Those who have finally decided to denounce Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump after hearing his latest leaked comments about women have not improved their moral standing. In fact, their tardiness only proves that they don’t care enough about other groups of people who Trump has already degraded relentlessly.
And those who think that Trump’s repulsive character is something new in the world of American political culture are fooling themselves. Politicians and leaders in America have been iterating varieties of this behavior since they stepped foot on this continent.
By now you’ve heard all about the tape that surfaced last week in which Trump made severely lewd comments about a female actor doing a cameo appearance on the soap opera “Days of our Lives.” In the tape, he also described an attempt to sleep with a married woman and a supposed habit of freewheeling sexual assault.
After these tape surfaced, suddenly a bunch of fogies in the Republican establishment had had enough of Trump. A handful of them released statements along the lines of:
“As the father of three daughters who is a loving husband with Christian values… (blah, blah, blah) … I can’t support Trump anymore, what he said is inexcusable (blah, blah) ... he needs to step down.”
That was the gist.
When confronted about his words during the second presidential debate against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Trump attacked former president Bill Clinton in an attempt to appear as the lesser of two evils. His words were:
“(There has) never been anybody in the history of politics that’s been so abusive to women as Bill Clinton,” Trump said.
Ha… ha… ha. This might be one of Trump’s most outlandish lies yet. Don’t let him fool you.
From the ubiquitous rape and pillage of the entire continent throughout settler colonialism to many of America’s early presidents — including George Washington — owning slaves, to Donald Trump boasting about sexual assault and expressing unabashed racism, the nature of American leaders has remained steadily disgraceful.
Bill Clinton is no angel, but he’s certainly not the worst. He and Donald Trump should both be held accountable for their deplorable words and actions, but so should the rest of the abusive yet undeservedly revered leaders in American history. Collective amnesia is a curse in this country - a curse with real consequences. Our continued forgiveness of past wrongdoings leads to a continued tradition of bad people rising to the top of the American political and business worlds. It has to stop.
I’ll offer a few examples. We know for a fact that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and definitely fathered children by a woman who was technically his property at the time — Sally Hemmings. There’s no other way to define that than rape. And yet we celebrate this man (on President’s day, on lists of “great Presidents,” through monuments and tributes) with hardly a mention of these atrocities. And then there’s Andrew Jackson, who was a renowned “Indian killer” who rose to popularity based on his vehement dedication to destroying “the Indian problem.” He was essentially a murderer and a thief, yet most of America chooses to glorify his legacy.
When we ignore the wrongs that men like them committed, when we gloss over their policies and practices of rape and pillage, and when we focus solely on the “progress” that they made in the name of the United States while ignoring the extent of suffering that others experienced and continue to experience because of them, we are doing a disservice to this Nation by lowering our standards and expectations for good behavior.
Those who make excuses for the early American leaders usually say that “times were different then” and that those things like rape and slavery and murder were just the reality of the era. I disagree. First of all, two hundred years isn’t all that long ago. And even if it were, those behaviors were actually not standard practice for many people and leaders of many other cultures at the time including, for example, Lakota people of the Great Plains. Do the research. You will not find one example of a Lakota chief who rose to his status through theft of land, rape of women, or enslavement of less powerful groups. In the Lakota worldview, those acts would have been considered unspeakable. The same goes for other indigenous nations as well. And yet it is Indigenous people who have long been depicted as savages. How ironic.
I’m not saying that all Native people were perfectly moral — of course there were some who did deplorable things, like owned slaves. But there were many who were, by any standards, morally superior to the status quo American and European leadership at the time.
Most intelligent Americans today are unhappy with the rise of Donald Trump. His ascent to power should be a lesson to all. As a country, it is imperative that we begin holding our leaders — past and present — accountable for their actions. We shouldn’t demand purity of any individual, regardless of their leadership status. That would be unreasonable. But we should focus on demanding truths in popular discourse surrounding American history so that for once, we learn from our mistakes.
Those who were finally put over the edge by Trump’s latest words should consider getting a little angrier about some of the other things he had already said up to that point. I have a few questions for those people.
Why were they were okay with Trump stereotyping Mexican immigrants as rapists? Why were they were okay with Trump aligning himself with Ku Klux Klan leadership? Why were they okay with his encouraging violence against black women at his rallies? Why they were okay with Trump suggesting that Muslims don’t deserve to be in America? Why were they okay with Trump completely dehumanizing and disrespecting Native American people? Why were they OK with Trump suggesting that women who have had abortions (even sexual assault victims) need to be punished?
As far as the republican establishment is concerned, all of that was fine and dandy. But when Trump talked dirty about wealthy, attractive white woman — the type who perhaps reminds them of their own daughters and wives — ooooh, no. That’s where they draw the line. And you know what? That is not okay.
One of the pervasive problems with the Republican mindset is that it has a very difficult time feeling empathy for people who are struggling who don’t look like, act like, think like, or fall into the same tax bracket as them.
Maybe Kanye was right when he said, “George W. Bush doesn’t care about black people,” and maybe it’s not just Bush.
The history of western capitalist societies like America — societies that have enslaved and colonized and killed and raped millions to get to be who they are — maintain some of the strongest and most storied records of moral transgressions in the history of the world. And yet we continue to revere them, to ignore their wrongdoings, and to teach our children that American leadership is and has always been unabashedly good.
Open your eyes, America. You created the legacy which allowed for the monster that is Donald Trump. And in order to prevent more of his kind from rising to power, you have to start understanding the difference between right and wrong. History is as relevant today as it ever has been. Start learning it and teaching it correctly.
Chelsey Luger. Courtesy Eller Bonifacio.
Chelsey Luger is Anishinaabe and Lakota from North Dakota. She hopes to be a strong link in a long chain of ancestors and descendants by spreading ideas for health and wellness. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Ideas for articles? Email her: firstname.lastname@example.org.