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American Studies Notes on the Elections II

Date:17 November 2016
Donald J. Trump
Donald J. Trump

Last week, I read about neo-Orientalism, a phenomenon that scholars have located in post-9/11 cultures and that describes a negatively-biased position of Islam and Muslims in Western imagination (and society). While I am very critical about Said's Orientalism, because I think it is impossible to translate the thesis of Orientalism to textual sources of the eighteenth century without distorting what these sources actually meant in their given environment, I find neo-Orientalism a very fitting concept to describe the Zeitgeist and what is happening in the U.S. and in large parts of continental Europe.

Societal change—which leads to equal rights for minorities—is very desirable for the development of communities. However, when these privileges have to be shared with larger groups of people, change becomes automatically threatening for those who strongly desire to maintain hierarchies in a community. Fear turns out to be the major catalyst and trigger in the creation of reductionist enemy images, or neo-Orientalist sentiments. Recent debates have demonstrated that complex societal issues are often elucidated in simple statements. Comments like "Mexicans are thieves", "African-Americans are thugs", and "Muslims are terrorists" describe what Amanda Taub has identified as a "crisis of whiteness" (See, for instances, Taub's articles on the NYT website). Those (who feel) left behind by technological change and globalization turn to authoritarian (male) leaders that not only describe complex issues in simple terms, see comments above, but provide simple solutions with a strong hand. Taub concludes that the "crisis of whiteness" has fueled people in Britain to exit the EU, Trump's election as president, as well as the rise of right-wing populism and nationalism in, for instance, France, Hungary, and Austria.*

Yet, 'whiteness' in "crisis of whiteness" is much more than skin color. Muslim women also voted for Trump. Are they not disgusted at his so-called "locker room banter"? I did some research on this question and found out that there are a number of "silent voters" and not so silent ones for Trump indicate that their motivation to side with the Republican party is hardly different than that of "Rust Belt whites." Some Muslim (and) female voters wrote that they were struggling to make ends meet, could not afford health insurance, and had lost trust in Clinton. Asra Q. Nomani explained her motivation to vote for Trump in a blog post:

"Yes, I want equal pay. No, I reject Trump’s 'locker room' banter, the idea of a 'wall' between the United States and Mexico and a plan to 'ban' Muslims. But I trust the United States and don’t buy the political hyperbole—agenda-driven identity politics of its own—that demonized Trump and his supporters."

What Nomani perhaps demonstrates is that the Democratic party does not address current societal issues in a satisfying way, or that Muslim Americans, who had previously voted for the Democratic party, feared that their situation would deteriorate, which is why they casted their votes for Trump last week. Coming from a working class family, I think I do understand these concerns too well. However, the sheer weight of ignorance and misogyny that Trump has put on Muslims, African Americans, immigrants, homosexuals, persons with disabilities or any other groups he has targeted means that exactly those groups now have to reconcile their places in American society again. "Make America Great Again" does not provide a place for Muslims, immigrants, African Americans, or LGBT. I mostly fear for young people who may have to spend their formative years in a society of hatred, ignorance, racism, misogyny, and homophobia.

Aynur Erdogan, PhD Candidate

*A great article about the crisis of whiteness that you might want to read: