In the sepia-tinged gloss of historical hindsight, it is all too easy and commonplace for the privileged among us to run back the Story of Us as an elegiac and sanguine novella; a linear arc of progress pock-marked by escalating tensions involving ever-greater swaths of humanity — mucking up a perfectly sensible narrative. Turning the ship around can often be construed as more a reaction to the rising currents than an attempt to truly change course.
The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it is not a smooth bend. It is choppy, chaotic, and often fraught with conflict. The things that are right and just arrive when it makes practical sense for them to do so. Often, it takes a clear plurality of support from the populace at large and favorable civil conditions. For a fairly recent example, look at marriage equality. This was at the grassroots level a movement rooted in enduring activism, and unimaginable passion in the face of violence and oppression. At the top of the pyramid, however, the sea-change was far more low-stakes, reactive and hive-mind — shrewd and practical political and business decisions of acquiescence, appealing to the passion and power of the many. Truth doesn’t tend to win until enough people are willing to hear it, much less believe it. So it is. And so we are here. These are truth-telling times. And here’s the largest, most obvious truth: The Republic has fallen. America is no more.
Critique of the US is unfairly stigmatized as treasonous — but it is always, and especially in these dark hours, necessary. You’re born into a country like you’re born into a family. You don’t get to choose it, but you must choose to hold it accountable. You know how if you see something in your family that’s unsavory, you call it out? It doesn’t mean you don’t love them, it just means you want and demand better out of them. And so I must call a spade a spade, do so today, and do so here in this space. This kind of language needs to be spoken, so let it be said.
The neo-feudalist economy caused by unchecked, unregulated capitalism that turned at best a winking nod to social welfare, more often a blind eye, and at worst a joyous ax, has facilitated a nationalist, authoritarian rise in pitch, and an abrupt shift right in federal ideology. Donald Trump is both the drooping wilted leaf of this societal rot, and the root. But why?
Human life in the US has no inherent worth. We are not valued beyond the revenue we can generate for the white men who do not need it. Think of how we talk about our own people in a professional setting: Human resources. Human capital. Taxpayer base. These are ways of talking about people that reduce them to streams of income. Think of all the things life offers beyond revenue: love. progress. art. invention. community. health. knowledge. We do not value these things at the institutional level, in fact, we actively curtail them all. But that’s only one piece of the inextricable puzzle.
Additionally, this country was founded with two original sins baked in: Genocidal concentration of its indigenous people, and mass enslavement of the African race. These sins were never reckoned, and they continue to manifest themselves in a litany of ugly and tragic ways. You’ve no doubt read about them by now, but in case you’d like a tweet-length summary, we’ll call it: systemic dehumanization and oppression of all people who are not white.
So that’s how we got here: People can’t afford to live. We’re jailing babies in cages. Kids are being shot up in schools. We’re deporting people seeking asylum. Flint doesn’t have clean water. Puerto Rico is a mess. We’re attacking women online and assaulting them in the streets. All given the tacit, or even enthusiastic, approval by a fascist authoritarian apex predator who has free reign to indulge his darkest impulses. Yet make no mistake: Authoritarianism is not the cause … it is a symptom of a deeper, underlying sickness. Civilization is a thin veneer. As civilization crumbles (as it is assuredly doing now), it emboldens and empowers monsters like these.
Trump the President, for all his bluster and fear-mongering and hatred, is the product of fractious wealth concentration among the global elite — men very much like Trump the businessman. It is no secret that this true elite (not the intelligentsia or coastal elite, mind you, they are mere interlopers in the club and not the backroom VIP lounge entrants) have a penchant for shuffling the deck of the world order, and a potential to set fire to it, if it suits their interests. They stoke the flames of racial tension, and ostracize those already precariously perched in society’s margins. So it appears that this has become our new reality. Brown babies are in jails, separated from their parents, families ripped apart. This is genocide. This is us.
It’s actually quite remarkable that humanity has not extinguished itself yet — not for a lack of trying. From fossil fuel-accelerated climate change to nuclear weapons to the mass production of foods that only partially contain food, it is clear as we drift exponentially and deliriously closer to our breaking point. With fascist strong-men authoritarian figures and kleptocratic shadow agencies proliferating here, we are being steered ever closer toward our bitter end without our consent, the ship moaning and creaking as it bends against the stormy sea.
It is quite easy to get lost in the “now.” For it is all we can sense, and it is all we are given. But it is this “now” that is of most pressing concern. The rhyme of history dictates that disastrous consequences await societies that reach their point of no return. The American and French Revolutions, the American Civil War, World War II and The Red Scare, our current global apple cart, all arriving with near metronomic regularity some full lifetimes apart. Through this lens you can clearly see: The darkness is only beginning.
The United States, and all her citizenry — from the browbeaten to the bullheaded — from the Atlantic to the Pacific, now face down demons old and new on an unimaginable scale. So is the volatility of our history. So is the course of our progress. To dismiss it as a “blip on the map” is to downplay the enormity and totality of what’s arrived. Coalitions form, economies fail, dictators rise across the globe, and bodies lay still upon the streets. There is nothing more real or complete. We are here. We are the monsters we claim to vanquish.
Past watershed conflicts were indeed quite temporary, often lasting less than the course of a two-term president, yet the effects are grave and the forecast is ominous. Battles rage. Lives end. Rights are revoked. When a nation fails, the out-groups are often the first to hear its roar, and the first to feel its rage. So you can see it now. The only way out is through.
The thing with fascist authoritarian regimes is there isn’t more than meets the eye to them … there’s less. There’s no goal beyond remaining in power, no strategy beyond blanket cruelty toward those they feel are threats. And so they have one major vulnerability: That vulnerability is, simply, a more attractive option. An alternative social contract that its populace will choose over it … one worth fighting and striving for. We end the human rights violations when we create that social contract. I don’t think it’s too much to ask when the only rung left up the ladder on which we find ourselves climbing is genocide.
We now need a new republic. This isn’t a political, or even ideological war anymore. It’s a moral reckoning, and a fundamental reimagining of what a society can become. It requires all of us really taking a critical eye inward, and at our institutions, and asking what we value most. If that answer is anything other than “life itself,” we will fail.
That answer, at the institutional level right now, should we choose to see it, is already something else. Our institutions have already failed. The only question left to ask is how predatory they’ll become. We must create new institutions — better ones, kinder ones that serve all people equally. This is not red vs blue, or a championing of any of the “isms,” it’s a battle against total darkness. It’s a fight against genocide. It’s a fight against evil.
So, what to do? Among the many more foolish pieces of advice I’ve heard kicked around is “ride it out” because it will all be over soon and things will return to normal. That is a privileged position to take, and tacit approval of the status quo. The stakes are much too high, and the night is much too dark.
Until we establish that life holds more value than income, and that all lives from all races, genders and so on hold that same equal fundamental value, we’ll see more kids in cages, and more monsters in power to keep them there.
When we offer a working, free society that people will fight for, we will end the regime. We must establish a value system based on fundamental human worth and equality that people will choose. Otherwise, you know, prep for more gulags, deportations, purges, mass shootings, suicides and French Revolution-type stuff. In other words: what’s already all around us.
For now, it is a call to take disciplined, measured action to protect yourself and others, to reach out to our most vulnerable, to aid in our communities, to work hard, fight like hell, stay healthy and stay true to our destination. As we’ve seen from history before, the subsiding of the tempest will not arrive before its ready, so it is our duty to ensure that as many of us safely reach its end so that we may begin to build again. We will need to look after each other, as the darkness continues to close in, before it engulfs us in an endless night.