The morning after the single most watched presidential debate in US history, only one question was being asked across every office, school, hallway and home: “Did you watch the debate?”. But what was actually said during that debat?
With a record 84 million viewers tuning in live (not counting the people who followed online, at viewing parties, or even caught-up later) chances are yes, the person probably did catch the debate. And the chances are even more likely that they too were carrying the pit of despair in their stomach.
Considering how this campaign has been played so far, the spectacle on Monday can’t come as a surprise. Donald Trump was vicious, distasteful and disrespectful; Hillary Clinton continued to came off as artificial, rehearsed and frankly too clever for her own good. We were expecting all of that.
But what did come as a surprise were their answers to the questions about minorities.
Race and all the associations carried with it are a big topic in the US right now. Not just for the African-Americans and Hispanics/Latinos that comprise the roughly 25% of the American population but also the Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, Somalis and every other visible minority making up the fabric of American society. While some groups currently have more visible struggles, like African Americans, illegal immigrants, and those targeted by Islamophobia (even if they are not of Muslim faith), all groups have struggled with it at some point.
It’s a question that is not only bringing riots to American cities but is also claiming the lives of it’s citizens. On this point, the two polar candidates smugly agreed: we need more policing.
To put this in context, since I first started writing this article, two more black men have been shot by police officers in the United States. The very same police that are meant to protect the public without bias and distinction. The very same police written into the constitution to protect the law and limit civil disorder and whose power comes from the people themselves.
America was (and still is) a country built out of two things: legend and minorities. It was hewed out by wave after wave of people that were minorities in all other parts of the world coming to its shores in search of a better life. That’s what the American Dream promised and that’s what many people have achieved. All of the accomplishments and institutions (one of these being an effective police force) that brought the US it’s formidable status, power, and vision were created by children of migrants. It was never an easy struggle, but after all, anything worth having rarely comes easy. The efforts of these migrant minorities who were now proud Americans made it into the super-power it currently is.
With such a rich history to stand on, it was surprisingly to see the language used by the two prime candidates for presidency of the United States to describe the minorities that make up their country. Surprisingly, Hillary Clinton started the initiative:
Clinton: “Donald has consistently insulted Muslims abroad, Muslims at home…”
Clinton: “We need to be cooperating with Muslim nations and with the American Muslim community.”
‘Cooperating’? Like one cooperates with an undesirable co-worker we need to tolerate? And by lumping AMERICAN Muslims together with Muslim nations, is she suggesting that Muslims who achieve citizenship status can never truly be red-blooded Americans? But wait. There’s a lot more:
Clinton: “They can provide information to us that we might not get anywhere else. They need to have close working cooperation with law enforcement in these communities…”
So the only reason for all this cooperation is to gain intelligence? Not because the members of this community have rights that need to be protected or that they offer value to the American fabric on it’s own merit.
It was painful to note that much of the rhetoric surrounding minorities remained the same for other communities as well. In a move that almost seemed calculated to actively alienate and discourage black voters, Donald Trump begins his response to the race question with:
Trump: “When I look at what’s going on in Charlotte, a city I love, a city where I have investments…”
Again, read between the lines as: ‘A community we need to fix because it’s useful to me’.
Trump: “Chicago you do stop-and-frisk, which worked very well—Mayor Giuliani is here—worked very well in New York”
Stop-and-frisk. That’s his solution.
Once again, the candidate is saying the rights of communities don’t matter. The rights of these Americans who have been here for generations, some maybe even longer than his own ancestors, don’t matter.
Among all the fluffed up, voter-catching jargon that was said during this debate, this dismissal of the rights of minorities is what rang out the most. If these attitudes don’t change, no matter who gets sworn into office next Inauguration Day, the everyday Americans living with the race question are going to be struggling to fight for and securing their basic human rights. Which they will undoubtedly achieve, if not with the help of these two candidates, then surely with the help of the ones that follow after (isn’t democracy a great thing?)
But if these minorities, these children of migrants, were instead allowed to use the same efforts to raise America’s bar on greatness, imagine the possibilities.
This article was written by Wajiha Suboor.