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Trump's America: 'Anyone who is not white American is gonna take a hit'

Detroit, Michigan. Photo/Getty Images

In Michigan, one of the states that swung the balance for Trump, inauguration day is a time of fear and uncertainty for some, and relief and happiness for others.  

“It’s not gonna be easy, and it’s not gonna be nice. I don’t look forward to it. But I know it’s gonna occur and a lot of innocent people is [sic] gonna get hurt. I’m certain of it.”

Bishop Herman Starks is contemplating the future under President Trump. “When he says, ‘make America great again’, he is speaking to white America,” says Starks. “Anyone who is not white American is gonna take a hit.”

Starks works with Michigan United, a coalition of community groups that acts to defend and advance the interests of immigrants, workers, coloured and LGBTQ communities. They operate out of an old building in south-west Detroit. The surrounding streets bear the signature of Detroit’s economic catastrophe – abandoned and burned out houses, empty lots where long-vacant houses have finally been torn down, decrepit commercial buildings, and cracked and pot-holed roads that remind me of my earthquake-hit city back home.

Read more: Notes from a Divided Nation - Iowa

Starks tells me that the key issues for Michigan United are mass incarceration (mostly of young blacks) of those who lack proper legal defence and are railroaded into plea bargains, immigration, eldercare and childcare. The organisation trains grassroots leaders, teaches English to immigrants, helps get people registered on the voting roll, and works to get talented local leaders elected to public office. 

Herman Starks. Photo/Rebecca Macfie

Soon after I spoke with Starks I met two young women who had come to Michigan United’s immigration advocate Diego Bonesatti for help. Their parents are undocumented Mexican immigrants who brought the family to the US in 2002 on a short term visa, and stayed. The two daughters, Dennyn and Gisselle are 26 and 23, and have been able to work legally thanks to a policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It has to be renewed every two years, and theirs is running out this month. They are terrified of what will happen under Trump. With jobs in a day care centre and in a convenience store, they are able to support their parents, their young US-born brother and Gisselle’s baby. Four years ago they bought a home where the whole family lives – the six bedroomed house cost $26,000, and they are paying it off under a rent-to-own scheme. 

Their 14-year-old brother – a US citizen – fears the rest of his family could be deported under Trump and he will be left alone. “We are constantly anxious now,” says Dennyn. “It’s a waiting game, and just a fear of the unknown.”

Bishop Starks says he wasn’t shocked by Trump’s win. “I was disappointed. He made it there because the people did not get out and vote, and that’s the system. A lot of people feel disenfranchised and they just don’t vote because they don’t trust or believe in the system. And now people are really beginning to understand what the Electoral College is and how it works, and it’s almost affirming their belief that our decisions don’t matter anyway.”

He says Trump is much like former presidents who have put token blacks into their administrations – in this case Ben Carson, a surgeon who has been placed in charge of housing. “What is different is [Trump] is more vocal... He is of white America, and so he is speaking to his base of people who have always felt these things internally, but they just never spoke it... He played to the deeply rooted hatred of black people. And he’s following the first black president.”

Trump’s appointees to lead the administration, including Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama as Attorney General, whose career has been dogged by accusations of racism, are “scary” to Starks. “Me being an African-American living in this country, and the plight we’ve had to go through, appointing him is a kind of a slap in the face.”

The job ahead for Michigan United is going to get bigger, says Starks. In his congregation, “the fear is there. A good-hearted person thinking about what could potentially happen to these children, these mothers, these families – you can’t sleep comfortably, you have restless nights…There is only so much that we can do, however we are willing to do it.”


Hugh Crawford. Photo/Rebecca Macfie

North of Detroit city, at a meeting of the finance committee of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners – the county’s legislative body– I met Hugh Crawford, a lifelong Republican who is an elected commissioner and former Michigan state representative. He is a retired Xerox technician, and lives in the city of Novi, where the population has grown from 5000 to 60,000 in his lifetime, in part because of white flight from Detroit and massive Asian immigration.

Trump wasn’t Hugh’s first choice of Republican candidates (he liked Marco Rubio). He describes the new president as “interesting”.

“He’s not a normal politician. All the tweets, and so on. I wish someone would take his cellphone away from him.”

Hugh has never voted Democrat, but he offers the standard Republican view on Hillary Clinton: “I fully think that she is dishonest, very shallow…Just the things in her background, things in her husband’s past. All of that went into a package I could not accept. The emails, and Benghazi was just a disgrace in my opinion. All of that stuff just made her totally unacceptable. And when Trump is a businessman I think there is a lot to be said for a business-type person running the government.”

What about the tape that recorded Trump expressing an exploitative and derogatory attitude to women? “I am sure he probably said that, but it’s not something that a lot of men haven’t said. It doesn’t mean they are a sexual predator. But I kind of looked at as locker room talk. I don’t talk that way but I’ve certainly heard it all my life from various people. It’s not something you want your president to be known for but, you know, take a look at some of the things Bill Clinton did in office – in the Oval Office.”

Trump’s conflicts of interest? “Asking him to divest himself of most of his holdings, being on boards and whatever, that’s a pretty difficult thing for someone to do that has the holdings that he has. I think he will [deal with the conflicts of interest].”

But is handing control to his family enough? “I’m sure they might talk about something at Thanksgiving dinner, but to totally put it in in a completely blind trust – remember he’s a billionaire many times over and to me it’s a different situation. I think certainly the media and the general populace will force him to be transparent.”

When Hugh hears Trump talk about the wall on the Mexican border, he’s not taking it literally. “I’m hearing that he’s going to be tougher on immigration…I don’t know that he physically can [build a wall]. It depends on what you mean by a wall.”

When I ask Hugh why Trump won, he searches through his iPhone for a poem that sums up the feelings at play. It’s called “US”, and the writer, Paul Genova, addressed it to those who are protesting the election result and asking, “How did this happen?”

You created ‘us’ when you attacked our freedom of speech.

You created ‘us’ when you attacked our right to bear arms.

You created ‘us’ when you attacked our Christian beliefs.

You created ‘us’ when you constantly referred to us as racists.

You created ‘us’ when you constantly called us xenophobic.

You created ‘us’ when you told us to get on board or get out of the way….”

And so it goes on. “People were tired of the government not listening,” says Hugh. “Second amendment issues, gun issues, religious issues, immigration. Just a whole bunch of little things.”

Read more: Notes from a Divided Nation - Iowa

For more on President-elect Trump, read 'The Trump Revolution', a special report by Paul Thomas, Jon Johansson and Ben Stanley with illustrations by Anthony Ellison, in this week's issue of the Listener.