How Are You Feeling? Have the Trump Years Been Good to You?

15 October, 2020

Trump destroying American democracy, by Palestinian cartoonist Mohammad Sabaneeh

Trump destroying American democracy, by Palestinian cartoonist Mohammad Sabaneeh

Jordan Elgrably 

Nearly four years ago, concerned about the state of the nation, we spoke to key figures in the Arab/Muslim American mosaic about what they were experiencing. “Since President Donald J. Trump’s inauguration on January 20th,” TMR noted, “it’s never been harder to be Arab- or Muslim-American. Amidst executive orders targeting Muslims, women’s rights and other issues dear to Democratic values, daily protests and warring words between the Trump camp and opponents have put Muslim Americans in the spotlight.”

Here’s the truth: The ACLU has filed over 237 lawsuits challenging the Trump administration. And New York’s Center for Constitutional Rights has kept very busy defending the interests of Muslim Americans under Trump.

Author and academic Moustafa Bayoumi

Author and academic Moustafa Bayoumi

In an email to TMR, Moustafa Bayoumi gave us his overview of the last few years. Bayoumi is the author of two major, award-winning books about Arab American/Muslim American life, How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America and This Muslim American Life, Dispatches From the War on Terror.  

He explains: “The Trump administration has made the United States into an even more inhospitable place for Muslim Americans and Arab Americans. Before Trump, we had survived through more than 15 years of the War on Terror and its attendant bigotry. When Trump came along, we now had expanded worries. Hate crimes went way up as Trump was running for president, and the dramatically emboldened white nationalists and white supremacists have made life worrisome for all of us in their sights.”

Bayoumi adds, “The Muslim Ban has been particularly draining. It’s now routine to hear stories about people from Yemen or Iran, for example, who have been separated from their loved ones because of the ban. Many already had the authorization to reunite in this country, only to have that overruled by Trump’s racist and unnecessary decree. The concern is also that a second term of this administration would continue to expand the ban, which has already grown to thirteen countries.” 

We wondered what Bayoumi would do should Trump somehow remain in the White House. As a dual Canadian-American citizen, he has options—he could move back to Canada, he says, “but that would feel like a cop-out to me. I believe it’s fair to say that those of us targeted by Trump’s racism know that we have to remain and fight. And we fight Trump to save ourselves. But we also know that, by saving ourselves, we are also saving the republic from itself, from its worst elements. And that struggle deserves recognition and support.”

Ironically, the chaos these days is so constant that neither Muslims nor Mexicans, per se, remain in the spotlight, so much as Trump’s thrashing about like a rattlesnake that’s about to have its head cut off, for it very much seems at this writing that the orange man in the White House is on the verge of losing to Joe Biden, and is doing everything in his power to hang on. The next few weeks will be dramatic, to say the least. 

Cairo-born American playwright Yussef El Guindi

Cairo-born American playwright Yussef El Guindi

Meanwhile, we asked people how they were feeling during this presidential election cycle and what they’ve been confronted with as Muslim Americans in recent times. Egyptian American playwright Yussef El Guindi has remained a working scribe in Seattle whose work has consistently examined Arab/Muslim American life. When we asked him if he felt the Trump years have affected him personally, he confessed:

“A well-run government is supposed to operate quietly, and boringly, in the background of our lives.  Unfortunately, Trump is a headline/ratings junkie. He needs the fix of being the center of attention. He’s not just a carnival barker promising (sham) wonders if we come inside his tent, he sets out to create enough chaos around us so that we are forced to enter his circus tent to seek answers for this chaos. Part of that strategic chaos is to disparage the institutions we’ve relied on in the past, whether for information, various fundamental services, or even basic reality checks. Then, as if he was not the one trying to make us doubt the efficacy of these institutions, he tells us his way, his reality, are the only touchstones we should depend on if we are to understand what’s going on. Only he can make things right, and great again.

