You just had a really bad nightmare.
No, you didn’t dream it.
Yes, it really happened.
The voters of the United States of America, in their finite wisdom, just elected as the most powerful man in the world a man who:
Has never held elected office of any kind; has never, in fact, ever demonstrated anything but contempt for public service or the public good;
A man whose entire life has been dedicated to a business model of feeding his boundless ego, ripping people off, and then declaring bankruptcy, over and over and over and over;
A man whose campaign for public office has been built explicitly and entirely on racism, misogyny, religious intolerance, appeals to fascism, and contempt for the democratic institutions he will now control;
A man whose party, one now also dominated by people motivated by fear, hatred, and defiant ignorance – a party which has tried to shut down the federal government and default on its bills multiple times – now controls all three branches of the federal government as well as a majority of state governments;
And a man whose election is all by itself causing global markets to collapse and governments and people around the world to recoil in horror.
There is no undoing what just happened. In the best case scenario, the damage will take decades if not generations to undo. Any remaining respect or moral authority enjoyed by the United States in the rest of the world is now permanently destroyed. Given that much of the world’s economic welfare relies on the prosperity of the United States, governments around the world are now moving to separate themselves from us for their own protection. The United States is now a giant international pariah, and will remain so until it can demonstrate that it deserves to be considered a part of the civilized world.
The time for complacency is over. The time to sneer that politics is boring and irrelevant, or that protesting and organizing is useless – claims that have always relied on the luxury of privilege – is over. Given the challenges of our times, nothing less than the future of life on this planet is at stake. The time for complacency, if it ever existed, is over.
This is a fight for our lives. This is a war for survival. Our lives, and the lives of our children and of billions of people, and even the future of our biosphere, are all at stake.
Hyperbole? I wish. Do you really want me to review the policies already championed by the party that now controls us? That party has been nearly unanimously rejected by people of color and the young. It wants to “drown government in a bathtub,” starting with the institutions that provide directly for the public welfare: access to health care, Social Security and Medicare, and help for the vulnerable among us. It denies science, starting with climate change. It opposes womens’ control of their own bodies. It opposes environmental protection or corporate regulation of any kind. It opposes public education, or, functionally, education of any kind. It opposes workplace or consumer protections of any kind. It champions voter suppression. It champions religious, racial, and ethnic intolerance. It thrives on dividing people. It believes in unaccountable law enforcement, torture, and in destroying the lives of the groups of people it fears and resents. It promotes endless war and the casual use of nuclear weaponry. It reflexively worships unaccountable power for transnational corporations that by law have no interest in the welfare of the United States, let alone in the welfare of those of us who live here. It now has near-unlimited power over the state.
Democratic defenses against this existential threat have failed us; those that remain, such as the Senate filibuster, will be quickly eliminated. Impeachment is limited to the president and even then would require the approval of a substantial portion of the party now in power. Future elections will need to be decided by those people still allowed to vote. The only reliable check at all on Republican power, the last line of defense standing between us and annihilation, is you and me.
Capitalism, over the past centuries, has not collapsed from its inherent contradictions. Democracy, however, is much more vulnerable. The United States has had a long and prosperous democratic run, a run built on geographic isolation and size, stolen land and labor, investment in the public good, and a remarkable degree of religious tolerance. Voters have now repudiated the last two of those elements, and the future of America’s long experiment with democracy is by no means assured. In some ways it is already lost.
Hyperbole? I wish. Instead, sadly, I can only conclude that it’s a brief overview of the size of the challenge before us. However, those democratic institutions aren’t dead – yet. The United States is not a police state – yet. Our social safety net has not been demolished – yet. Our personal freedoms have mostly not been overridden – yet. We still have freedom of speech and freedom from censorship, the right to assemble, and the ability to organize and to demand our rights and a livable future for our children. We had better use these rights while we have them.
Where there is hope, where there is determination, there is a way. The greater risk is despair and doing nothing.
Later today: Next steps.