It's Christmas, so why am I not brimming with joy?
Since my earliest memories, this time of year has always inspired the warm fuzzies in me. Not so this year. My feelings of joy have been subsumed by contravening feelings of fear, anxiety, and despair.
Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama gave voice to what I was having trouble putting into words: "We are feeling what not having hope feels like," she told Oprah Winfrey on CBS This Morning. The remarks were so simple and straight-forward, and yet they resonated with me so profoundly.
"Hope is necessary," she continued. "It is a necessary concept." There it was. Mrs. Obama had identified why the run-up to Christmas 2016 felt so different to me from every prior holiday season I can recall.
But why the absence of hope? For me, the obvious answer is Donald J. Trump. In the month and a half since the election, I, like so many Americans, have been inundated by a groundswell of mixed but primarily negative emotions. PTSD, if you will: "Post-Trump Stress Disorder."
But these emotions are about much more than Trump the individual. They are related to Trump as an idea — what he and his followers represent. How could so many Americans harbor such regressive, dangerous, and ill-informed ideologies that they were willing to ignore Trump's innumerable ignominies, outright lies, political missteps, flip-flopping, and other scandals and vote him into the highest office in the Free World?
As an American who is black and gay, I experience Trump and his followers as a double existential threat. For me, Trump's win, which CNN commentator Van Jones on Election Night labeled a "whitelash" after eight years of progressive policies under President Obama, is a pushback against my very existence as an African-American. On the day after the election, in North Carolina, the state of my birth, Durham residents discovered two graffitied walls, both proclaiming, "Black lives don't matter and neither does [sic] your votes." Did this hateful speech encapsulate the sentiment of the majority?
The North Carolina incident was not isolated — in the weeks immediately following Trump's election, hate speech and hate crimes spiked across the United States. After all, the president-elect had been endorsed by former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, who stated in an NPR interview, "I represent the ideas of preserving this country and the heritage of this country, and I think Trump represents that as well."
The Crusader, the official newspaper of the KKK, ran its presidential endorsement with Trump's campaign slogan ripped verbatim as its banner: "Make America Great Again." As though the slogan were in code, the newspaper demystified it for its readers: "What made America great in the first place? The short answer to that is simple. America was great not because of what our forefathers did — but because of who our forefathers were. America was founded as a White Christian Republic. And as a White Christian Republic it became great."
Although the Trump campaign repeatedly denounced hate speech and crimes, they indubitably fomented it and trafficked in it and were ultimately the beneficiaries of it. Any denunciation of David Duke or the alt-right now seems merely lip service, and certainly not to the exclusion of any white supremacist votes.
Last week, things further came to a head for me as a queer man when the state of my birth reneged on its promise to repeal an odious anti-LGBT piece of legislation, House Bill 2, which among other grievances forbids transgender people from using restrooms that correspond with their gender identity. The state did so even after the city of Charlotte reversed its local non-discrimination ordinance so as to make way for HB 2's much-needed demise. In last Wednesday's special session, the North Carolina General Assembly made it clear that I would not be going home for the holidays. For LGBT people and their allies, "North Carolina remains closed for business," declared Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
"HB 2 has put LGBTQ North Carolinians at risk for discrimination and violence. Every single day, we have lost businesses, new residents, tourists, concerts, and sporting events," explained Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro. "With HB2 still on the books and the Charlotte Ordinance fully repealed we will only continue to lose businesses and put LGBTQ North Carolinians in harm's way."
HB 2 is part and parcel of Trump's America. Indeed, earlier this year, as the Department of Justice filed its brief asking a federal judge to halt HB 2's implementation, Trump threw his unmitigated support behind the bill as a matter of states' rights, an argument previously used to promulgate another odious form of discrimination — on the basis of race — in North Carolina and other states for decades. My mother, who desegregated her public school in North Carolina in the 1960s, more than a decade after the Supreme Court's landmark desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education, called me to express her outrage at the N.C. General Assembly, Trump, and everyone who fails to grasp these parallels. "History repeats itself," she said.
Earlier this year, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who like my mom was born and raised in North Carolina in the same time period, stated of HB 2, "This is not the first time we have seen discriminatory responses to historic moments of progress... We saw it in the Jim Crow laws that followed the Emancipation Proclamation. We saw it in the fierce arguments against Brown v. the Board of Education. And we saw it in the state bans on same-sex unions that were intended to spike any hope that one day gays and lesbians might be afforded the right to marry."
Analogizing to the days of "separate but equal," Lynch reminded us, "It was not so very long ago that states, including North Carolina, had signs above restaurants, water fountains, and public accommodations, keeping people out."
And yet last Wednesday, with all eyes on the North Carolina General Assembly, even after the law has caused a hemorrhage of conferences, sporting events, television and film productions, millions of dollars and hundreds of job, the deal to repeal the law collapsed. Merry Christmas in Trumpland! Vogue's Andre Leon Talley announced he's packing his bags and leaving his home state: "You make the choice to be in Trumpland or you make the choice to eject yourself from the horror of Trumpland. I’ve made my choice not to be part of Trumpland."
Between his tweets on ISIS, Israel, and Istanbul, and a clarion call for a nuclear arms race, Trump popped up like a jack-in-the-box behind a podium bearing a "Merry Christmas USA Thank You Tour 2016 — Make America Great Again" sign. My stomach lurched. And not just because the sign is intended as a nod to his faithful evangelical base, calling out the liberal establishment for the political correctness of employing "Happy Holidays" in our so-called "War on Christmas." Rather, Christmas and Trump are now visually yoked in my head. But in my reality Trump, isn't bringing Christmas back to America — he's the Grinch who stole it. And, if we're not vigilant, he'll steal the rights, liberties, protections, and sense of hope that make us American in his demagogic bid to "Make America Great Again."
RAN AUBREY FRAZIER is a talent manager at Authentic Talent & Literary Management and a former resident of North Carolina.