“This is what cult leaders do. This is how the enablers of cult leaders operate. So yes, this crap-fest that has been the Trump presidency has affected my life personally by making me worry about the long-term political health of this country. There are specific areas that I worry about, like health care, his policies on immigration, his riling up, especially here in the Northwest, of right-wing extremists. But it’s his seeming delight in creating chaos and sowing division that has put me in anxiety mode for the past few years. We’re not political creatures until we’re made aware of the precariousness of our political structures.” 

Are there any observations or anecdotes you can share with us in terms of what the last three and a half years have been like for people around you?

El Guindi replied: “If I had to select one word it would be ‘exhaustion’. The people around me shake their heads a lot in disbelief. There’s invariably a gasp or two over some outrageous comment made by Trump. Three and a half years of this has created a disturbing cynicism among the people I know. He has successfully corrupted our trust in the soundness of certain institutions. Yes, it’s absolutely important to continuously, and constructively, question and suggest fixes to our bureaucracies and institutions. But he isn’t interested in improving government, or in improving the lives of ordinary people. His number one interest is himself. He wants all eyes on him. His narcissism and venality are as wide and extensive as that great big island of floating garbage in the Pacific.  

“I’m just hoping there’s a reset button with this election.”  

Iranian American actor and comedian Maz Jobrani

Iranian American actor and comedian Maz Jobrani

In case Trump wins or gets help from the SCOTUS to remain in power, do you have any plans to change your life or perhaps leave the country? 

“For better or worse,” El Guindi observes, “I’ve thrown my lot in with this country. I feel attached to its history of being—or at least pretending to be—a home for immigrants (even if it’s done so kicking and screaming at times.). If he wins…I actually can’t imagine it. Or rather, my mind won’t go there. If he wins, it will tell me something is permanently broken in this country. What I will do, what my options are if that happens, I honestly don’t know.” 

We also went back to check in with Iranian American actor/stand-up comedian Maz Jobrani, to see how he had been managing during Trump times. “First of all,” he admitted, “I’m definitely a lot more anxious about the world than I have ever been in the past. Though I disagreed with other administrations and other policies from previous presidents, I always thought there were some adults in the room. Under Trump the world seems chaotic and there’s always a pit at the bottom of my stomach.

“As a standup comedian I have had people get vocally upset at me on stage when I have done jokes about Trump. This has always seemed illogical to me, since the whole point of a democracy like the United States is that we should be able to make fun of our leaders. I feel like the right can be hypocritical when they say the left is taking away free speech through cancel culture, while they don’t want you to criticize anything Trump does. Here’s a video of a lady who lost her mind when I did a Trump joke and I just tried to remain calm and let her vent.”

Jobrani says, “I also feel like I’ve lost some friends to the misinformation that’s online that gets promulgated by Trump. It feels like we are in different realities and there’s a lot of conspiracies out there that some of my friends have chosen to believe. It’s sad and feels like there’s a mass insanity going on, fueled by Trump, his tweets and his co-conspirators.”

Should Trump somehow remain in power, what would you do?

“You know, I don’t plan to leave the U.S., but I would be lying if I didn’t say the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. Not sure where I would go, but for the time being I plan to stay here and fight the good fight. All I can do, as a comedian, is to try and make fun of him and show his hypocrisy. I have also become more politically active during this election, so I suppose my activism will continue as well.”

tina khorram.jpg

Iranian American Tina Khorram was born in Tehran and came to California with her parents at the age of eight. She has worked in television and film for the better part of 20 years. She explains:

“Trump and his administration have affected my life personally in countless ways. One most importantly, I’m sorry to report that my parents are reactionary Iranian Americans that want him to win reelection because they still think that after four years he’s going to overthrow the mullahs in Iran. It causes me both embarrassment in order to have to stick up for them in circles of other friends and family and as well I can never come out and say if you still support Trump you are that s*** crazy. I love my parents but I see the divide of age, class and naiveté. There are other issues like his Muslim ban, bashing of immigrants, talking down to women and his assault allegations, his connections to Jeffrey Epstein and the underworld…” 

Are there any observations or anecdotes you can share with us in terms of what the last three and a half years have been like for people around you?

