A couple of days ago, the enormously popular entity that is Humans of New York (aka Brandon Stanton) wrote an impassioned screed against the amorphous blob that is Donald Trump. Certified as ‘viral’ by the… well, whomever gets to determine that sort of thing, the post was well-written and heartfelt and repeated a good bit of what we’ve heard from countless others about Trump. Racist, violent, power-hungry—the only thing missing was a Hitler reference.
It was shared repeatedly, praised, and lauded. Of course I agreed with every word of it, because I’m a sentient human being able to see two steps into the future. But it’s all been said before. By Louis C.K. By this actor. And that Republican. By John Oliver. By Anonymous. And 500 other people I don’t have the patience to google right now. And it’s not working.
We’re currently in an infinite loop of high-minded historical and political rhetoric, nodding vigorously each time another post is published, patting each other on the back, confident in the knowledge that, yes we have nailed it and logic shall prevail! (I am guilty of this; believe me, I know.) Here’s the Truth, Ruth: Trump’s supporters ain’t watching John Oliver. They could give two shits what Louis C.K. has to say. Chances are good they can’t afford to pay the cable bill. They’re out of work, out of money, and angry. They’ve been convinced by an elitist, money-hungry GOP that anyone who doesn’t love the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior is going to take their jobs and abort their babies. (And guns. Dear god, don’t forget their guns.) They want someone to fix everything in one fell swoop. They’re racists looking for a spokesman. Donald Trump is canny enough to realize that this is a perfect moment to swoop in, capitalize on their anger, and parlay it directly into the most powerful position on the planet.
Everyone’s focusing on the possible effects should Trump pull off a win—a subject worth examination, no doubt. Far fewer people are discussing how we get those voters *back* from Trump. How we confront the fact that we have a significant portion of the American population that has no problem with the Nazi salute. Or punching strangers in the face for voicing an opinion. Or calling a 15-year old girl a cunt as they assault her. It can’t be written off as just a few assholes either; all of these incidents happened with the support of a large crowd, not to mention their leader. This is a problem that is not leaving when Trump does (whenever that blessed day occurs). In fact, it’s going to be worse. Imagine how angry his supporters are going to be if he loses. And I’m positive that someone else will step into his place. Someone smarter.
We’ve broken ourselves. There are myriad reasons how and why, but navel-gazing isn’t going to stop a race war from igniting. And if you think we’re not inches from that, you’re kidding yourself. I can just imagine the thousands of white supremacists that poked their heads out of their bunkers when Trump called Mexicans rapists and criminals. “Who said that? What’s his name? Where do I sign up?” They saw what was coming much quicker than the rest of us.
So. What do we do now? Yes, we work like to hell to ensure everyone votes and we campaign tirelessly and talk to people willing to listen (are there any of those left?) and take a gigantic collective breath on November 8, praying to every god in the universe that America is not about to become a dictatorship. But then. Then what?
I honestly don’t know. I’m at a loss. How do you bring a large group of people back from the edge? Is it even possible?
Finding the solution might lie in examining the other side too, the side of Bernie Sanders. It’s not just ignorant racists that are angry, a fact made painfully evident (to Hillary supporters at least) by the stunning success of Sanders’ campaign to date. As much as we hate to admit it, there are similarities between the two. Both Sanders and Trump are preaching populist doctrine and both want to remove corporate influence from politics. Obviously, their solutions are vastly different. But just as Trump’s rise is a refutation of the Republican establishment, so is Bernie’s. If the Democrats aren’t paying attention to that fact, they’re headed for the same fate that has befallen the GOP. And I don’t think enough of them are.
The root of this entire problem is simple: our political system has been hijacked six ways from Sunday to ensure that the super-rich continue to rule. We let it happen because we were too busy downloading apps and creating cat memes. (And yes, posting about it all on Facebook.) We paused briefly to bemoan the mortgage crisis and perhaps even cried a little over images from New Orleans during Katrina. What we didn’t stop to think about was the vast swath of misery events like these were creating. What the ramifications would be 10 years down the road. Conservatives let themselves be tricked into thinking that the real crimes worth noticing were who could marry whom and whether we should pray in school, while the backers of the party elite continued to pickpocket their life savings. Liberals smugly assumed that since we’d elected a black president, everything was fine now, so no use going to the polls. And really, we’re all smarter than this, right? At the end of the day, sanity will win out because we’re the greatest democracy in the world. We killed Bin Laden! America wins!
Matt Taibbi’s brilliant piece in Rolling Stone last month had so many spot-on quotes, it’s hard to pick just one. But this one seems a good thought to end on:
“Elections, like criminal trials, are ultimately always about assigning blame. For a generation, conservative intellectuals have successfully pointed the finger at big-government-loving, whale-hugging liberals as the culprits behind American decline. But the fact that lots of voters hated the Clintons, Sean Penn, the Dixie Chicks and whomever else, did not, ever, mean that they believed in the principle of Detroit carmakers being able to costlessly move American jobs overseas by the thousands.”
We’ve let the rich rulers of both parties pit us against each other and they’ve done a damn good job of it. Whether we escape electing a demagogue by the skin of our teeth remains to be seen. The real question is what we do on November 9th.