I’ve dealt with the last 36 hours by radically restricting my news intake; for the first time in 20 years, all news apps on my various gadgets are turned off, and I’ve been filling the 2-3 hours or more I normally spend daily on informing myself with comic books and a rewatch of Westworld.
And even so, what crept in through these filters is scary and utterly unsurprising. Numerous reports of “Day One” followed by some racist or hateful attack. A hijab torn off a woman in a Midwestern Target. An anti-gay note left on a car in North Carolina. Swastika graffiti in Philadelphia. Philadelphia.
So apparently I missed some rallies last night that I would have attended, protesting Trump’s election (and the hitch in my throat as I wrote that is precisely why I’ve been secluding myself from the news). That’s not the news. What is the news, and should be on the minds of everyone in this country who does not support Trump, even if they’re Republicans, is this: “These temper tantrums from these radical anarchists must be quelled. There is no legitimate reason to protest the will of the people.” That’s a tweet by Sheriff David Clarke, tipped by Politico to be in the top two for heading the Department of Homeland Security.
Radical anarchists. That’s the language being used about protest rallies, about a community of stunned and shocked people who were told consistently and with certainty that they would not wake on Wednesday to the America they’ve nonetheless inherited. “Radical anarchists” are bomb-throwers in the 1920s. Peaceful protesters are, until now, protected by the Constitution. But as we’re about to be reminded, Constitutional protections mean nothing when a government wants to subvert them and the courts are filled with judges who support that government.
This is the language of fascists. I didn’t expect to see the tarring of half the nation as the enemy until the first bad thing happened to Trump’s approval rating, but of course, I was being optimistic. It happens immediately. It will go on relentlessly. It will be cheered on by the people who elected Trump, and it will not be opposed by the supposed rational Republicans who many are foolishly expecting to somehow save us from the oncoming debacle. That track record is established: they fell in line behind their candidate, of course they’re going to do the same now.
Meanwhile, the brave pollyannas on the left are posting calls to action about how now is the time to fight even harder for what we believe in. They are forgetting the J. Edgar Hoover FBI, the use of the bully pulpit by Mussolini and Hitler, the awesome law enforcement powers of the federal government when wielded by authoritarians, and the insanely powerful surveillance techniques that America now owns. We are about to become the enemies of the government, and we’re talking like it’s just politics as usual. I give it a year, maybe two, until the new authoritarian worldview becomes normalized and the rank-and-file in the police and law enforcement start to get with the new program; some will adopt it gleefully and immediately. After that, of course, the people start to fall in line with how they’re being policed.
I don’t know offhand of a historical precedent for an authoritarian state to elect its way out of authoritarianism. I can think of two obvious examples where liberal democracy was established after the governments in question were invaded, conquered, deposed, and reconstituted. There are other countries that had revolutions. But normal, sane, peaceful elections? No, that’s not the path back from authoritarianism; once you start down that road, the authoritarians themselves build the barricades to prevent future loss of power.
Most people reading this will probably think I’m being overdramatic. But I remind them, it’s been only 36 hours, and already I’m labeled a radical anarchist.