I went to a very conservative parochial school from third grade through high-school graduation. One of the things emphasized throughout my time at this school was that we, the students, should never, ever use the word “hell” unless we were using it to refer to a literal place. To use the word “hell” in expressions such as “what the hell” or “go to hell” was an offense on multiple levels. First, because we were taught that hell was a literal place, the worst place, and to tell someone to “go to hell” was a curse the likes of which no true Christian would ever wish upon someone. Second, to use the word as just another expression was to undermine the seriousness of what hell was and what an eternity in hell meant. It was, in short, to normalize and familiarize one’s self with something beyond terrible. In the final analysis, to use “hell” as anything other than a description of a place like “Albuquerque” or “Albany” was to willingly invite a small portion of that awful place into one’s life.
As the inauguration of the United States’ 45th president approaches and especially after Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech I’ve seen a lot of folks using the phrase “Give Trump a chance,” to which I have one thing to say:
No, I will not give Trump a chance. Let me tell you why.
First of all, the urge to “give Trump a chance” is evidence of a profound misunderstanding of the U.S. political system. There are many downsides to the long slog of the election process. Donald Trump announced his candidacy in June of 2015. He campaigned for eighteen months–eighteen months of press conferences, rallies, interviews and that’s just from Trump’s campaign. In addition to these past eighteen months Trump has aggressively carved out a slice of the public sphere for himself since the days when he pretended to be his own PR person. We have seen Trump in the tabloids and on The Apprentice. We are all familiar with Trump from his failing casinos, multiple bankruptcies, incestuous leanings, and sexual assault. It seems like the only thing we don’t know about Trump is whether or not he makes enough money to pay taxes. I believe in the words of prophetess Maya Angelou, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Trump has had decades of chances to show who he is with a little power and he has repeatedly shown that he is not the kind of person that ought to be trusted with a lot of power. At least, that would be the case if we could reasonably assume that Trump’s actions would match his words.
This brings me to my second reason why I won’t “give Trump a chance.” Those of you who are asking for rest of us to “give Trump a chance” are, in effect, asking is to wait and see if he will actually do what he says or, as this man has so often done, do the opposite or do something previously unimaginable. I pains me to realize that I have to spell this out, but if the best argument you can make for a person is “I know he has said and done some terrible stuff, but he also doesn’t always do what he says so lets give him a chance and see”then you don’t have a strong argument for trusting that person. That argument wouldn’t work before a parole board and why a goodly portion of the American public seems to think it’s a legitimate argument to give the nuclear launch codes to someone is both baffling and infuriating.
The third reason I will not give Trump a chance is because there is an immense and implicit well of privilege behind that statement. Here is why: to say “give Trump a chance” is, essentially, to say, “let’s wait and see if anything really bad happens before we freak out.” To say that, and mean it, the speaker has to genuinely believe that nothing bad has happened to people because of Donald Trump’s candidacy and election win. But bad things have been happening the whole time. Trump supporters and, occasionally staff, have heckled and assaulted those they disagree with, particularly people of color and women. Since Trump’s victory was announced there has been a surge in reports of hate crimes. There have been chilling videos of children from elementary to high school chanting “build the wall” until their brown classmates broke down in tears. White supremacist groups have been emboldened to recruit on college campuses. This is real harm that is correlated to Trump’s campaign. It doesn’t matter that Trump himself hasn’t personally orchestrated all of these acts of violence. Trump is a stochastic terrorist. Even though he doesn’t get his hands dirty (would he even know how?) he creates an atmosphere in which these actions are acceptable and (again, I can’t believe I have to say this explicitly) THAT IS NOT OKAY. I don’t have to wait and see because I have already seen the effects and they are real whether or not you in the “give Trump a chance” crowd have seen them affect you and yours yet.
This brings me to the fourth reason why I refuse to “give Trump a chance:” I’m not an idiot. Now, some people are going to read this and say “Hey, there’s no reason to engage in ad hominem attacks–it cheapens your argument.” I hear you–I do. As a rhetorician, my bread and butter is logical argumentation. However, I simply don’t know what else to call someone who wants to “give Trump a chance” despite the overwhelming amount of evidence that (a) he deserves no chances and (b) every time people like Trump have been given a chance humanity has deeply regretted it. Honestly, I can’t imagine how there even is a “give Trump a chance” crowd given the numbers of Holocaust survivors, and survivors of other fascist and authoritarian regimes, who have been warning us since almost day one that Trump’s campaign is dangerous. I don’t know what to call it other than idiocy. I genuinely don’t. That’s what I mean when I say I won’t “give Trump a chance” because I’m not an idiot.
Fifth, and finally, do you remember the story of original sin in the Abrahamic traditions? Adam and Eve lived in a garden. God told them not to eat from a specific tree. The snake then came to Eve and basically said, “Yes, God told you it was bad, but can’t you just give it a chance?” So she did, and then she made that argument to Adam which is how evil, pain, and suffering came to earth. That’s right: original sin was just giving the tree a chance even though they had been warned of its evil.
I won’t. I will not give Trump a chance. To do so would be to willingly and recklessly invite pain and suffering into our world. Trump’s policies are truly abhorrent. At least, they are if you care about people. I will not give a chance to anyone, let alone a president, who seeks to create second-class citizens out of anyone who disagrees with him. To do so would be to turn what can be a beautiful country into a type of Hell.
And so, when people ask me to “give Trump a chance” my answer is, quite literally, Hell, no. I refuse to cooperate in making the lives of women, people of color, and LGBTQ folks worse. I refuse to cooperate with the forces of evil and pain in this world. I say no to the Hell a Trump presidency could be if we all just “give Trump a chance.”