Across the US and throughout the world, hundreds of millions of people are breathing a huge sigh of relief at the fact that Donald Trump is no longer President of the United States of America. Between his divisive rhetoric, overtly racist statements, inflammatory behavior, penchant for conspiracy theories, unfounded claims of fraud, and refusal to disavow the white supremacists amongst his base, Trump spent four years breaking down the norms of democracy, damaging US foreign relations, contributing to the hyper-partisanship of his country, and setting the Civil Rights Movement back 50 years. Now that the transfer of power is complete and Joe Biden has become president, you would think that things can finally go back to normal and we can get busy healing the wounds that have been created throughout Trump’s presidency.
Not so fast.
The problem that most people are missing in their excitement over Trump’s loss is that Trump was never the problem. Sure, he was divisive and inflammatory and racist and a liar—but he was only a symptom of a much bigger problem. After all, Donald Trump didn’t elect himself in 2016—and he certainly never tried to disguise who he was. In other words, tens of millions of peopleknowingly elected a divisive, inflammatory, racist liar to the highest office in the US in 2016—and they came very close to doing so again in 2020.
Of course, not everyone in the US voted for Trump. In fact, in both elections, the majority of Americans voted against him. But in 2020, 74 million people did vote for him—more people than had voted for anyone in the country’s history, aside from his rival, Joe Biden. Those 74 million people knew exactly who and what Donald Trump was, because he’d already spent the past four years showing them. And although not everyone who voted for Trump was racist, they certainly signaled through their support of him that they were willing to tolerate a racist in the White House. And therein lies the crux of the problem. The US is so divided right now—so partisan, so mistrusting and hateful of each other—that millions of people are willing to rally behind a man like Trump, even though he has proven himself time and again to be despicable. And that’s not to mention the overt racists and white supremacists in the country who have demonstrated over the past couple of years that they are far more plentiful than we may have thought.
Indeed, Trump is a symptom of the current social climate in the US—and worse, he has become a symbol for what a large minority of Americans value and believe in. Now that he is no longer president and is largely removed from the public eye, many of those in his base have gone relatively quiet. But don’t expect that silence to last. The voting out of Trump is not the end of hate and racism and white supremacy in the US—it is simply the end of their most recent and visible standard bearer. This latest symptom of the country’s social cancer has resolved, but the disease is still there, festering below the surface, and it is only a matter of time before more symptoms manifest. The tens of millions of people who voted for Trump, whether out of overt hate, apathy, or a refusal to compromise their political or economic leanings for the sake of decency, continue to hold the same values that they demonstrated in the November election. In fact, many academics argue that the US is more divided, both politically and racially, than it has been at any point in its history—including the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s!
What the country needs, then, is far more than the removal of a horrible president. It needs to be cured of a deep-seated illness—the illness of prejudice, exclusivism, classism, racism, and overt white supremacy. Until these faulty values have been stamped out—until the ignorance and hate that fuels them has been replaced with inclusivity and love—the country will continue to destroy itself from the inside. It will continue to elect leaders who empathize with overt racists, conspiracy theorists, and convicted criminals. It will continue to acquit police officers who use excessive force and kill African Americans. It will continue to have enormous disparities in wealth between whites and minorities. It will continue to separate mothers and children who are seeking political asylum at the border. It will continue to incarcerate African Americans and Latinos at an elevated rate. And it will continue to teeter on the brink of social unrest and civil war—because a country this divided, this full of social injustice, cannot sustain itself in the long term.
The same holds true for Canada, many countries in Europe, and other nation states around the world. What is happening in the US is not exclusive to that country—it is simply the biggest and most visible example at the moment. Even in 2021, prejudice exists in a wide range of forms all over the world, leading to injustice, exclusivity, disenfranchisement, and oppression of a variety of minority groups.
Fortunately, there is a cure for this disease—and the 2020 US election gave us a glimpse of it. Despite the horrifying fact that 74 million people voted for Donald Trump, there were also 80 million who voted against him. This was the largest group of people who had ever mobilized to peacefully oust a racist, xenophobic, would-be tyrant in world history—and they did it because they believed that their communities, their country, and their world could be better. They voted out of love and acceptance, out of solidarity and empathy. They voted for decency and equality and justice and unity. And if they can do that, then so can we. We can vote for these values every day, with every action we take. We can advocate for equality in our communities, petition our leaders, stand up against injustices, give the same confidence to young Black entrepreneurs that we do to the establishment, patronize businesses owned by women and minorities, become aware of our biases and insensitivities, and simply treat everyone we meet with kindness and respect.
If November’s election taught us anything, it is that those of us who are on the side of progress and growth and positive change outnumber those who want to continue festering in their world of hate. And as we work toward that positive change and slowly convert those who are blinded by their ignorance, we will eventually build an inclusive world where love wins. Then just imagine the symptoms we’ll enjoy!