“Well, the last three and a half years have been one long inhale and I’m just waiting to exhale. And it gets tougher and tougher as I see the only chance is November 3rd or bust. September 18th, 2020 when Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, I cried like I cried the night that Trump was selected. My husband and his closest friends go back and forth supporting some of Trump’s ideas but not the entirety. I don’t believe anything Trump ever says. I’m sick of sounding like a broken record and have my husband say ‘well, that’s all of America’ or ‘that’s the way it’s always been.’ It’s not true. America was evil and disgusting for example under Bush. But now the word fascist actually applies, white supremacy is a true fear, police as the enemy is more real for me. I’m sick and tired of watching murder pornography on the news…”

Not all Iranian Americans are alarmed by Donald Trump. Those who support him believe that he’s standing up to the repressive Islamic regime in Iran. Los Angeles resident Jasmine Joseph-Danielpour says some of her friends “are voting for policy not personality. They like his policies on trade, foreign policy, the economy. They say he’s not wishy washy, he’s a businessman with an established reputation. Whether you like him or not, he gets shit done.

“Obama was a beautiful orator. In the minds of many, however, he ignored Israel and was very pro Arab/Palestinian. Definitely for Persian Jews, giving money to an Islamic fundamentalist regime was a nail in the coffin of anyone voting Democratic. I can tell you for me personally, that was an error of judgment that I can never forgive. Even though Trump has been moronic with issues such as the climate crisis, when it comes to foreign policy he has single-handedly changed the course of the Middle East. Again, whether you like him or not, it needed a fresh approach and whether we like it or not that approach is money, not diplomatic negotiations with Hamas or Abbas. The links between the UAE and Israel will now produce technological breakthroughs and economic harmony and this will improve the Middle East.”

However, Raymond Jallow, a Lebanese American economist who has almost always voted Republican and has been an economic advisor to several Republican administrations, reports that he is endorsing the Biden-Harris ticket. He argues that a Biden administration will help regain respect in the world and will rebuild the U.S. economy. “It would also mean the United States would once again lead the world in terms of advocating for human rights and civil rights.”

We also wondered how the situation appears to people outside the United States during this election cycle. Zeyneb Oguz, a Turkish academic who teaches the History of Art and Architecture in Zagreb, writes that people in her circle are eyeing the U.S. elections with more than average concern. “What I see among my friends in the U.S. is that a Trump win for many of them appears to be an existential threat (very literally, targeting their visas or legal status directly).”

The Iranian American community appears to be divided when it comes to Trump vs. Biden. As for Arab Americans, New York businessman Naseem Haffar, who sits on the board of the Arab American Democratic Action Fund, observes that activism this year in the Arab American community is blowing up. “Activism in the Arab community this year is very big,” he says. “I have never seen anything like it. There’s an Arab Americans for Biden WhatsApp group and the level of activism and motivation to vote and get rid of Trump is very intense. A lot of people are not huge fans of Biden but I think they realize that issue number one is getting rid of Trump. While Trump does have some supporters in the Arab American community, the vast majority wants him out.”

Jordan Elgrably is an American, French and Moroccan writer and translator whose stories and creative nonfiction have appeared in many anthologies and reviews, including Apulée, Salmagundi, and the Paris Review. Editor-in-chief and founder of The Markaz Review, he is the cofounder and former director of the Levantine Cultural Center/The Markaz in Los Angeles (2001–2020). He is the editor of Stories From the Center of the World: New Middle East Fiction (City Lights, 2024). Based in Montpellier, France and California, he tweets @JordanElgrably.

2020 electionsAmerican politicsBidenTrump

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