I hate the phrase “Trump’s America.” I’ve refused to use it until now because I’ve felt it gives him too much ownership of a place full of people that he does not represent. It’s also struck me as a white flag, a way of saying: This is the world we now live in and there’s nothing we can do about it. But now I understand that it is an important way of branding the hate that has been unleashed, of calling attention to the horrific things that are happening because we have a president who emboldens people that only needed the slightest encouragement to push them over the edge.
I changed my mind about “Trump’s America” when it reached my doorstep.
On May 26, the eve of Ramadan, a known white supremacist slashed the throats of three men on a light-rail train who intervened as he made anti-Muslim slurs against two teenage girls, one wearing a hijab. Two of those heroic men died. The station that the train stopped at after the attack — where terrified passengers spilled out of a blood-spattered train car — is five blocks from my house. The shirtless suspect fled through my neighborhood.
The point is not to make this somehow circuitously about me. The point is that if this can happen in my peaceful, tree-lined, kid-filled neighborhood in the supposed liberal mecca of Portland, Ore., it can happen anywhere. The point is that in Trump’s America, nobody and nowhere is safe.
I drove past the yellow police line tape on my way home from work that Friday, not yet knowing what had happened. When we heard helicopters humming in the sky, my husband checked the Portland police’s Twitter account. That’s when we found out that America’s most recent tragedy happened in our backyard.
Two police helicopters circled above us as we timidly took our dog for a walk. Passing through our neighborhood park, I heard a man call out: “We are unstoppable!” And through the trees a couple of girls on a picnic blanket chanted back: “Another world is possible!”
Those words, protest chants from the Women’s March and travel ban protest at the Portland Airport, made me hopeful and depressed. I believe another world is possible. But I have to try harder every day to keep believing it. The brave men who died defending those women must have believed it.
When we got home from our walk, more details emerged. Witnesses told reporters that the man was threatening the two girls, shouting, “Get off the bus, and get out of the country because you don’t pay taxes here.” Later, one of the teenage girls told her mother he’d said that Muslims should die, that they’ve been killing Christians for years.
This story hits close to home not just because of the literal five blocks between the train platform and my house, but because I work at a refugee and immigrant social service agency alongside Muslims, immigrants, and refugees that could easily have been the target of that man’s rage. One of my colleagues, a young Muslim woman from Gambia, is frequently harassed for wearing her headscarf — once on at a crowded light-rail station, a man shouting at her about ISIS and Osama Bin Laden, while everyone stood silently by.
I try to ward off fear, but I often worry about someone exactly like that man on the train coming to our office to act upon their hate. Last week at work I saw a large empty paper bag outside the front door. My first thought was that it was a bomb. When someone knocks on our swipe-lock secured doors, presumably a co-worker who’s forgotten her badge, I hesitate before opening it, afraid I’ll find a stranger with a gun on the other side. Maybe at one time this could be called paranoia, but not anymore. This is the world we live in now.
I barely slept the night of the stabbing. It was a hot night, and I could hear the train tracks through our open windows. The last time I slept (or didn’t sleep) like that was election night. It was freezing, the windows closed, but the same nauseating dread kept my head buzzing, my jaw locked, my eyes open. Except that on election night it was the fear of the world I would wake up to that kept me awake. Now we know exactly what that world looks like.
It’s a place where white supremacists, racists, and bigots are affirmed in their beliefs because hatred and violence are condoned by those in power. Where a congressional candidate can assault a reporter on a Wednesday and still win the election on a Thursday. Where a presidential candidate can threaten and insult nearly every demographic in our society and be awarded the highest seat of power. Where a man on a train in Portland is then emboldened enough to murder two men for trying to stop his anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rant.
I am shattered by what happened in my city, my neighborhood. The morning after the stabbings, I saw a “Love Trumps Hate” sign in somebody’s front yard. Another slogan I’m trying hard to still believe in. But how are you supposed to believe that the morning after hate cuts the throats of two people actively practicing love?
I like to think I would’ve been as brave as those men if I’d been on that train. But now I’m afraid I will waver. What will happen if we all hesitate, sit down, stay silent? Like those heroes on the train, we have to keep standing up and protecting each other—believing that another world is possible. It’s really the only choice we have, because the alternative is more terrifying.