“The United States is collapsing.” I’ve written that phrase on top of retweets sharing horrifying news nearly every day for the past few weeks. I can’t believe what I’m typing each time I do.
I grew up in a home with a father who would say with certainty that America was in decline, and I could see his point when I considered the nation’s addiction to fossil fuels, its bellicosity, and its increasingly gridlocked federal government. As a result, America’s loss of stature in the world during the Bush years didn’t come as a surprise to me, nor did its resurgence under Obama. I knew things would wax and wane. I always thought the upswings would win out, though.
I think I was wrong. Perhaps as wrong as a person can be about anything.
The breakdown has been lightning quick and excruciatingly slow.
The erosion of the American middle class has been a four decade-long death march. The 2008 financial crash seemed to happen overnight, though, and the shockwaves are still breaking over people whose wealth was destroyed.
America’s armed forces have been invading and smashing up countries almost without respite since the end of World War II. The flashpoint of 9–11 ramped up those endeavors as well, and perpetual, never-ending war seems to be here to stay.
Partisan politics is dirty business everywhere the game is played, but it is rare for a wealthy nation’s to be dysfunctional to the point of total failure. That seems where the Trump administration is taking the government — to a place where it can no longer work because the moving parts have been deliberately sabotaged.
This sabotage of the American political fabric, the destruction of public goods, the demonization of social safety nets, the dismantling of the New Deal, and the full-bodied embrace of strong-arm tactics at home and abroad has taken nearly half a century. The election of Donald Trump coincided with the tipping point.
At this tipping point, the horrors of history are repeating themselves.
This is important, because what no one seems to want to say is that this isn’t some coincidence. The parallels to 1930s Germany are so clear, because that’s the playbook Trump and his co-conspirators are using. It’s not a warning to them; it’s a manifesto.
It should come up more often that Donald Trump used to keep a copy of Hitler’s speeches by his bedside, and his father was arrested at a Klan rally.
The goal of the Trump administration is to turn the United States into a White ethnostate.
Is there any doubt left when you hear stories about migrant infants being ripped literally from their mothers’ breasts as they feed? Is there any doubt left when you see the collections of religious artefacts like rosaries that are being confiscated from migrants who have been detained at the border? Is there any doubt left when you hear the blood curdling announcement that tent cities — internment camps, concentration camps — for children are being constructed in the desert?
Does it not chill your bones to the marrow when you hear the Attorney General smirkingly justify this cruelty by selectively quoting the Bible? Why don’t they just get it over with and engrave “God With Us” on ICE agents’ belt buckles?
The most frightening thing I’m observing is the paralysis — the refusal of so many to admit that, yes, this is happening here. Things are this bad, and they are getting worse. Watching media elites like Frank Bruni wring their hands and lecture Robert DeNiro for saying, “Fuck Trump!” has been baffling. Maybe those column inches and airtime would be better devoted to calling fascists “fascists”. Politeness isn’t going to put a stop to any of this. Polite people avert their eyes in embarrassment when the secret police come to drag their neighbors off to the camps.
Give me a Tiana Smalls over a Frank Bruni any day. This American hero cursed out Customs and Border Patrol agents who were illegally looking for passengers to detain on the Greyhound bus she was travelling on. When they demanded to see the passengers’ documents, she very loudly (and vulgarly) used her privilege as a citizen and knowledge of the law to stand up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves. In her words, she acted “a WHOLE DONKEY” to defend those men and women.
After Tiana ran CBP off, the bus driver chastised her for using profanity. Don’t be that bus driver. Don’t be Frank Bruni. If you’re not willing to put anything on the line to do what’s right, get out of the way of those who are.
There are also those who can see this all only through the lens of partisan politics. Turning the House and Senate “blue” isn’t going to reverse this — not unless the people elected have the spine to do what is required.
Getting rid of Donald Trump might not be enough either. He is the most pressing symptom of a serious disease, but he is only a symptom. What he has revealed, what must be wrestled with, what cannot be shoved back into the shadows, is how many Americans long to live in an Apartheid nation.
Here’s what I think is driving the denial that will prolong the nightmare we’re enduring: the unquestioning belief that America is the good guy. To many, this is a self-evident fact that requires no analysis. That inability to reflect honestly about America’s failings is why the nation can’t properly confront Donald Trump. Yes, he’s an odious, contemptible, vulgar con man and an outright fascist, but in some ways, he’s just saying the quiet part loud:
To be truly American, to enjoy all the privileges and immunities of citizenship, you have to be White.
Trump is enforcing this maxim more brutally than the country has in decades, but nothing he’s doing is new. What he will do next is written in America’s history books, where the Nazis looked for inspiration when constructing their nightmare machine. In a way, Trump is bringing things full circle.
“You should have listened to us.” — African-American proverb
I’m about to take this to a very dark place, but I think it needs to be said.
What the Trump administration is doing with the migrants and refugees it is detaining at the border, the Nazis did with the Romani. They of course also rounded up dissidents and political opponents and other “undesirables,” but they reserved the brunt of their hideous rage for the Jews — the group they’d scapegoated for their problems, the group they’d vilified thoroughly.
In the United States, historically, that group has been Black Americans.
Redlining and other tactics of segregation have ghettoized Black Americans. Decades-long targeted mass incarceration has further concentrated their populations. Under fascism, after concentration comes “liquidations” — mass killings.
A few years ago, during the NYPD ticket-fixing scandal, police officers gathered to demonstrate against their bretheren being held accountable. Some were holding signs saying, “Just following orders.”
These people have told us very clearly who and what they are.
We’ve seen what they’re willing to cover up for and shrug off. As Colin Kaepernick told us in his quiet, direct way, “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Where did we think that was going to lead? To anything good? To somewhere noble?
Those videos of police officers gunning people of color down with impunity are much worse than we think. What we have been shown is that if the orders come to carry out mass killings, there are cops deployed all over the country who will follow them.
Never forget the MOVE bombing in 1985, when the Philadelphia police department dropped a bomb on a house of Black dissidents, killing 11 people, including five children. They refused to let the fire department put out the blaze, allowing it to spread and destroy neighboring homes.
Do we really think all the surplus military equipment that has been turned over to law enforcement is going to go unused?
The failure of the United States to listen to the cries for justice from its Black citizens might lead to its destruction. The fascism we’re watching break free to smirk and sneer and brutalize has been honing its techniques and sharpening its knives in Black communities for decades. It incubated under bipartisan stewardship and has grown strong enough to take on all comers.
Black Americans have been trying to tell you for ages:
The United States is collapsing.
Trying to get the rules of college debate societies to apply isn’t going to stop this. Electing politicians who aren’t willing to do anything but grandstand isn’t going to stop this. Trying to get the rest of us to care about how misunderstood and “economically anxious” these neo-Nazis are definitely isn’t going to stop this.
Calling fascism “fascism” might get the ball rolling. Figuring out how to counter the propaganda we’re being fed could also do something to stem the tide. Acting a whole ass donkey will almost certainly be required.
Americans: don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to play between the lines on this. Take a lesson from Tiana Smalls. Follow Colin Kaepernick’s example. When the time comes, disobey.