In The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer tells this story:
A friend walks up to the porch to say hello and hears an awful yelping, squealing sound coming from inside the house.
“What’s that terrifying sound?” asks the friend.
“It’s my dog,” said the farmer. “He’s sittin’ on a nail.”
“Why doesn’t he just sit up and get off it?” asks the friend.
The farmer deliberates on this and replies: “Doesn’t hurt enough yet.”
This past weekend reminded me of this story. I asked myself how much it has to hurt till we finally make the turn—not just from guns, which stares us in the face—but from other things, too.
Donald Trump holds rallies. He has badmouthed “The Squad,” consisting of four women of color democratically elected to the US Congress, including two Muslims, and has said they should go back where they came from. Showman that he is, he knows how to energize a crowd.
And what a crowd! A crowd that travels across various states and stands for hours on line to get in to see him, cheer him on, yell Send them back! Not skinheads, mind you, but mothers and grandmothers who tell reporters that Jesus will make sure that Trump is re-elected, and Pence after him. Nor are they poor. They are restaurant owners and nurses; they are people who send their kids to college.
They are people who adore him because, as one said: “He will protect our world order.” That’s when I get nervous.
I haven’t been nervous on account of Donald Trump since Election Night 2016. The very next morning I decided to look carefully at what had been invisible to my Western Massachusetts eyes, to learn as much as I could about what happens to people when coal mines and steel towns shut down, about a Main Street that is ignored not just by Wall Street or Washington but also by big universities, Silicon Valley, and major media, the places where opioids circulate instead of money.
But nervousness has returned.
It’s not Donald Trump per se. I don’t think he has a fierce ideology against people of color or immigrants; I don’t think he has any ideology per se. He’s also silly in the way that people are when they just see short run gains over long run, the partial rather than the whole. And, of course, we all pay a price for his silliness.
I am more concerned about after Donald. I am thinking of the people watching his success who are much smarter and savvier than him, and who share a particular vision: We need to protect our world order.
Talk of world order makes me uneasy. It’s too gargantuan for me; it lacks human proportions. And what world order is that? The world of white male domination? Of private ownership of assault weapons? Of unregulated capitalism that has gone wilder than a rodeo show?
I used to hear: This is their last gasp, they’re running out of time. I’m not sure anymore. Yes, they’re running out of time, but there are many— more than I thought—who’re ready to fight long and hard for this old world order, and take this country right over the edge along with them. We underestimate their strength and passion.
The question isn’t whether Trump is another Hitler, but rather what conditions here parallel some of those in pre-Hitler Germany. There is a clear emphasis on remilitarization. More money, more weapons seeking targets and deployment. There is cynicism and contempt towards governance and media institutions. I agree that these have failed many, many people, but before we take them down let’s make sure there’s something in their place; let’s not leave a vacuum. There is the blaming, scapegoating, and inciting directed at people of color and immigrants.
Finally, I watch with growing dismay a growing segment of the population be unfazed by, and even support, statements of racism and out-and-out hate I wouldn’t have thought possible anymore. A narrow slice of Americans believed this dogma, I used to think; now I know that slice is widening. And it reminds me of how a majority of well-intentioned German people watched Hitler industrialize Germany and improve the economy, win approval from major German institutions and concessions from other countries, and little by little they thought: He’s not so crazy, in fact he’s doing pretty well for us.
I was one of those people who often felt she’d had it with politics and both major parties. But anyone who thinks that there is no difference between the two parties literally should have her eyes examined. Take a look at the white males of the Republican Congress and Senate as they flee from journalists asking for comments after Send them back! Take a look at the gender, ethnic, and religious diversity of their Democrat counterparts, at the youth, the demand for reform of everything from climate to medical insurance. Whether it’s the more moderate wing or the more progressive wing, representing differences in methods, what they all seem to agree on is that a new order is coming—and it’s welcome.
I can’t remember a time when the two parties had such a contrasting vision for this country.
I don’t think Donald Trump is Hitler, but I am concerned that waiting in the wings is someone who is learning from his mistakes and ready to take on that mantle, who will protect the old order at all costs.
In the end, youth will win out. That youth already shows itself much more comfortable with diverse ethnicities, less religion but more spirituality, and passion about the fate of this earth. But for now it’s still the parents who drive the political process, and some parents, I believe, will fight long and hard. We underestimate that fight to our peril.