Last week, I asked the adult students of my literary writing course to write a List of Intensities, a stream-of-consciousness catalog of the cultural markers that have defined them. While compiling my own list, I encountered this thread: Ivory soap, Dominoes, Donald Trump. My largely liberal-leaning student body scoffed when I remarked that ‘The Donald’ showed up in my subconscious musings, but I was not surprised. I delineated the connections: For most of my life, Ivory soap was the scent I associated with my mother. It is also the first product whose advertising campaign stayed in my memory: ‘Ivory Soap, It Floats.’ ‘Dominoes’ is a visual extension of the soap bar for its shape and was a popular game in my family that I never learned to play. Then there is the unexpected commercial link to Trump so prevalent in the memory of my youth: Donald Trump, the affably absurd tycoon whose audacious hair, love of foreign women and questionable business decisions were the subject of more than a joke or two at his expense during much of the nineties and the noughties.
Donald Trump, the affably absurd tycoon whose audacious hair, love of foreign women and questionable business decisions were the subject of more than a joke or two at his expense during much of the nineties and the noughties.
Trump as the stuff of comedy
Writing the word ‘dominoes’ took me back to the America of 2005 and to the television comedy show Saturday Night Live. In the satirical SNL skit, Trump, the celebrity host of the reality television show The Apprentice, is shooting a commercial for Domino’s pizza. He speaks in superlatives and suggests to the crew of the mock commercial shoot that they should replace the Domino’s theme song with a new song, which he ad-libs on set: It is a version of a popular McDonald’s jingle, but Trump swops out McDonald’s well-known pay-off line ‘I’m Loving It’ with ‘Dominio’s’ [sic]. He calls Domino’s ‘Dominio’s.’ The Trump character does not listen to anyone and the entire skit hinges on the notion that America at large is laughing at Donald, the blockheaded businessman of dubious intelligence. The audience laughed uproariously at the blunders that typified the nation’s view of Trump in 2005: a man whose wealth did little to afford him class, modesty, or sophistication.
This was the Trump legacy that I knew; the Trump whose gilded tower my parents took us to visit in 1994 as one stop on our vacation to New York City. The garishness of Trump Tower was reminiscent of Babylon and the belief that through ostentatious power one might touch God.
“Didn’t he go bankrupt?” I asked my mother then. My adolescent self was vaguely aware that the term meant ‘an adult with no money’; an adult who had somehow failed at the task of being an adult.
“Yes, he did,” my father replied as he stared up at the 58-floor Fifth Avenue skyscraper.
Twice as good
On that day I first understood the disparity that typifies my nation; the cruelty embodied in America’s very form. Much of my childhood was spent in the era of ‘twice as good’. I was one of thousands of children of colour whose parents drilled into their very core that in order to be a part of America, we had to be better than America: more noble, more humble, more ethical. Better in school, better at sports, better in business. Better dressed. More eloquent. Twice as good.
I was one of thousands of children of colour whose parents drilled into their very core that in order to be a part of America, we had to be better than America: more noble, more humble, more ethical.
I was 24 when I first heard of Barack Hussein Obama and his intention to become the next president. I had recently graduated from architecture school and was on my way to a prestigious museum internship in Italy before returning to the States to work for a mid-sized design firm in New York. I had grown up watching Jesse Jackson, and then Colin Powell, ripple the waters of a Black White House, but Obama felt different to me. This felt like the right time. This felt like an answer to the call to action of post-Civil Rights Movement parents: that hard work and perseverance would finally afford Black America its full humanity.
I was living outside of the country when Trayvon Martin was shot, holding a bag of Skittles. I was living in a town 200 miles from Ferguson when Mike Brown was shot. The litany of names has grown so long that I can no longer respond to each tragedy in the way I saw my parents mourn the beating of Rodney King, the plane crash that killed John F. Kennedy Jr., or the explosion of the Challenger. I do not have the words for the inconceivable legacy my country has chosen to leave behind. In the wake of our country accepting the First [Black] Family, it has systematically worked to erase Black citizenry. America cannot have a Black president without a clear and thorough campaign of terror.
Envisaging victory for Trump
Months away from the November 2016 election and I feel uncomfortably assured that America’s deep, excising hatred of its people of colour will culminate in the election of Donald Trump as president. Trump in his newest iteration as a xenophobic fear-monger. Donald Trump: the rumpled narcissist who called into question the legitimacy of the birth certificate of the first Black President-elect. Donald Trump: the best-selling author-turned-Republican politico, now running under the campaign slogan ‘Make America Great Again!’ Again?! Again?! ‘Again’ is the word that is being used in euphemism for our country’s desire to eradicate people of colour from its future just as it has done in its recollections of the past. Under the banner of his campaign slogan, Donald Trump has vowed to erect a wall between the US and Mexico and to ban Muslims from entering the United States. Donald Trump plans to have the Black Lives Matter movement investigated by the US Attorney General for criminal activity while his own violent rhetoric across the campaign trail has led his political supporters to kick, punch, choke and openly harass anti-Trump protesters in over 20 states. What is Trump if not the embodiment of America’s belief in the glory of its ivory past; an exhibition of its terrifying belief that its survival is best served by the eradication of its burgeoning social majority?
Much like the lie that made Ivory Soap famous (its buoyancy, which has been advertised for the last 200 years as a mark of its purity, is in fact the manufactured consequence of Proctor & Gamble replacing product with air), Donald Trump is a construction, a fabrication, a mass-marketed consequence of my country’s long-standing hatred of some of its own people. I do not know whether to be appalled or frightened as I look into the bankrupt gilded tower that Trump inflicts on my country. I cringe at every TV screen. I await what comes next.