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Opinion: What will the Trump Inauguration mean for New Zealand?

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Samantha Lee
Samantha Lee

On Friday 20th of January, 2017, Donald Trump will be President of the United States.

This is a sentence I never thought I'd say, let alone type as fact, setting the words in stone.

In New Zealand, our entire office of over one hundred people ground to a halt as the election progressed. People started denying out lout to each other what they were seeing. Variations of “what the hell, America?”, were heard at every desk.

As votes rolled in, and Trump overtook Hillary Clinton, fear and disbelief hit even seasoned media commentators, who struggled to make sense of it to their audience. Later that night I watched, tears streaming down my face (the most emotional I’ve ever been over any election; let alone one on the other side of the world), as the ticker tape news rolled across my screen: ‘Hillary Clinton Calls Donald Trump to Concede the Election.’

The thought of Clinton, a strong candidate, whose experience outweighs most of the previous US presidents’, having to concede to a man whose only qualifying experience is his questionable and often illegal business practice, was galling. Add in the racism, homophobia, misogynistic comments, mistrust towards the media, irresponsible use of social media, complete lack of accountability and penchant for litigation when provoked, and it becomes horrifying, on a scale that’s increasingly hard to quantify.

Why does a Trump presidency affect me, in New Zealand?

For me, it’s because someone in my office thought it was a great joke that Trump won. He’s an awesome guy, but as a wealthy white New Zealand male he has never had to consider the rights he was born with to be pieces on a political chess board. To him, his rights are inalienable; something that never can never be taken away or be made smaller.

I couldn’t get married in New Zealand until 2013, as a gay woman. I get paid 14% less than a man in my position – so about $200,000 less over the next 20 years. My rights have not always existed, and they are smaller - inequal.

Many aspects of our justice system, education system, policies around welfare and poverty, hiring practices, are racist. Our continued refusal to redefine our migrant policies for Syrians, but not for Australians, is inherently racist.

New Zealand has the worst rate of family and intimate-partner violence in the world.

Trump’s election validated misogyny, homophobia, racism and xenophobia around the world. It validated the systems and culture that we have in place in New Zealand that enable misogyny, homophobia, racism and xenophobia.

Systems that are inequal. Systems that favour one, over another. A culture that does not value all its members.

Because America is fine with this; we’re fine with it.

The reality is that Trump was not voted in by a few gross, racist trolls on the internet.

He was voted in by people much like us; who were against elitist, deadlocked, self-interested politicians who participate in a broken culture of maintaining the status quo and keeping within party lines at all costs.

Trump was also voted in by people much like us; who are afraid. Of people who may not see the world in the same way we do, of people who don’t have the same skin colour, sexuality, gender. Trump was voted in by people afraid to establish a dialogue; people who assume that Black equals Villain and Muslim equals Terrorist and Woman equals Inferior.

I read recently that Trump’s Vice-President Mike Pence is vehemently opposed to marriage equality. I read that Pence is a proponent of conversion therapy, which is a therapy that purports to “take away the gay” and convert clients back to full blown heterosexuality. The practice has been described as torture.

I read that his Domestic Policy Advisor Kenneth Blackwell is opposed to the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as abortion; while Mike Pence has gone one step further and promised to make abortion illegal.

I read that Trump is going to cull Obamacare, the country’s primary healthcare system, with no back up plan in place.

I read that Trump’s senior counsellor and chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon is racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic.

I read that Rudy Giuliani, Mayor who put in place a “stop and frisk” policy in New York which was ruled unconstitutional in the Supreme Court due to its overwhelming racial bias, was part of Trumps transitional team to the White House and in the running for Secretary of State. He has now pulled out of consideration, but remains an advisor to Trump.

I keep reading about Rich, White, Old Men being considered for, being given, cabinet positions. Women, minorities, Black people do not feature in the transition narrative – or if they do, it’s as an afterthought or rolled out as some sort of political appeasement tool.

No one can pretend there will be any diversity of thought in Trump’s White House; everyone is reading from the same conservative, white supremacist, misogynistic script. There are no diverse or progressive appointees to Trump’s cabinet – which begs the question, how is growth and change possible when there is only one (Rich, White, Old) point of view?

American journalists at the moment are debating whether or not to spell is out for their readers when Trump is telling a lie. Which is kind of like saying that they’ll accept Monopoly money as a salary if someone says to them it’s the new currency.

This exists in New Zealand. This doesn’t exist in small cells in New Zealand. This exists in day-to-day New Zealand life, and we are all complicit in some way.

Trump voters aren’t evil – and neither are the New Zealand equivalents - this is a complex equation for us and requires conversation and self-reflection and a willingness to listen, and examine our own predjudies.

It requires vigilance. I think this will be key in 2017 for journalists, for readers, for watchers of the political world both here at home and abroad. For all of us.

We need to be vigilant about our own understanding, or lack of, from today. We need to make sure that the kind of hate that is sitting in The White House at the moment does not find a spark here.

Maybe that spark starts with the brown-skinned man you crossed the street to avoid as you walked home.

Maybe it’s the business you are growing – not realising that your diversification plans have been approved by a board consisting of twelve white men of similar backgrounds and wealth.

Maybe it’s the woman on the bus with the hijab, who you thought twice about sitting next to, because…well, just because. It’s a free country, right?

Maybe it’s the bloke at your rugby club that you called a faggot. Maybe, sometimes, you wonder why he doesn’t show up anymore.

Maybe it’s the screaming you hear next door, and you assume it’s the TV, or another party, or really, it’s none of your business.

Maybe it’s time we were a little bit more involved in each other’s lives. Maybe it's time to have uncomfortable conversations. If you see a Facebook post from a friend, or family member that doesn't sit right, call it out. Ask how those opinions were formed. Challenge, with kindness and love – it’s not always easy to let go of long-held prejudice.

I believe people are inherently good but we don't have all the answers, and all the puzzle pieces. Looking at all points of view leads to growth, and change, and acceptance.

Like my boss, you might say “Trumpism will never happen here, we’re too far away.”

We aren’t too far away to be far out-stripping the United States (And Switzerland, the UK, Canada, Australia, Iceland, Norway) for domestic violence. We aren't too far away to be having multiple conversations about this, how it intersects with rugby culture, rape culture and race culture in 2016 alone.

Gloria Steinem has said that “the greatest indicator of the world’s stability, wealth and safety is the status of women.”

I would argue that same is true for all minorities.

Days after the election, thousands of Americans were still protesting in the streets, and I thanked a god I mostly take for granted, that people aren’t willing to normalise hate.

On January 21st 2017, the day after the inauguration, there will be a Women’s March on Washington where thousands of people will be demonstrating their opposition to any damaging legislative changes coming from the highest office in America over the coming four years. There will be marchers in New Zealand, too, and all over the world.

Gloria Steinem also said "the future depends entirely on what each of us does every day; a movement is only people moving."

Let’s keep moving forward, and be vigilant about the steps we take.

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