Separate but connected fears

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In our fear and our anger at the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States of America, we are, I think, muddling up some things that, while not exactly separate, are probably better kept distinct as we talk to the rest of the country who are not afraid and angry.

One is quite simple: Among Donald Trump's supporters are vicious people who have been attacking women, Jews, Muslims, LGBT folk and others online during the campaign. We are worried that those people will be emboldened by the election of someone they clearly consider to be their leader, and will escalate their abusive behavior. We don't want to walk around afraid that some countryman of ours will insult us, or for that matter, we don't want to walk around hearing other people being insulted and abused. We are also afraid of physical assaults, vandalism and destruction. These are legitimate fears, and some incidents have already been reported. Of course, there are always vile incidents, no matter who is President. I don't think we know that there were more these last few days than there were last week or in any particular stretch of three days over the last few years. Is it that people are now reporting them, or that reports are being more widely spread because they tie in with our fears, or is it that there really are more? I don't know. It's possible that the assholes who scream abuse at black women in the street or tell Latinos to go home have been doing so once every few weeks, when they are drunk or feeling belligerent, but will do so every few days now that they feel they can get away with it. Or that they will do no more than they always did except adding the name Trump. Whether it is more frequent or not, I am afraid that it will become frequent, become expected even, if Our Only President-Elect and his supporters turn a blind eye to it or encourage it. That is a scary country to think about living in.

Another is also quite simple: We are afraid that the Republican Party Platform will become the Government policy. We are afraid that the policies and priorities of the government will increase suffering. I believe this—limited access to health care, removed support for equality, the environment, military adventurism abroad, the abandonment of workplace safety regulations and other protections for workers, the building of a border wall, less oversight for food safety, housing… look, not to put too fine a point on it, I think Conservative policies, as their Party interprets them, kill people. That's why I am not a Conservative. I think it's important to highlight all of that as part of political discussion. It's vital, in fact. But it's part of that political discussion, and in truth, the Other Party won the election and gets to try to implement their policies. I don't mean that my Party should roll over and acquiesce, which would be not just immoral but terrible politics. We should fight against terrible policies, and we should fight them within the political system. This is not particularly about Donald Trump, or even Mike Pence. The policies I'm against have been the policies of the Party for years.

And a third is more complicated, and to me even scarier, and that's the one about Donald Trump himself. Because this is a dangerous man. He is ignorant, incompetent and vile. Not only did he never give any sign that he knows what the job of the President is, he actively campaigned on his ability to ignore limitations. His contempt for our political institutions was central to the campaign. I am afraid, really afraid of what he will do in office. He has promised to prosecute Hillary Clinton for crimes she has already been found not to have committed. He has promised that the military will commit war crimes. He has promised to start trade wars, to abandon alliances, to plunder the resources of other nations. He promised religious tests for entry into the country, and watchlists of potential troublemakers. While there are parts of that in the Republican Party platform, most of it is just him. He campaigned as a potential tyrant, at the head of a mob. I am very, very afraid of that. That's not usual. That's not OK. If Ted Cruz were elected president, or even Mike Pence, the policies would be dreadful and thousands of people would suffer because of that, but they wouldn't, I believe, have Senator Warren or Justice Sotomayor arrested on a FBI-created charge and removed from office. I truly believe that Donald Trump may do something along those lines. Or worse.

Now, I think some of the protests and posts and signs muddle up these three things in a way that isn't helpful. We can and must protest against the people making vile assaults on the vulnerable. We can and must protest against the Party in power implementing disastrous policies. We can and must protest against Our Only President-Elect and his contempt for our democratic institutions. We need to do all of that. But by muddling them up together, I think it has been easier for people to respond that it's all sour grapes from having lost an election. I think it makes it easier for people to dismiss the street level assaults as meaningless individual incidents. I think it makes it easier for people to ignore the possibility of real catastrophe coming from a fundamentally anti-democratic President.

Now, I do think that these things are deeply connected. I think the despair and fear that leads to street attacks is largely the result of Republican policies and has been fomented by Republican rhetoric. I think that Donald Trump's campaign of unlimited power for himself was based on white supremacy and encouraged street level violence in support of him. I think that we have all contributed to our cultural problems, in particular our constant deprecation of democratic self-government. I think that if Donald Trump does manage to take extra-Constitutional power, that success will rely on a terrified society in which street violence is rampant. I think that the Party Platform relies on unstated fears and invisible hate that the deplorables make visible.

