Yesterday America committed suicide. The idea of America, about which I wrote last week, is dead. Peering into the abyss, citizens of the United States chose fascism over a democratic republic. The following is a very slightly modified version of the column I had prepared when I thought we had been granted a reprieve. Nothing has changed; it has only been accelerated by four years. I thought we had that time; turns out we, and the planet, do not.
Most significantly, we've learned that the American constitutional republic is far more fragile than we were willing to admit. Yes, there had been threats of default and sequestration, years of legislative paralysis, kangaroo committee hearings and threats of impeachment, but we've never been confronted with a nihilistic electoral rage willing to burn the house down. We have now.
We know that partisanship has become so toxic that it has become sufficiently metastatic to be a threat to the entire organism. We are suffering from a fatal case of septic shock, which is a terrible way to die. This happened despite the fascists having no campaign operation to speak of, while the Democrats had their best, including GOTV (Get Out the Vote). Not that it will matter in the future, since there likely won't be another vote.
- The populist rage has no agenda other than destruction; if they're miserable, everyone should suffer.
- Given such partisanship a slickly packaged neo-Nazi who keeps his mouth shut has a good chance of following Trump, should he even bother to step down.
- It will take courage amongst Republicans which has been in very short supply this past year to withstand the complete Nazification of the Republican party.
- The civil war has begun.
I wrote earlier that this is an existential crisis. This election changes everything; the alt-Reich won. The response needs to be to respond in kind. One doesn't defeat a group of bullies with fine words or "going high." We need to realize that the cancer is spreading and we are not going back to what we used to consider "business as usual."
There is no post-racial America. Bigotry is alive and well, and what was previously hidden and whispered is now brazen open and shouted. It will not disappear unless we defeat it.
Anti-Semitism is alive and well, too, to the shock of most Americans who are old enough to remember mass extermination, as well as those who thought those days were long gone and that they were simply privileged white folks who needed to unpack that privilege. Well, we've got a lot of work to do to overcome all sorts of racism, but don't unpack those bags too quickly - you'll be of little help to your neighbors if you ignore those coming for you. Watch John Kasich's (no friend of decency, he) final ad if you never learned Martin Niemoller's plea.
Contrary to some of the analysis which portrayed this as a populist revolt of the economically distressed against the elites, that turned out not to be the case. The average Trump supporter earns more than the national average. No doubt economics plays a role, but just as Democrats have been wondering for decades why the white working class pays so little attention to economics (What's the Matter with Kansas), it would be foolish to suddenly believe in a Marxist analysis to Trumpist rage. Kansas is a great piece of evidence, as the state has become a true hellscape (unlike Trump's imaginary ones) thanks to the reactionary economic conservatism of Governor Brownback. That state doubled down on their misery and voted for Trump.
So why the rage? As has been pointed out by scholars of fascism, most recently by Adam Gopnik and Jelani Cobb, the rise of fascism requires a profound sense of humiliation and alienation of the people. While the white working class has believed the lies of the Republican party for decades, and while they keep voting for them, they seem to have finally recognized they've been had. Hence the rage against the Republican elites, beginning first with the Rovian astroturfed Tea Party, then the defenestration of Eric Cantor, to today's rise of the Trumpkins. That rage is associated with the humiliation of having been taken for fools, lifted by Trumpian rhetoric (if one could apply the term "rhetoric" to anything Trump says) that paints America as a fallen giant. Importantly, to them America has not been defeated by some external enemy, but by the diverse hordes of color and sexuality within.
That sense of humiliation is directly connected to a sense of diminished masculinity thanks to women's growing independence, both economically and socially, the increasing acceptance of LGBT persons, and longing for the days of socially acceptable sexual assault and enslavement of women. A sense of aggrievement that persons of color are no longer beneath the white man on the ladder of social hierarchy, which always assuaged the white male sense of inferiority for those men who hadn't made it.
The pride of white America has been deeply damaged. In some respect that seems absurd, as white people are still a majority, black people a small minority, and the Latinx community still quite publicly marginalized. But people know that change is occurring, since right-wing talk show hosts and demagogues exaggerate daily, and more persons of color are visible these days in the media. It has been said that Trump's mortification by the President at the 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner provoked him into running. A thin-skinned grifter and fraud being goaded by a black President is a pretty good analogy for the populist rage that brought us the teabaggers and Trumpkins. We can't hide from that simple reality anymore, or make excuses for the hate.
Finally, we must deal with the role of the media. Leslie Moonves famously said that Trump may be bad for America, but he was great for CBS. I don't know how to control the media, which, even in the era of social media and its gross manipulation by a gang of adolescent Macedonians, still used its power to create and maintain the fascist candidacy of Trump. They have a lot for which to answer, and we need to find way to either shame them back into a professional attitude or constrain such behavior in the future. That many of his enablers, these facilitators of this American Mussolini, happen to be Jewish is a humiliation (shonda, but not Shonda Rhimes) for the American Jewish community.
Let's take a moment to breathe, and consider our options. My grandparents left a dying continent in time to start over in the new world. It seems I must do the same, and my children now should consider a similar exit plan. I've had a good life, and it's no longer about me. As President Clinton said in Philadelphia, do it for your children and grandchildren. If it were just an American disease they could leave as well, but the entire planet now has a terminal diagnosis.
Let me end with the close from Gopnik's last essay:
Not long ago, I had occasion to write of the divide in virtue that separates us from Shakespeare, making the point that Shakespeare believed in fate, order, and forgiveness, whereas we believe in history, justice, and compassion, and that, superior though our moral progress may seem, there are bitter truths in the old trinity. For, as Shakespeare would have grasped at once, there is no explaining Trump. He is one of those phenomena that rise regularly in history to confound us with the possibility--and black comedy--of potent evil: conscienceless, cruel and pathologically dishonest. That evil magnetizes followers of all kinds is another permanent truth. Overexplaining its rise is as foolish as pretending that it can be easily defeated. The threat it makes to an order that, however imperfect, is worth sustaining and defending reminds us of that order's fragility. As to forgiveness, much will be demanded, even if the best happens--or the worst, at least, is avoided.
Be very afraid.