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.”