Make America Great Again! Lock Her Up! Drain The Swamp!
These were some of the slogans used by Donald Trump, in what will surely go down in history as one of the bloodiest and most vitriolic political battles for the US Presidency; one he was pitted against the most qualified – and female – candidate the US has ever seen. Hillary Clinton, the firm, but flawed, favourite to win.
Donald Trump is now the President-elect of the United States of America. He will assume control of the Oval Office on 20th January 2017. After a seismic year of politics; from Jo Cox’s sudden and tragic assassination on the streets of Birstal in Yorkshire, to Brexit; 2016 is to be rounded off with Donald Trump on the cusp of commanding the White House, with the awesome responsibility and respect the world’s most powerful office demands.
Looking back at the election with the boundless benefit of hindsight, Hillary was not without her faults, but Trump – the candidate – was denigratory in almost every arena – attacking immigrants, religion, LGBT rights, women’s equality and also actively pursued and discussed sexual predation and harassment.
But what is to be made of the country he will now control?
North America has a rich tapestry intertwined with invaders, pilgrims, natives and colonists. From the Appalachian mountains to Florida, the Golf Coast to the Southwest. From the Boston Tea Party to George Washington, the Articles of Confederation to the Bill of Rights. It is the land of The Manifest Destiny, slavery, the State of the Union and Lincoln.
In order to properly understand the history of the United States, we must go all the way back to before Christopher Columbus first arrived on the shores of Hispaniola – one of the Caribbean islands – on 5th December 1492. We must go back further, to the age of the Native. The European colonisation of the Americas is just a small fragment when compared to the greater history of the indigenous population of the continent.
From Beringia – when Asia and North America were connected by land before the separation of the two continents by the Pacific Ocean – native colonisers travelled thousands of miles from the modern human race’s historic epicentre – Africa – through Eurasia, before reaching Alaska. A pathway hewn between the Laurentide icesheet to the East and the Cordilleran icesheet to the West, meant that indigenous peoples were able to travel from Beringia to the grasslands of North America.
So when Donald Trump says, ‘Take Our Country Back’ – that he must take it back from the Muslims, from the gays, remember this; it is not his country to take back.
The Native Americans began life in North America thousands of years ago. From the Paleo-Indians, through the Stone Age and the Clovis culture – a Megafauna hunting culture which used fluted spears to capture animal prey – the indigenous population grew upwards and outwards. Animal hunting within tribes became an ever-adapting art. Weapons became more advanced.
Following the development of the Clovis culture came the Oshara Tradition that grew from Colorado and New Mexico between 5500 BCE to 600 CE and with this came trade and commerce. Poverty Point – a 1-square mile mound site area known to historians and archaeologists, was a sprawling raised-mound marketplace, some 3.686 km² in area. Poverty Point was used as a meeting place for various indigenous tribes to come together and trade in goods and luxuries and is just one of the many mound sites spanning North America in which tribes would come together for commercial and social interaction.
The Adena culture. Cole’s Creek culture. Hohokam culture. The ancestral Puebloan culture. The Mississippian culture. The Iroquois culture. All before the age of the European colonists. It was only after the arrival of Columbus in 1492 that European exploration and subsequent colonisation of the Americas galvanised the Old World’s control on these ‘new’ regions; the Old World better known as the pre-Americas European-explored world.
It was John Cabot – a Genoese explorer – who set sail from Bristol, reaching North America in 1497 who is deemed to be the first colonist to reach the country’s eastern shores, with Columbus’s third expedition arriving at South America the following year. Spanish explorers colonised areas on the West Coast, including California, and Portuguese settlers colonised Brazil and other parts of South America. Old World explorer parties actively drove the Native peoples from their lands, resulting in thousands of tribal deaths due to skirmishes, communicable infection of European diseases, as well as loss of land and resources.
Fast forward to modern day America and Donald Trump has won the White House, promising to ‘Make America Great Again’ and to ‘Take Our Country Back’. But the caveat is simply this; North America never belonged to Donald Trump or the people who voted him into office in the first place and we would do well to remember this.
What remains to be challenged is the last slow-dying embers of a rapidly-shrinking white majority in the greatest superpower the world has ever known. The US Census makes a prediction that Non-Hispanic Whites will no longer make up the majority of the population by 2020. This is incredibly distressing for many – see the recent rise of Neo-Nazism in the US as one indicator – and has resulted in increasing violence, unrest and racial tensions bubbling up to the surface once more.
What can be done? The improvement of education – the teaching of science, the teaching of history of not only the European colonisers but also the Native cultures and history – could be good place to start. The embracement – not indirect denial – of Native culture is another progressive step.
Finally to Standing Rock. The proposed and controversial Dakota Access pipeline that would cut directly across Native American lands. Following protests by Natives and Americans together – and after receiving significant media attention, the Army stepped in order to clear protest camps, often using force and aggressive handling tactics. A glimmer of hope was reported amidst all the chaos; a small group of US military veterans knelt before an assembled group of Natives in a Forgiveness Ceremony, seeking forgiveness for historic battles and bloodshed of their ancestors. The slow burning flame of change is clearly coming, but this advancement must be protected and nurtured and not extinguished.
Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States when he is inaugurated on 20th January 2017. If his campaigning strategy is anything to go by, the next four years will be filled with Twitter-rants and turmoil, amidst a looming backdrop of continuing fallout and loss of life in Syria, China flexing its muscles in the South China Sea, and Russia eying up a period of increased aggression towards the US. Inheriting the most powerful office in the world comes with many problems, often those that are deep-seated and complex, without a simple cure. Energy policy and the treatment of Native populations is and will remain one of the problems Trump will inherit from the Obama Administration.
How Trump reacts and manages his response will be telling by all means.
If you would like to learn more about the post-1492 history of North America, please visit the Khan Academy for extensive educational guides. For Native American history, please visit this useful guide by Scholastic.