Saturday, November 12, 2016

RESIST! : Some Thoughts at the End of a Terrible Week

"And I will make a song for the ears of the President, full of weapons with menacing points,
And behind the weapons countless dissatisfied faces"
                          --Walt Whitman, "Starting From Paumanok"

"I've seen the future, baby: / It is murder."
                                  --Leonard Cohen*, "The Future"

On the night of November 8, 2016, I sat in my living room and watched the fascist takeover of my country on MSNBC.

Read the above sentence again, let its absurdity sink in, and then remind yourself that it's not the first line of a work of fiction.

After my sleepless election night, Wednesday seemed even more unreal, sleep deprivation giving my perceptions a mildly hallucinatory spin, akin to toking a stick of mellow weed. (Legal in California soon; in one of the few bright spots in this electoral catastrophe, we can now honor democracy in America by changing San Francisco's name to "Da Tokeville.") I wandered around all day half-convinced that I was trapped inside a ridiculous nightmare and that any minute now my alarm would jolt me awake and I would get up, shower, dress, drive to my polling place, cast my vote for Hillary Clinton, and spend the rest of the day chuckling to myself about that Kafkaesque dream in which a billionaire bozo who dyes his hair with French's mustard, insults most of the country, brags about his prowess as a sexual assaulter, and functions as a Russian dictator's hand puppet somehow becomes our president-elect. What a sad, sick dream...

It's Friday afternoon now, and the Trump victory nightmare is still going strong. This is our generation's version of the Joycean collective nightmare of history, and America and the world will not awaken from it for the next 4-8 years. Four to eight. That's the fascist prison sentence America's white racists have handed us all for the crime of twice electing a black man to the presidency. We can safely ignore all the commentators who blame Clinton's defeat (which wasn't one; she won the election by around 200,000 votes, only to lose the presidency due to our constitution's anti-democratic Electoral College) on millennials or globalization or Wall Street or Bernie Sanders or J. Edgar Comey's egregiously disruptive act of bureaucratic ass-covering. The real reason Donald Jackass Trump will be raising his right hand at the Capitol next January can be summed up in a single sentence slightly altered from the original 1992 Clinton campaign's unofficial slogan: It's the racism, stupid. Trump won an Electoral College victory by running a campaign so despicable that he attracted and enthused millions of rural white racists for whom Mitt Romney and John McCain were simply too liberal--and too invested in such unpatriotic, 'politically correct' ideas as decency, civility and pluralism.

Not that those previous Republican campaigns failed for lack of trying. The 2012 Romney/Ryan campaign barnstormed my part of the country (rural western Ohio) to get out the braindead white racist vote, but their approach was far too urbane, relying on code words and dogwhistles (welfare, food stamps, entitlements). Trump can be accused of many things, but he's no dogwhistler. He's the Ethel Merman of bigotry, opening his rancid pie hole and letting it all spew out. We've all seen the evidence too many times: President Obama is the Kenyan-born founder of ISIS; Mexicans are rapists and murderers; an Indiana-born judge is a 'Mexican' and therefore biased; a Gold Star Mother overcome with grief is insulted on the basis of her religion; a disabled man is mocked to the delighted laughter of a Trump-loving crowd; and so on, and so on. Trump has sung so many off-key arias of bigotry that the KKK's enthusiastic endorsement, the Trump Organization's well-documented history of racial discrimination in renting, and even the "Grab 'em by the pussy" tape seem more like confirmations than revelations.

The standard postmortem line taken by commentators since the election is that Trump voters supported him despite his outrageous performances of bigotry, his pathological lying, his incessant vulgarity. The darker truth is that many Trump supporters, many millions perhaps, are devoted to him because of these things, especially the public, unapologetic racism. They love Trump not despite his racism but because of it. The white rural racists who put Trump over the top in Pennsylvania and Ohio, those voters Trump addressed with the Hitlerian rhetoric of "the forgotten man"--a phrase now, predictably, adopted uncritically by the media--are the people to whom he spoke directly at the Republican Convention when he proclaimed, "I will be your voice." That line sent an almost literal chill down my spine while I watched the speech, probably because it adhered so closely to Walter Benjamin's description of fascist political strategy in his essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction":

Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves.