I'll specifically say: misogyny as well as racism runs through all these things and makes them reinforce each other. There is no question in my mind about that. While I think it's important to distinguish between them, it's probably even more important to hold them together in that sense. Tactically, rhetorically, we need to address those separately. Culturally and morally, we need to remember that they are together.

One of the places they come together most clearly and (to me) frighteningly is in how our local police forces across the country behave in the next years. While (I assume) most officers are fundamentally interested in peace and justice, it has clearly and obviously been the case that white supremacy has played a dire part in the training and culture of the local police in many, many places across the country. We have been (belatedly) struggling with that. I worry that not only will that struggle be abandoned but that as those local forces are brought in to new actions against undocumented aliens, the gap between the police and the community will grow wider and scarier. The population—and we know there are already many people in many places across the country who are too afraid to call the police under any circumstances—may wind up in a vicious spiral with the police where each view the other as a dangerous enemy. Street violence against people of color may or may not be policed appropriately. Troublemakers of various kinds can be brutalized or let alone. This will, if it happens, be a combination of Republican Party policies (regarding training, civil-rights prosecution and funding for militarization as well as bringing local forces in to immigration enforcement), the actions of white supremacists (inside the forces as well as on the street) and Donald Trump himself encouraging it with his words and tweets as well as his actions and those of his Executive.

I wrote up three or four of my nightmare scenarios yesterday and then deleted them, more in an attempt to make myself feel better than as preparation for a public essay. I don't know whether it would help anyone at this point to make that stuff explicit and specific rather than the obvious fear that we have no idea what he will do or how he will respond to events, and that I don't see anyone with both the power and the inclination to stop him. These sorts of things are plausible only because Donald Trump has been elected President, without a Party, without experience, without knowledge, on a campaign of contempt for and rejection of our nation's institutions. That is what has been keeping me up at nights.

So I worry that when we quite correctly protest against terrible policies, when we quite correctly voice our outrage against the street actions of a relatively small number of deplorable people, we are muddling that up with the danger that I think is very real: the destruction of liberal democracy.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

2 thoughts on “Separate but connected fears

  1. Chris Cobb

    Yes, I think you are right about the importance of precision here, especially insofar as those of us (and remember, we are the majority of the nation) who oppose the Republican platform and the Trump cult of personality need to drive wedges that will detach 5% of those have voted for this platform and this man but not with their whole hearts and bring them into our coalition for the common good and inspire a similar number of those who agree with us but have dropped out of the political process. In the matter of keeping things precise, then, it’s worth remembering that the threat to liberal democracy is not posed only by Trump. The Republican Party has been relentlessly attacking liberal democracy also, just in a different manner than Trump has. The Congress and its leadership are dangerous men, no less vile than Trump but with more knowledge of how to use the levers of power in government to hurt people, whereas Trump may aspire to unconstitutional powers for that purpose. They are the ones who, most likely, will happily support Trump’s arrogation of unconstitutional powers as long as it serves their interests.

    It is valuable for us to separate our fears, in part so that we can address them coherently ourselves, and in part so that we can appeal effectively to potential allies. However, the Republican Congress and Trump need to be tied together and given the full measure of blame for the harm they do to people and the attacks made on democracy. In the unlikely event that the Republican Congress shows that it cares about democracy and prevents Trump from abusing it, or in the (slightly less unlikely) event that Trump shows that he cares enough about his supporters to block the Republican Congress’s attacks on the social safety net and the economy, we can re-assess. Until then, our fears are separate, but the malefactors are the same.

  2. Vardibidian

    You are right, and I’ll add: the Republican Party has been broken for some time now, and Donald Trump becoming the nominee is a symptom of their dysfunction, not a separate matter. I think we need a working, functional Conservative party in this country. Right now, the Republicans are not it. Whether or no, it’s still the case that the Party, in the Congress and in the state legislatures and elsewhere, has to be held responsible for what they do and what they have done, including deprecating our democratic institutions for decades, creating a space for someone to run a campaign of contempt for them.



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