It is time we commit ourselves to fighting to preserve freedoms that only yesterday we took for granted.
The election of Trump can seem like that final scene from the Planet of the Apes, when riding horseback on an isolated beach, the astronaut who has landed on a world ruled by apes sees—sticking out stark and alone on the quiet shore—the head of the Statue of Liberty. He realizes he has not traveled to another world, but to a future without humanity. And then he gets down on his knees amid the breaking waves and sobs, “You maniacs, you blew it up—God damn you, God damn you all to hell.”
But while many of are still reeling from the election of Trump, and thinking about how best to resist the onslaught of pernicious legislation we can only expect from the administration he is lining up, others are drifting away in optimistic denial.
Perhaps the biggest danger of a Trump presidency now lies in liberal denial and escapism. What we are looking at is so unimaginable, for both Americans and the world, that there is a danger we will simply fail to find the strength to stare it in the face.
We can see this already in the people who tell us to wait and see, even as Trump pulls together a cabinet of America’s most extremist racists and hawks. We can see it in the way so many seem unbothered by his unprecedented use of close family members in his transition team. We can see it in the way we are giving him a free pass on ethics violations.
Both the former Chief-Ethics Counsels for Bush and Obama are saying that the electoral college should reject Trump if he does not sell his businesses and put his holdings in a blind trust, since his businesses involve a constant stream of payments from foreign governments, which the Constitution prohibits. But Trump refuses to sell and has even invited his daughter, who runs the day-to-day affairs of his businesses, into meetings with foreign heads-of-state—and almost no one is making an issue of it.
The new normal is so surreal that outrage at specific policies and pronouncements will probably fail to get at the tectonic shifts now knocking us off our feet. All-of-a-sudden conservatives like Ted Cruz—whom the Republican establishment rejected as “too evil and extreme” just a season ago—now look normal. And that alone is testimony to the changes Trump has already wrought. Somehow, we are supposed to wait and see, when the man we are waiting on made his name in politics waging a racist and conspiratorial campaign to impeach the nation’s first black President for being a foreign-born Muslim.
Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of all this is the barely concealed giddiness one can sense in so many on the Left, as if they can hardly contain their excitement over blowing it all up. This too is part of what Trump has changed: nihilists feel empowered and anxious to set about destroying institutions they neither understand nor appreciate.
Trump is making so many moves toward autocratic rule that commentators cannot keep up, and the Leftists—who once saw in dictators like Castro and Putin some kind of heroic rebels, in spite of their abuses of freedom and liberty—are all of a sudden contemplating allying with Rightwing hate-mongers in some deluded sense of mission against “the system.”
This normalization of fascism is quite common. Peter Fritzsche’s Life and Death in the Third Reich highlights the way even people resistant to the regime eventually became swept up by its activities. The Third Reich made itself felt everywhere, and there was no place to resist. But people also welcomed the national pride and vigor accompany their ascent to power. They were excited over the changes taking place and felt themselves joined together as part of a great nation.
The normalization of fascism will involve both institutional and personal changes—and like so much in the seasons of our lives, most of us will remain unaware of how we are being transformed by external conditions. Consider Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, which focuses on the ordinariness and morality of the man in charge of liquidating the Jews.
He tells himself at first that he is helping them migrate to the new state of Israel and even considers the Jewish leaders he is helping to ethnically cleanse his friends. Then when he is told of the Final Solution, he talks about the color fading from his life, only to brag about killing five million Jews years later in Argentina.
All of this may seem outlandish and strange, and you may wonder if I am just being hyperbolic. But I have long been quite optimistic about the state of the world and America. I never thought Bush was a fascist and never thought Cheney was evil. I always felt the Democrats would come back stronger and what we were seeing was merely a cyclical swing we could overcome. I have been positive about the Millennial Generation, positive about the development of global institutions, positive about the ability to overcome climate change, positive about American democracy being revived, and positive about the ability of humanity to endure and thrive. But Trump changes everything.
It is now quite possible that in our weakness before unimaginable changes, we will simply give up and give in. It has happened countless times before in other countries that have succumbed to authoritarian rule, and it explains why brutal dictators are often so popular. If we are to prevent this, it is important that we make it clear to ourselves and others that come what may, we will resist, and we will use our resistance to make ourselves better and stronger.
It is a path to personal development that most Americans have not given much thought to, but it is a common one for marginalized people struggling under oppressive conditions. It is time that American minorities in particular, but Americans more generally, begin to consider such a path of personal development as more suitable to the times.
Make no mistake, fascism has finally arrived on the shores of America.
It is time we commit ourselves to fighting to preserve freedoms that only yesterday we took for granted. It will be an ennobling fight, and we should look for allies among libertarians and conservatives. Some of the greatest resistance to Trump has come from the conservative leadership. Conservative thinkers like Charles Krauthammer and David Brooks, who refused to vote for him, deserve our ears. Conservative leaders like John Kasich and John McCain, who are resisting Trump’s crudity and inhumanity, deserve our respect.
Please commit yourself now to resisting with all of your heart and soul and might, bringing to bear all of your love and courage and intelligence. For not only must we resist, but we must do so with allies who only yesterday were enemies.
If we succeed, we will find ourselves not only better people, but a better nation—and maybe, perhaps, even a better and stronger world.
Author: Theo Horesh
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina