We are in the midst of a clash of civilizations. Not in the Samuel Huntington sense, of East vs. West, or Muslim vs. Christian, but in the basic political philosophical sense of constitutional democracy vs. fascist authoritarianism. November 8th stands as a potential extinction-level event.
Just writing that bit of alarmist prose is an out-of-body experience. Yes, every election since 2000 has been "the most important election of our lifetime," and because of the failure of the process in 2000 we ended up with the Iraq catastrophe which has given us the Islamic State, but this is different.
I'm sitting in the arena on Day 3 of the Democratic National Convention, a convention which in many ways feels no different than the previous two of the Obama years. A highly diverse crowd, of delegates, activists and guests, looks like America, maybe a little more so than 2008. The LGBT contingent has risen to 11.5%, and the number of trans delegates has doubled since 2012. The response of most people to such statistics is, "Yawn." A room full of Latino and African Americans. Yawn. A room full of women. Yawn. The mirror of America, normal America.
That sense of normalcy is worth celebrating. It is what the struggle for civil rights is about - the opportunity to live one's life to the fullest. But today there is no time to celebrate. The sense of normalcy within is threatened by the barbarians at the gate.
I've lived my adult life in an America that was struggling with the change from the progressive '60s, manifesting with conservative takeovers of school boards, city and state legislatures, and for many years, the federal government. It wasn't pleasant, but it was representative democracy. The people, of either ideology, could organize and take control for a time, with the other side always aware that its time might come with hard work and a little luck. Which it did.
That America, which for decades did not often represent me or my interests, was still a nation where freedom was real, equality was a goal that could be steadily approached, and opportunity was available for most who were able to take advantage of the possibilities.
The America that stands across the abyss this coming November 8th is not a land of freedom. It is not a land where equality is cherished. It is not a land of opportunity for the vast majority of the population. It is not the land promised by the Declaration nor protected by the Constitution.
It is a land that is the hellscape of Donald Trump's fevered imagination, the land he describes to his raging, bloodthirsty supporters as the America of today, but in reality is not but would be the land of Trump's America. It is a land where the lives of most Americans, difficult as they may be today, would become radically different. The land of "the divided crime scene," not "the shining city on the hill."
Trump's America would be a land run by the bullies which civil society manages to control. A land of rudeness, cruelty, and, inevitably, violence. This is not a speculation. Human history is replete with the exploits of strongmen and their legacy of destruction. Anyone conversant with just the history of the last century, knows of the development of concentration camps in Boer-run South Africa, of the slaughterhouses in the trenches of World War One and the charnel houses of the black earth of Nazi-occupied Europe. These are not exceptions in human history; these are the rule.
America has been blessed by geographic isolation but not an isolation of compassion, willing on multiple occasions to go to the rescue and support of people abroad who share our love of freedom. But that isolation has also limited our imagination, as we've been protected from an awareness of the worst that humans have been able to do to one another around the globe. Without an assertive education in world history, East as well as West, Americans are dangerously naïve of the threat that is at our door.
It has often been said that "It can't happen here." Yes, it can.
Speaking of education and people who should know better -- American Jews, those who lived through the era of the Holocaust or whose parents and grandparents did, have lived for the past fifty years chanting, "Never again." While it's understandable that some Jews, particularly the more fundamentalist, would be generally conservative and these days support the Republican party because of its mindlessly unbending support of Israel, there is absolutely no excuse for any Jewish man or women to support Trump. Jews who lived under fascist demagogues in Europe and the Middle East did not thrive. Anti-Semitism has never been far from the mind of bigots who might today be anti-Latino or anti-Muslim, so there is no justification to support a man with no ethical core, a history of business criminality, and who has enabled American bigots of all stripes, including anti-Semites. This is not open to dispute.
This is an era of anti-politics, and era where American bigots are no longer afraid to speak their minds and, on growing occasions, act on their feelings.
When former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has been, first and foremost an entrepreneur, but politically a Republican, Democrat and independent, says at a Democratic convention,
Let's elect a sane, competent person. Trump says he wants to run the nation like he's run his business. God help us.
we know we're in a universe parallel to the one which we've inhabited all our lives.
The president, when he first mentioned the name Trump, generated boos in the arena. and his response was, "Don't boo. Vote." I fear that voting for their "self-described savior" will be the response of the bigots, and not those who can't believe that bigots exist, and are a threat to our constitutional democracy.
Obama said that "democracy is not a spectator sport," and our founding documents use the plural "we" - "We hold these truths to be self-evident . . .," and "We, the people. . . " Not "I am your voice."
If a majority of Americans in swing states do not understand the difference between "I" and "we," we will bring upon ourselves and our democracy an extinction-level event. The fate of America is in our hands.