collectivist.

“Buy American and hire American,” aggressively threatens to rend the US from the global village and ignores the complex interworkings of the global economy. It’s odd that a businessman with so many global interests, who routinely bypasses domestic labor for foreign would go there. It’s also a direct affront to many of our allies who he seems hellbent on antagonizing, particularly those whose economies are linked to ours. They and their needs are erased. Yet when the press calls out the administration they make excuses. Even when the issue is something as petty as crowd size, they shamelessly brand their own story alternative facts as though facts were adjustable and interchangeable, as though the alternative to a fact wasn’t a lie.

Again and again, they revise what is with what they want to be. This extends from the press pool all the way to the administrative level. Just look to his executive orders, which strive to maintain his campaign’s narrative, exist at the expense of millions, and may not even be fulfillable. Look to the erasure of ethics as he maintains copious conflicts of interest and ignoring precedents in place for decades.

This is not a partisan issue—it’s a democratic one. This is made painfully clear by the fact that we were downgraded from ‘democracy’ to ‘flawed democracy’ after the turbulence of the last several years. President Trump alone is not at fault for this. We as a country, as a culture, and as communicators are at fault. We erased concerns with laughter when vulgarity became the norm. We shrugged off lies in the media or argued their truth without bothering to confirm them, let alone read the article before sharing it. We routinely did not vote, and we did not research when we did. We ignored the suffering huddled between this show and that ad. We complained about the state of things and in the same breath said we did not have the power to change them. And when the election rolled around, we raised our voices and put on masks of care. We demanded that everyone pick a side and then attacked them for their choice. We turned a country united into a country divided. And in doing so, we made this situation.

Yes, it is concerning, and regardless of your stance, you should be concerned with the laws, precedents, and rights being violated, with the people and facts being erased. But pointing the finger does little good when nearly everyone had a hand in creating this. The question now needs to be what do we do? How do we prevent the erasure? How do we reveal reality? How do we mend it?

The answers are obvious and simple, albeit time-consuming. Educate yourself. Look at the laws; learn your rights. Know who represents you and make sure they hear you. When you hear a story, double check it. How many sources are reporting the same thing? What are their sources? What else has the author written? Are they affiliated with biased groups? Assuming the story appears true, what is the benefit in sharing it? Does it spread awareness or merely outrage? What perspective can be gained from experiencing the content? What will you do knowing what you know?

What will you do? What should you do? What is right? Who is it right for; you or everyone? Ask yourself these questions over and over. Do not let the people of this country be erased. Do not let the people of this planet be erased. Do not let the foundations of this country be erased. Do not let the truth be erased.

-L.