Rev. Jesse Jackson: Trump's election has set up "a struggle for the soul of America"

Nov 16, 2016


A week ago, we woke up to the news that Donald Trump is our president-elect.

Since that day, we’ve seen a flood of reported hate incidents across the country.

Here in Michigan, a Traverse City police officer has resigned after showing up in his off-duty hours at a "Love Trumps Hate" rally driving his pickup truck decked out with the Confederate flag.

A police officer in Canton is suspended over a racist Facebook post.

A student at the University of Michigan reports being threatened by a man who said he’d light her on fire if she didn’t remove her hijab.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson sat down with us ahead of the University of Michigan civil rights symposium being held in his honor to talk about what he called the “struggle for the soul of America.”

“[The] character of the [Trump] campaign was to exacerbate fears rather than to create or expand hope,” Jackson told us.

“The one who lit the fire must know that you cannot govern under these conditions. You’re going to create a nation that is vigorously divided and driven by the incitement of fear rather than the excitement of hope,” he said.

There’s been much discussion over whether racism or xenophobia were a motivating factor for Trump supporters. These claims have been largely rejected by voters, who instead point to economic hardship in their communities as the reason they threw their weight behind Trump.

Jackson acknowledges the real economic concerns that these voters have, but told us that those concerns can’t be so easily separated from the tone and language of Trump’s campaign.

“When you look at a candidate who espouses ‘Jewish money’ or ‘ban the Muslims’ and a wall with the Mexicans and can’t accept the judgment of a Mexican judge, you look at all that racism and vote in spite of that, you’re on that team. You’re on the racist team,” Jackson said.

“Don’t use economic crisis for an excuse for racist behavior,” he said. “We’ve survived apart, we must learn to live together.”

To say Jackson believes his civil rights work and political career have brought positive change to America would be an understatement, but he said this year's election has set things back some.

“Some of the wounds created and some of the fears created in the process of campaigning will not go away easily,” Jackson said.

“We learned to play ball together, we learned to fight wars together, we've not learned to live together, he said. “We must consciously work on learning to love and to live and to share.”

Jackson fears that younger generations will not see the progress made by previous generations, given the current political climate.

“The biggest fear is that we would go backwards into fear rather than forward into hope,” he said, “that we would go backward into polarization rather than forward into unity.”

“We’ve made a lot of progress in 50 years, that progress is now threatened by this environment,” he added.

Jackson is keeping hope alive, however, and said despite current turmoil, he believes young people hold the key to progress.

He wants young people to “become more active participants in our political process” by voting and looking at what is going on around them. 

Listen to our conversation above for more.

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