By: Rubén Martinez, Ph.D.


The election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th  President of the United States shocked most Americans along with many others across the globe.  A large segment of the electorate felt traumatized after having been openly insulted, derogated, and threatened by Trump throughout the presidential campaign.  Now that Trump is the President of the United States, he has issued a series of executive orders that have further polarized the electorate and pushed the boundaries of executive authority to the point of what some call an impending “Constitutional Crisis.”  People’s lives have been negatively impacted by these executive orders which have mobilized both his base of supporters and a large number of Americans who stand against the orders and seek to protect the nation’s values, the Constitution, and American Democracy.
It took President Trump only eight days to fall below a 50% favorable rating on a Gallup poll, when it took nearly four years for George W. Bush and three years for Barack Obama to fall to that level.  This startling statistic may portend what is in store for the nation over the next four years.  Large numbers of the American electorate are pressuring their local legislators to address and protect the Affordable Care Act, and make it better.  Others are demanding that their Republican legislators do their jobs by serving the people, letting them know that they work for the citizens and not for the Republican Party.  Still, others are demanding that legislators stand up to the President and his team on behalf of American Democracy and limit the influence of his political initiatives, which will unnecessarily cost billions of dollars, cut social programs, limit the capacity of the administrative state to carry out its functions, and empower the plutocracy.  
Many serious questions come to mind when considering the political conditions in this country.  One is whether we arrived at today’s dogmatic and highly polarized political environment because of the leadership of one unorthodox man or because there are broader systemic forces at play.  Consider, for example, the confluence of political and economic changes in which a political movement is reaching its apex and Americans are having to stand up on their own behalf to promote progressive measures against a political regime that promotes autocratic and punitive measures likely to set American progress back a century or more.  One thing is certain, a fractured political climate has emboldened persons harboring racist sentiments to commit racist acts.
Here at MSU there was a brief flurry of openly racial incidents, some of which were reported to the police and/or administration, and some which went unreported.  Emboldened by the election of then Candidate Trump, some students released their pent-up racial sentiments, carried away by the “collective effervescence” that excited some individuals to engage in racist behaviors.   At the University of Michigan, racist e-mail messages were sent to hundreds of engineering students.  The Mayor of Warren in Macomb County was accused of making offensive remarks about African Americans, women, and disabled persons.  In Canton, a White police officer resigned after an internal investigation got underway focusing on a “racist social media posting” made by the officer.  
These and many other racial incidents directed at Latinos, African Americans, Jews, Muslims, women, LGBTQ, immigrant, disabled and other minority communities revealed the depth of hatred felt by some Americans toward members of these populations.  These sentiments, which reside within cultural subgroups of White Americans across the country, are also linked to the decline of American manufacturing, reduction of social programs, changing demographics, and the promotion of extreme conservative ideologies within a frame of victimization.  These features of the contemporary period are attended by the human tendency to scapegoat the vulnerable for societal ills.
Immigrants, especially Latin American immigrants, are one of the main targeted groups driving the call for mass deportations and the construction of a border wall.  According to President Trump, a “military operation” is underway to round up “illegal immigrants” and deport them.  This “military operation” has intensified the trepidation among immigrant communities, who fear the breakup of their families despite their “good citizen” behaviors.  Characterized by Candidate Trump and conservatives as criminals, rapists, and drug traffickers, Mexican immigrants are now feeling terrorized by the threat of family breakup and the hardships that come with detention and deportation.
President Trump has said that he represents all the people but, like many previous administrations, his policies are out of step with the needs and desires of the majority of the population.  For instance, according to a Gallup Poll last July, approximately 76% of Republicans favored a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and 62% supported building a wall.  In contrast, 67% of Americans opposed deporting undocumented immigrants and building a border wall.  Finally, 84% in the U.S. favored a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.  These are the views of “the people,” yet U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is instead executing “military operations” that threaten families and keep children unable to eat, sleep, and study.
Many children of undocumented immigrant parents spend their birthdays in detention centers.  One teen that turned 16 years of age in one of these centers said she did not do anything on that day except cry.  Families in detention are in a state of limbo; they often receive little information about their specific case, yet some have been detained for more than a year.  Some are in private detention centers contracted by the Federal Government, while others are in local government units that also have contracts with the Federal Government.  These entities have vested interests to keep detainees as long as they can, and studies show that they do.  While profits are being made, the lives of young people are traumatized, leaving lasting effects on the course of their lives.  Can you imagine the significance of the memory of having spent one’s 16th birthday in an immigrant detention center?
Other children have seen their parents being handcuffed and “jailed,” an image that leaves a lasting memory in their minds, knowing that their parents are “not bad people.”  A sense of social injustice is planted in the personalities of these young people that will last long beyond the lives of the individuals who implanted the memories. A prime example of such a person is Joe Arpaio, who as Sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona, profiled Latin American immigrants and terrorized their families.  These memories will shape the lives of those impacted by the ICE and Arpaio raids and will set in motion lifetime commitments toward achieving a more just society.  But why are today’s elected officials, especially Republicans, pursuing such socially destructive policies?  What became of human progress in an increasingly interconnected world?  What became of achieving a higher level of civilization?
We are living in a historical moment in which the U.S. is at a major crossroads.  Will it continue down the path of increased social and income inequality, or will it pursue higher values that will lead to a greater America, one in which government promotes the highest quality of life for all residents?  Will the radical policies of free market fundamentalism, which have produced and continue to produce increasing inequality, ultimately lead to revolutionary violence and the breakup of the United States of America?  In our lifetime, we saw the breakup of the Soviet Union, a disintegration that shocked many Americans.  A stagnant economy and isolation led to its downfall.  
Today, not just the United States, but humanity faces the negative effects of climate change, increasing poverty and inequality, growing populations, and increases in “surplus populations” that reveal the limitations of an economy based on infinite growth and the concentration of wealth, and which is increasingly mechanizing production.  These are some of the critical structural issues confronting the United States and humanity as a whole.  As awareness of these issues slowly increases among the American population at large, Latin American immigrants will continue to lead lives of fear at the hands of a President pursuing the status quo, or a status lost long ago, rather than a higher civilization.