Donald John Trump, tribune of the racists, voice of the "forgotten man and woman," offered the white American lower classes a louder echo of their own racist thoughts and a chance to express their resentment at the ballot box. Predictably--although no pollster predicted it--they seized the opportunity like so many avid marks in a national confidence game. They were so intent on Trump's conning promises (Make America Great Again!; Take our country back!) that they failed to see that instead of 'taking their country back,' they betrayed their country to an un-American, European-style fascist. This was Don's Big Con. Newman and Redford couldn't have played it better.

Did I say a while back that Trump doesn't indulge in dogwhistles? Well, I was obviously wrong. Both of the just-mentioned rhetorical formulae are prime examples of racist dogwhistling. 'Make American Great Again' implies that American has become somehow degraded (by its first black president, perhaps?) and must be restored by an ignorant white blowhard in a ridiculous advertising cap. 'Take our country back' is even more obvious. This is a what Trump supporters commonly say when explaining their support to reporters: "We're taking our country back." Unfortunately, every reporter I've seen confronted with this question-begging statement has been too polite to challenge the Trumpite. So allow me to bring the dogwhistles down to the audible range. 'We' means white people; 'our country' signifies the white supremacist dogma that America belongs solely to white Christians; and 'back' functions more ambiguously, both denoting the utopian dream of regaining a power the speaker believes has been lost in the recent past and connoting the universal reactionary dream of returning to an imaginary past. They do indeed want to take our country back. Back before the Sixties, before the Brown decision. Back to the days when Emmett Till was lynched for whistling. Back to about 1950. Maybe even further.... Additionally, the statement begs the questions 'From whom are you taking it back?' and 'Who has taken it away from you?' These are never asked in televised interviews because every reporter knows the answers will reveal the interview subject as a braindead racist. Lower-class white racists--a demographic with which I am widely and intimately familiar--cling to a myth of minority dominance. In a weird, Through the Looking Glass caricature of minority consciousness, white racists see the socioeconomic deck stacked against them and in favor of black people, brown people, Asians, Jews, and/or any other Other that crosses their radar screens. They believe that their country has been taken away from them by dark-skinned minorities (who in fact, and by virtually every measure, fare much worse in our society than white people of any class), and they thus see Barack Obama as a reification and verification of this delusion. They are white jihadists taking their country back from a powerful black man. Voting for Trump offered a proxy fulfillment of this deep, irrational fantasy.

So much for the Trumpites. What can we expect from the man they have put into power? A terrible presidency, the worst we have ever experienced, worse than Nixon, worse than Dubya. As Marc Maron said the day after the election, "He's a shitty man and he'll be a shitty president." Any hopes raised in the interval between election and inauguration by an apparent moderation of Trump's campaign persona must be weighed against the fact that Trump was elected as a fascist and must rule as one or face defeat in four years at the hands of disappointed followers. We should heed the poet Andrew Marvell, who lived through his own 'interesting times' and wrote about Oliver Cromwell's rise and governance,

The same arts that did gain
A power, must it maintain.

