Dutch and Flemish Studies was featured in a piece by South African lawyer, activist and author, Bettina Wyngaard. Wyngaard obtained her B.A and LL.B degrees from the University of Stellenbosch. She has written four novels, Troos vir die Gebrokenes, Vuilspel, Slaafs, and Jagter. She has contributed to two anthologies, Op die Spoor Van and Adam Small: Denker, Digter, Dramaturg, as well as an academic publication, These are the things that sit with us. Her radio drama, Tweede Kanse, was broadcast on RSG (Radio Without Borders).
In Fall 2021, Wyngaard will be a speaker at the theme semester, “Decolonizing the Netherlands” to celebrate 50 years of Dutch at the University of Michigan. The theme semester is organized in collaboration with the African Studies Center (ASC), the carillon studio in the School of Music, Theater and Dance, and the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA).
The following article was published in South African literary magazine Litnet, where Wyngaard writes a weekly column. Annemarie Toebosch translated from Afrikaans into English.
Bettina Wyngaard; Litnet, Seminar in essays; 2020-11-09
In 2004, as part of a Rotary exchange group, I was in Washington, the state, not the seat of politics. On the way from Sea-Tac airport, a few vehicles stopped in front of us and gave us the middle finger.
I could not understand it at first, because as far as I could see, the driver of our van followed the traffic rules. One large pickup was particularly persistent. The driver chased us from behind, slowed down next to us and then pushed a piece of cardboard with the words "Fuck W" against the window so we could read. The driver of our van was apparently used to such actions. Only at our first stop, when I and one of my fellow South Africans were walking around the bus as unobtrusively as possible, did I see the big sticker indicating support for George W Bush. After that, I just slid down in my seat every time we had to ride in that van.
To this day, I don’t know whether that Democrat kept the poster at the ready in his car, or whether he had to write something out especially quickly when he saw us. After all, Washington has always voted strongly Democratically.
Why am I telling this story? Anger and strong emotions surrounding elections are not foreign to the American psyche. The difference is that, under Trump, violence has been openly and shamelessly encouraged for the first time.
The election is now over for everyone except the most die-hard Trump supporters (and the candidate himself). What is left now is for ordinary people to pick up the pieces and move on with as normal a life as possible. With nearly 71 million Americans indicating that they approve of Trump's lies, racist rhetoric, support for white supremacists, incompetent handling of the Corona pandemic, and general contempt for democratic principles, the moral gap is perhaps too wide for many to bridge.
I asked three American residents from diverse backgrounds how they experienced the election. Raymond Wisniewski is a medical practitioner and patient advocate, originally from Philadelphia. For the past number of years, he and his husband have been living in Cape May, New Jersey. Annemarie Toebosch is the director of Dutch and Flemish Studies at the University of Michigan. She is a Dutch immigrant who has been making the USA her home for the past 25 years. Ava Homa is an exiled Kurdish writer who has been living in California for the past two years or so. Homa obviously could not vote.
Wisniewski describes his neighborhood as a Trump mecca where his posters adorn almost every lawn. Yet there was little conflict during the election. He attributes this mainly to the fact that the town is a holiday destination. In Philadelphia on the other hand, the place he is from and which is only about 90 minutes travel time, many shops had already nailed their windows before the election for fear of possible violent protests. He goes on to say: “With the election folks are getting really upset. On both sides. The Democrats have been out protecting those counting the votes and the Republicans have been out literally trying to force themselves into at sites where the voting continues. ”
Toebosch describes a state where tensions have already been high for months. A conspiracy by the armed militia to kidnap and kill Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer a month ago brought tensions to a head. In the last week before the election, Trump ended his election campaign in West Michigan, the area where his Dutch Reformed base lives. During his visit, Jewish graves were desecrated with pro-Trump messages.
She describes her hometown of Ann Arbor as a privileged liberal college town, but even there residents are now much more careful. She says: “There is no cause for celebration in this state and in this country. Trump has been the dog-whistler for White violence, actively mobilized here in Michigan, and we feel that, I feel that. ”
Homa also indicates that she is concerned about violence during and after the election. For her, Trump's order to the Proud Boys to assist, along with the chain store Walmart's decision to remove firearms and ammunition from their show floors out of concern about possible violent protests, were big red flags. As she puts it: “This was déjà vu. I wondered if I had migrated from boiling violence in Iran to a simmering one in America.” She immediately qualifies this by saying that California is much more enlightened, and that there are not the same threats of violence in her immediate area.
Why do they think Trump did so well in the election?
All three agree that race and the way he brought division among people was the story of this election. Trump's support among white people has increased. Toebosch says, referring to Stacey Abrams' activism to ensure voting rights for especially black voters: “This is the story of this election for me, an election centered squarely around race. Where more white people doubled down and voted for naked white power than in 2016, the significant changes come from new minority representation. So many firsts from across many states: first time trans representation, first time non-binary, indigenous and gay male black representation. One way to look at this election is then this tug of war between two old white men, the other is the building of small power shifts on the ground.”
Homa puts it this way: "He appeals to primal fear and hatred, powerful forces in humans who lack the education and awareness to realize how (self-) destructively they behave, how to replace lazy / easy answers to challenges with nuanced complicated answers."
Wisniewski does not mince words. He says: “Many people like Trump because he speaks his mind. Many of those are uneducated and ignorant. Their travels do not take them far. They are secluded people. No respect for people of color. Only the color of money. These are the same people who do not believe in mask-wearing. He has a following of angry white men who adore him because of his support of white men. I am not meaning all white men. There are just those who truly are racist. They seem to show their true colors lately.”
Wisniewski further notes that even though Trump lost the election, he won by succeeding in establishing a Supreme Court with a Conservative majority. Women and gays are already experiencing its icy effect.
Biden mentioned in his victory speech that he is not the president of blue states or red states, but of the United States. He wants to build bridges. It's easier said than done, with a weak loser who will do everything in his power to destabilize the country between now and January 20. On top of this, there is intense infighting going on within his own party between the centrists and the progressives.
There is hard work ahead. America will have to engage in a deep introspection on who they are as a nation. It's not just the work of politicians, it's the work of ordinary people from every layer of society. It's the job of the farmer, the teacher, the police officer, the activist, the housewife and the intellectual.
For now, there can be recovery from the election. Homa tells of people dancing in the streets with flags; vehicles blowing their horns and a general feeling of festivity. For Wisniewski, it feels as if a load of bricks has been removed from his chest. From the video clips he shared with me, it is clear that quite a few of his countrymen feel the same way. People dance, they make music, they share hugs with strangers.
They celebrate as if a dictatorship had been overthrown, and maybe it has. And for now, for the moment before the great task of rebuilding a nation begins, that's enough.