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There’s a lot of reaching out to do. I pray Trump’s arms are long enough

Jesse Jackson

As I travelled thousands of miles round the country these past few months, encouraging Americans to register and vote, everywhere I went – from rural hamlets to big cities and everything in between – I encountered a profound and tremendous amount of economic consternation. It was so thick and heavy in the air that I could taste it – a steaming bowl of bitter Brexit stew, full of fear, despair and anger.

So while I was stunned by how our ugly presidential campaign of 2016 ended, I was not surprised that after a long and harrowing election night, that went from amazing grace to disgrace Donald Trump, the brash billionaire, came down from his gilded Manhattan tower to be elected the 45th president of the United States.

Now he must prove he is worthy of the office by immediately going to work uniting the country he has done so much to divide. He must start rebuilding the bridges he has spent the past 18 months burning down with his fiery rhetoric and late-night tweets. He must reach out to the Latino and immigrant community and end his divisive talk of high walls and mass deportations. He must reach out to women and disabled people, both targets of his vicious barbs and crude language. He must reach out to African Americans, whom he all but ignored. He must end his Muslim bashing at home and abroad.

He has a lot of reaching out to do. For the sake of the country and the world, I pray his arms are long enough. Yet, reaching out is not enough. He must also embrace and include those he has pushed away. He needs to preach and practise a one big tent America.

But much of the country now feels caught in a deep hole of fear and disappointment. Based on Trump’s campaign rhetoric and the Republican party platform, the social, racial and economic progress America has made over recent decades is in danger: gender equality, the fight for a living wage, affordable healthcare, the struggle for sensible gun control laws, immigration reform and the regeneration of urban communities.

We can only hope he will not govern the way he campaigned – a steady diet of retrograde fantasies and divisive talk about taking the country back. Back to where? When Jim Crow and American apartheid ruled the land; when women could not vote or serve on juries?

I have known Trump for years and, until this bruising campaign, always thought him a decent man. We had our political differences, but I was surprised he turned so quickly and sharply to the right in his quest for power. It saddened and alarmed me that his words resonated so deeply with the racist right that the Ku Klux Klan’s leading newspaper endorsed him.

There is no doubt that Trump played the race card, dealing from the bottom of the deck most often when it came to Mexican immigrants. But he also tapped into some of the legitimate fears that many blue collar and middle-class Americans have about the future.

It was easy pickings. There are too many Americans working harder for less, too many temporary and part-time workers, too many people who have never recovered from the recovery. It is time to move from political battleground to economic and social common ground. I hope Trump does not continue to get lost in the thicket of political and racial resentments.

The forces of reaction that rallied to his side will undoubtedly be emboldened by the election. But the tug of war for the soul of America is far from over. Therefore, the progressive coalition of conscience that sent Barack Obama to the White House eight years ago against all odds, and came so close to sending Hillary Clinton there this time, cannot afford to be discouraged and retreat to the sidelines.

Still, we must be willing to give the president elect a chance, a fair shot to be the inclusive commander in chief the country and the world needs him to be.

If he fails to do that, however, we must do what we have done so many times in the past to make America great: resist evil, inequality and discrimination until, as Martin Luther King said, “justice rolls down like water … in a mighty stream”.