The actions of a Trump administration are drearily, frighteningly predictable. It's going to be a very, very bad time. Tax cuts for the rich and corporations will widen the income gap while increasing the deficit and necessitating the degradation of money-starved government services, from mining regulation (Tough shit, West Virginians; maybe you shouldn't have voted for the motherfucker.) to food safety, to basic medical and scientific research. Climate change will continue apace under an administration that officially disbelieves in it. Women's rights and reproductive freedom will be under continuous assault by an administration headed by the misogynistic pussy-grabbing Prez and his tight-assed puritanical sidekick, Mike Pence, Indiana's 'funeral for a fetus' fruitcake. America's already over-militarized local police forces will take their natural place as the strong arm of Trump's fascist rule. Immigrant deportations will continue to tear families apart, and a made-for-TV program of swift, massive, telegenic roundups of 'illegals' will inevitably lead to the detention and deportation of innocent American citizens. President Trump's bigotry and scapegoating will continue to validate a culture of ignorance, violence and bullying. Expect more school shootings, mass murders, a spike in suicides. All imaginable forms of bigotry will be encouraged under the banner of 'religious freedom,' which has already been redefined to mean, "The Christian right's freedom to impose its religion on the entire country." Dramatically decreased corporate and environmental regulation will mean more pollution, more respiratory diseases, more spectacular corporate disasters like the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. A return to pre-2008 financial regulations will guarantee a repeat of the 2008 global financial collapse. A far-right majority Supreme Court will send the country's judiciary spiraling back in time to reverse Roe vs. Wade, destroy the Voting Rights and Civil Rights acts, and curtail First Amendment freedoms while guaranteeing that even crazy-eyed meth freaks in ISIS banner t-shirts will be able to walk into any American gun shop and legally buy an assault weapon. And if you liked Dubya's wars, you'll love Trump's. How about a US invasion of Iran, as an appetizer? How about an invasion of Libya? How about a full-scale return to the quagmire of Iraq? How about another spectacular terrorist attack on American soil which the Trump administration will exploit the way Hitler exploited the Reichstag fire?

These are all possibilities, some likely, some not. It's difficult to predict the policies of an administration headed by a cynically demagogic, pathologically lying con man, but if we take his statements seriously (as Masha Gessen, in a recent and essential NYR essay, tells us we must), those may be the broad outlines of life under Trump.

After that litany of horrors, readers may be surprised to learn that I am not sunk in a pit of depressive despair. I'm not despairing, I'm determined--determined to oppose this vile sonofabitch in every way I can. When fascism comes to your country, you have three basic choices: bystanding, collaboration, and resistance. Now is the time for all Americans who value such basic and once-uncontroversial concepts as decency, knowledge, truth, ethics, and freedom to move into a position of resistance to Trumpism. Sometimes the dialectic of history moves like a roller coaster, so we shouldn't be surprised that the first stirrings of resistance are already visible on the streets of America's major cities. But street demonstrations, while valuable and necessary as spectacle, are ephemeral events. Power tolerates them because power knows they will be over soon--and if they persist, as in the case of the 2011 Occupy movement, violent police power will soon break them. Resistance requires coordination, organization. (When  an anarchist tells you you need organization, believe him.) Trumpism must be met with a broad, organized resistance that ranges from Senators filibustering reactionary legislation and using parliamentary tactics to monkey wrench the Trump agenda, to liberal media (Mother Jones, The Nation, MSNBC) investigating what will almost certainly be an administration of jaw-dropping corruption, to people from all walks of life in all parts of the country who meet, march, donate, support like-minded candidates, and do whatever they can to hasten the defeat of Trumpite fascism. Veterans of the Clinton and (especially) the Sanders campaigns should be moving directly into active resistance now, in the brief interval of sanity before Trump's inauguration, an event that should be attended by more protesters than supporters, like the white supremacist rally it is destined to be. Donald Trump, an avatar of the worst of America, must be resisted by the best of America. Because he is in fact a comic book caricature of an American fascist, it's perfectly acceptable to view this struggle in Manichaean terms. This is the good America versus the evil America. There is no middle ground, no possibility of common ground. Any calls to 'respect the office of the presidency' or to respect Trump because he has successfully demagogued his way into that office or to 'wait and see' if Trump suddenly pivots into sanity after the election--all these requests can be safely ignored as the empty rhetoric they are, lines read from a cultural script that ceases to be valid when a fascist achieves the presidency. Trump does not deserve any decent human being's respect. He deserves only our resistance. Let us take to heart the words of a long-ago immigrant to these shores:

THESE are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country but he that stands it NOW, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain, too cheap, we esteem too lightly:--'Tis dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to set a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as Freedom should not be highly rated.
        --Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, no.1, 1776


*As though this terrible week needed further bad news, word arrives today that Leonard Cohen has died. His voice will be missed--but more importantly, it will be listened to.

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