Americans are by nature sunny and optimistic. The optimism can be little bit forced, because surviving the depredations and crushing stress of American life takes relentless positivity. That's not a judgment, it's an observation. This, in a sense, is where America is now, vis a vis Trumpism.
America didn't get Trumpism until it was too late. What do I mean by that? Let me explain. And as I do, the point isn't to relitigate recent history—but it is to discuss the problem America faces now, which it still doesn't fully grasp.
Today, American liberals are growing desperate. Panicked. Manic and frantic. They're searching for ways to stop Trump. From assuming the mantle of the Presidency again. So idea after idea's floated, and ripples through the pages of newspapers, columns, cable news, thinktanks, blogs, and so forth.
What if he goes to jail? Can we use the 14th Amendment? If he's convicted in this way, could that disqualify him? How about if we argue this particular legal point? What if we block his candidacy on these grounds, and send this case to the courts? The ideas, such as they are, roll on, with a growing sense of...
Despair. There's more than a little bit of a tinge of desperation to all this, this increasingly frantic quest for a method, a way, a mechanism...solution. The underlying assumption, or desired end, here, is that There Must Be a Way to Stop Trump Once and For All. It's not that that's necessarily wrong, but it misses the point. Or rather, it obscures the point, which Americans don't want to face, at least not on this political side.
Let's think back in history. There were Three Big Opportunities to Stop Trump. But America's establishment didn't seize them, out of hubris, denial, and sheer stubborn wishful thinking. And so now it faces not a short-run problem, but a long-term one.
What were they?
The first one was before the fateful 2016 election. Back then, what happened? None of the warnings were taken seriously. In fact, it was worse than that. Those of us who warned—and we did warn, strenuously—weren't even just ignored or dismissed, we were attacked, mocked, taunted, and blacklisted, by our own side. That's not point-scoring. We're discussing what actually happened.
So because the warnings weren't taken seriously, the First Big Chance to Stop Trump...was completely blown. Remember those days? That was when MSNBC pundits would argue that Trump wasn't such a bad guy, when the newspapers were full of columns if not praising him, then at least defending him from...the very warnings which would soon come true.
The theme of those days was, and it's a bit incredible to look back on them now: Trump's not a fascist, ha-ha, this isn't authoritarianism, look at these people warning of such things, why, they must be the really dangerous and crazy ones.
Remember what happened with any number of celebrity scandals recently? The warnings weren't taken seriously. Instead, walls of silence were created, which shielded predators and abusers, and let them continue their behaviour. This is exactly what happened with Trump—the establishment created a wall of silence that enabled his rise to power, and that was true on both sides of the political aisle. It's a Big Problem of Organizations.
That's worse, by the way, than just "not taking the warnings seriously." The very figures and institutions and systems who are now turning around in despair searching for ways to Solve the Problem of Donald Trump are the very ones that...made it happen. Or enabled and let it, anyways.
That brings us to the Second Big Chance to Stop Trump. That was during his Presidency. What happened then? A pattern of wildly escalating abuse of power was soon evident. It went from ethnic "bans" to putting kids in cages to "separating" families to hunting down hated scapegoats on the streets, a downward spiral accelerating seemingly at light speed.
Yet even at this juncture, the very same dynamic continued to be true. The really dangerous and crazy ones were the ones warning something was Seriously Wrong Here, not the President who was growing more and more open in his pursuit of authoritarianism and fascism. The late Ben Ferencz warned that Trump was committing the equivalent of crimes against humanity. Who was Ferencz? Only the last living Nuremberg Prosecutor at the time. But who listened? Nobody much, at least not those with or in power, in all its various forms, whether political power, audiences, relationship, deep pockets, or at the helm of institutions.
Instead, while Trump pushed America off the edge, and into the abyss, while his pattern of abuse of power escalated...the same dynamic as before the election went on. In those days, the columns were full of "takes" like no, this isn't fascism, ha-ha, you can't say that, we'll get very Angry At You, Trump Isn't Mussolini, No, These Aren't High Crimes, and so forth. Let me say that again, because it matters a great deal, if you want to understand how societies collapse. While Trump was escalating...American institutions and power went on building a wall of silence around him, defending him from the warnings that weren't by now just soon to come true, but coming true.
Let me emphasize that while, sure, there was reporting on all this, and that was necessary and well and good, the attitude of the analysis and thinking, the social current, the "takes," wasn't that this was an Existential Crisis for America and Democracy. It was...No Big Deal.
That brings me to the Third Chance to Stop Trump. Who could have checked his abuses of power? Given not just a free pass by the establishment, and I don't just mean politically, but in all its forms, all that was left was...the GOP. But by now, having escalated the abuse of power right down into the abyss, Trump had consolidated his hold on power. He'd wowed his flock with his shock-and-awe tactics, forged a bond with them stronger than steel, through scapegoating, hate, conspiratorialism, and demonization, all of which had become official government policy by now. With his flock marching in step behind him, the GOP had no choice but to fall into lockstep, too.
