What Trump Election Holds for Indigenous Nations

Mike Myers

During the recent election debacle I was driving back to Minnesota from New York. I watched some of the election results in my motel room and found that I wasn’t that surprised that Trump was pretty much “running the table” on Clinton.

On the ride out I passed from Minnesota through Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and finally arriving in western New York. All along the trip I could see that Trump signs were out-numbering Clinton signs, especially in the rural areas. All the while the commentators and pundits were saying that Trump didn’t have much of a “ground game” and that Clinton was running a “well oiled” campaign to get out the vote. Every time I heard this I was wondering, where did all of these signs come from?

Clearly someone was doing some organizing and at the minimum getting these signs into people’s hands so they could post them up. Maybe it was a new style of campaigning, one that wasn’t following the old political organizing models of past campaigns. This would be consistent with how Trump’s entire campaign approach was going.

What we heard and saw was loud, obnoxious, offensive, and fear mongering. And it was resonating and getting amplified by lots of the so-called “working class” white folks.

I think for a lot of Indigenous folks this looked and sounded all too familiar. What was new was that there was a national personality saying these outrageous things out loud. As the campaign dragged on we could also see how he was giving the local folks permission to echo and amplify what he was saying. For them, they finally had a national figure that talked like them and held the same beliefs. To me, that’s the “secret” of his success.

Things are pretty liberal on the two coasts and in a few urban areas in the interior. But there are large swaths of land, people and communities in between where Trump’s language, attitude and aggressiveness are the norm.

For Indigenous folks this is exactly how the border towns around our territories look, sound and feel like. The dominant liberal political correctness has kept a lid on these folks but we began to see the lid coming off with the rise of the Tea Party. Trump’s rise has been propelled by the energy of the anger, resentment, and fear these folks have kept contained for decades.

Throughout his campaign Trump repeatedly gave permission for folks to act on their anger, their bigotry and their fears.

Permission is given in wide array of ways. Of course the most overt being someone clearly stating that they give permission for whatever. And then there is the covert permission given through silence or ignoring. Unless someone clearly says that is not right then the silence says that it is right, or, if you prefer, all right. When someone takes the position that’s none of my business then they’ve given their permission that whatever it is, is permissible.

Trump is clearly saying that violence against those he targets is all right. He’s even offered to pay the legal costs for anyone caring out violence if they’re arrested. What other message does one receive when he says that protestors or dissidents should be “taken out on a stretcher”.

It was the Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke that stated: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” And that has certainly held true throughout so many of history’s worst atrocities.

But he is also known for another equally salient point in this election season: “It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the publick to be the most anxious for its welfare.”

It’s this second statement that should give everyone pause to think about and consider what is Trump’s vision and definition of the “public welfare”? This is where the irony really begins to build up starting with the fact the “working class” aligned itself with a billionaire. And then there are the 36% of white women voters who went with Trump even after his outrageous and disgusting statements about women.

And then there are the people of color who voted for him, including Indigenous folks. Really? It’s tough imagining these folks voting for any Republican, but for Trump? After all the racist things he said, you still went for him?

Then there’s the interesting question of did he really win? Yes he got the majority of the Electoral College vote but he didn’t get the majority of the popular vote. The 2016 voter turnout has been termed the lowest in 20 years. Only 58.8% of eligible voters went to the polls. That means 41.2 percent didn’t even bother.

According to the Cook Political Report there were 136,203,395 votes cast. When the results of the popular vote count came in Clinton had 52% of those votes. This prompted Trump to start whining and going on about the election being rigged and not offering one shred of proof for his allegations. According to him she had “millions of illegal votes” cast by illegal immigrants.

In a recent NPR interview former Mexican President Vincente Fox raised the question as to what kind of mandate can Trump claim when he only has the support of 29% of the electorate. It’s not about the electorate but the Electoral College.

Theoretically the votes of the Electoral College are supposed to reflect the popular will of the voters of the state they represent. Obviously that’s all it is – a theory. Because now Trump gets to impose his will on 71% of the country.

The real battleground for Indigenous nations and peoples is not just the Supreme Court. He gets to appoint judges throughout the federal judicial system. He gets to appoint not only the Attorney General. He can appoint the U.S. Attorney Generals throughout the whole federal justice system. And of course he gets to appoint the Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner for Indian Affairs. He gets to appoint more than 4,000 senior and mid level bureaucrats throughout all of the departments and agencies of the federal administrative system.

He has already said that he supports pipelines. And then there is his history of going to court to try and overturn what he calls our “unfair tax advantages” when he challenged our casinos.

For at least the next two years he and his Republican allies will have a virtually unfettered opportunity to attack our sovereignty, our rights, our resources, and our lands. If the federal law is in the way they can write new laws and ram them through the Republican controlled House and Senate. If there are rules or regulations that favor us they can be changed by Executive Order.

We can hope that his actions, on any number of fronts, are found to be so dangerous, obnoxious, and inflammatory that a significant number of the 71% turn out in two years and wound him in the House and Senate. But there is nothing that can be done to stop or alter the damage he can create throughout the administrative bureaucracy. That can only be undone by a change at the top.

Mike Myers is the founder and CEO of Network for Native Futures, a Native non-profit that works with Indigenous nations, communities and organizations internationally. The network's mission is to support sustainable development and nation re-building through providing of technical assistance, training and consulting.

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