Three Big Chances to Stop Trump. None of them were taken. What's my point? That you should shed tears about history? To make you feel guilty and ashamed? Not at all. It's so that you look at things in a mature, adult, sophisticated way, which doesn't happen too often in America.
One of American thinking's great assumptions is that there's no such thing as a mistake you can't recover from. Nothing is irredeemable, irreversible, unchangeable. No situation is insurmountable. Everything is solvable. Think of how deep that goes in American life and culture and ideology—in its celebration of failure as something to treasure, for example. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again.
This is also how America's thinking about Trumpism now.
Only it isn't true. Some mistakes? You don't recover from them. Some situations really do do permanent harm. Some problems can't be solved. Some crashes are fatal. There really is such a thing as an irredeemable plight. Especially in the sense of "the long run."
You see, when America searches desperately for a Way to Stop Trump Once and For All, it's imagining, fervently, that somehow, Trump and Trumpism can be a short-term problem. A blip, an anomaly, and soon enough, hey presto, we'll revert to the mean. That's emphatically the wrong way to understand what did happen, and what is.
Trump and Trumpism could have been short term issues, perhaps. But not anymore. Precisely because they weren't even acknowledged as that much at the time, when there were still chances to reduce or maintain them to such a degree. And so today they've grown into...bigger ones. Far more powerful and enduring ones, with deeper roots, now planted firmly into the soil. So now?
Trump and Trumpism are long term problems. Or at least changes. Because it should be said that Trump, despite his odious attitudes, has a point, as all demagogic movements do, which is why he continues to connect with masses—institutions and systems are badly broken, and American life is in ruins, maybe not for the K Street class, but for the average person struggling to pay their bills, certainly.
Trump and Trumpism are an example of mistakes that can't be corrected in the short term. Not anymore, and not by a long shot. They're textbook examples of long term issues now, of the classic "social collapse by way of political meltdown" variety. Sure, there might be some abstruse mechanism to block Trump from assuming the Presidency. Great. So what? He'll still be pulling the strings behind the scenes. Trumpism will continue believing in what it does. The masses aren't exactly likely to turn their backs on what's a salvational ideology for them now. As Hillary Clinton said, recently, desperate, they'd have to be "deprogrammed"—but of course, you can hardly do that on a social scale.
So this issue isn't going away. It's here to stay. For a very, very long time. America still fails to grasp that. Liberals look desperately for an immediate, short-term way out of the Trump Problem, as if to almost deliberately overlook the facts. They had their chances, they blew those chances, and so now, American authoritarianism is a long-run issue.
What does that mean? It means that America will now go through a period of destabilization. It's already in one, of course, but underlying how we're told to think about it is the unconscious message that it'll all suddenly end. Soon. Probably not. Rather, this Age of Destabilization that America's in now will last for quite some time to come. Decades, probably. In the same way that the evolution from Reagan Gingrich to Trump took decades. America's in a new political age now. Key word, period. Fascism and authoritarianism in America are here to stay, hardly likely to simply disappear. (And yes, that's not new, it should be pointed out that those critics who warned that America always contained these tendencies have been proven right, too, like a James Baldwin.)
Think about the problem even just a little bit, and it should be clear just why. The GOP can't buck Trump because of course he's got a demagogic bond with their base. That demagogic bond can be transferred much more easily than it can be broken—if it can even be broken. Meanwhile, there's no shortage of contenders lining up eagerly to have the demagogue's dark gift bestowed on them, junior league would-be Trumps.
The problem isn't going to go away. If anything, it's going to get worse. I'll discuss that in future posts. For now, I want to make the point as clearly as I can, the way it should be made.
America didn't get Trumpism until it was too late. It blew it's Three Big Chances to Stop Trump. So now, Trump and Trumpism are long-term problems. Or changes. There's no magic wand that can dispel them. The underlying thinking is wishful, almost infantile: if we just do this, maybe it'll all go away. Alas, ignoring the problem then? Only made it a much bigger one now. Hardened it, let it plunge roots into the soil, ripen, reach fruition, and even plant new seeds. The time Trump and Trumpism could have been "stopped" in such a simplistic way was back then, and it's long gone by now.
America has a Long-Term Problem, one of...many. That's what happens when you...build walls of silence...that seal the mouths of those who come to warn...so that predators can continue their rise to power. I know that's a tough way to put it. But this is where America is. Some mistakes linger, some follies are permanent, and some crashes are fatal. They're there to stay with you, such errors, costly flaws of judgment, that exert steep costs over the long-run. The beginning, as ever, is to understand this all, instead of cling to wishful thinking.
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