Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Mourning in America – Part X: How to Respond: Survive, Resist….

There are many of us who awoke the morning of November 9, the 88th anniversary of Kristallnacht, to find that our citizenship, the full citizenship we had worked so hard to achieve all these years, had been effectively revoked. We had been voted off the island by a minority of our fellow citizens. And in the process America had desecrated its own deeply held ideals. 

America, as we had known and loved it, had committed suicide. The darkest nightmares of De Tocqueville and Madison and their fears of the tyranny of the majority had come to fruition. 

There are many of our once countrymen and women who would now tell us to simply pretend that this disaster has not come to pass. They tell us to get over it, we lost. They They seek to normalize the rise of Trumpland as just the latest product of an ordinary electoral process coming at the end of the costliest election in history. While the cost of the election could be measured in dollars, it will no doubt prove most costly in terms of the legitimacy of the nation-state itself. 

We need to be very honest with ourselves here. This was not a normal election. This was a devolution. In the place of a struggling democratic republic, finally beginning to come to grips with its cultural and historical failures, some of them fundamental in nature, a new country has risen. Whether it will prove to be a corporatocracy, an oligarchy, a theocracy or some other form of tyranny which privileges wealth at the expense of the populace remains to be seen. 

But whatever form it takes, it is important to take Trumpland seriously on its own terms.

Emerging from Candide’s Garden

Knowing how to respond to a debacle like this is difficult. Many of us spent the first weeks after the election in stunned silence, avoiding the news like the plague. In my own case, I spent a lot of time in my yard, taking Voltaire’s Candide to heart, tending my own garden. My back yard now reflects the benefits of this unexpected attention. 

I have also spent a lot of time reading articles offering insights into how this could have happened even as I have largely avoided social media. I’ve focused on my classes and being present with my students, so many of them who are now frightened and anxious. My disengagement from the social world has provided me time to cook and take care of a new puppy. 

As the Taoists query, “Good news, bad news, who can tell?”

Now as I begin to emerge from my self-imposed sequestration, I have a little better sense of how I must respond to the rise of Trumpland. As I inevitably have done all my life, I see this as a question of what I am called to be and do at this point in my life. 

The answers that have come to me are three-fold: survival, resistance and rebirth.

Preview of Coming Attractions  

The first calling, survival, is the prerequisite for the other two. Truth be told, I do not feel safe in Trumpland and I know I am hardly alone in this. 

Trump was elected by engaging in unabashed demagoguery rarely seen in American politics. He stoked the fires of the working class’ resentment for their economic woes while diverting the blame from the very corporate interests people like himself who cause them onto the other party, albeit a party whose hands were hardly clean

With the fires of resentment burning in the bellies of his followers, Trump manipulated all the prejudices known to the American Shadow. Before it was over, it would be open season on everyone from coastal urban dwellers constructed as elitists to people with physical disabilities to women, LBGTQ people, Muslims, immigrants and people of color. 

It was the somber realization that morning of November 9 that America had chosen this monster that said to me and to many Americans “You are no longer safe in this country.” The parade of hate incidents since the election in which public attacks on Trump’s targeted groups have been  carried out with impunity evoking his name has only confirmed that assessment. 

On a recent trip to Tallahassee, my Dad, Aunt and I drove home along US 19, the old coastal route through towns with names like Shamrock, Cross City and Old Town. This is deep red Trumpland, the least ethnically diverse counties in Florida inhabited by a resentful, Bible totin’ white working class. It was their votes that nudged our state from blue over to red this election. It is also a region where my own family has had deep roots for the past two centuries.

In Old Town, last stop before the Suwannee River, we stopped at a Hardees fast food restaurant conjoined with a convenience store. My Dad needed a restroom and my Aunt wanted some iced tea. As I stood at the drink dispensers filling our cups with tea, a white woman my age burst through the front door, marched up to the counter, and before even looking at the menu ordered the black woman behind the counter “Turn that television to Fox.” It had been tuned to one of the ESPN stations whose talking heads were dissecting the upcoming match between two teams most Americans know little about and care even less. 

“Yes, ma’am,” the woman behind the counter said and promptly changed the channel to Fox. 

This is a preview of Trumpland. It is a land animated by racial bigotry and resentment, an angry people who feel they have been given permission to celebrate the Shadow. And for those of us who have always called America to live into its most noble ideals, it is the very antithesis of those ideals, a dangerous place, indeed. 

Over my lifetime I have learned the hard way, through confronting injustice from my time in public schools to my time as a juvenile public defender to my time as a public university instructor, that beating one’s head against immovable brick walls is not profitable. The wall does get bloody - along with your head - but it rarely moves. 

But walls do crumble, sometimes under their own weight. Ask Hadrian about his wall across the Scottish border. Or the Song Dynasty of China watching Mongol hordes pour across its Great Wall. Or the German Democratic Republic about its eternal Berlin Wall. 

For those of us who mourn the death of the America we loved and must now endure the rise of a Trumpland in which we are essentially resident aliens confined to islands of blue which serve as reservations, it is important to be very strategic in our response to these changes. While there is no other choice in the face of tyranny but to resist, how we resist may well determine how long that tyranny survives, how deeply it will manifest itself and whether we will live to be part of the rebirth of a New America. 

America’s Vichy Republic 

The historical analogue I find compelling in watching the rise of Trumpland is the death of the Third Republic in France with the invasion of the Nazis and occupation of Paris and the rise of the Vichy Republic in the south. The Republic retained the name of the former country but the character of the new regime evident in its operations clearly revealed a different story. The Third Republic was dead and in its place a vicious, fascist regime had come to power. 

The analogy of Trumpland to Vichy is limited thus far. Trumpland has identified its targeted scapegoats like Vichy. It does appear headed in a direction of curtailing civil liberties and hollowing out democratic self-governance so that only a façade remains to hide an authoritarian regime. And it is headed by a narcissistic, disingenuous leader.

How far Trumpland will proceed down the road to tyranny is unclear. Personally, I fear that we could be one terrorist attack or major natural disaster away from martial law. After that, who knows how far down the slippery slope of tyranny we might slide. While Trump is a loose cannon with a big ego, should something happen to him, his Vice-President, a fundamentalist Torquemada with a steely heart and a soul of ice would assume the reins of the world’s most powerful military and its national guard. 

Then all bets are off.

For those of us in targeted scapegoat groups, the ultimate survival question we must ask ourselves is when it may be time to leave. Truth be told, should the nation with the world’s most powerful army degenerate into its own brand of fascism, it’s not clear where in the world one might go to escape its grasp. But even temporary shelter may be the difference in surviving or not. 

My husband and I have talked about leaving. We would have to leave everyone and everything we love behind. Today that would seem virtually impossible. But I am determined that we will not be in the last group of Jews walking the hallway to the showers at Auschwitz, reciting Kaddish, desperately  reassuring ourselves, “No one would ever do something this unthinkable.” 

The trick will be knowing when to leave before the window of opportunity to do so closes.

Resistance in the Face of Depravity

It is important to recognize that while Vichy France did lend itself to incredible depravity, it also generated a resistance whose cooperation with the Allies would eventually succeed in retaking France from the fascists. The leader of the Free French resistance, Charles De Gaulle, would ultimately lead post-war France in forming the new Fourth Republic. 

However, it is also important to recognize that many, many Frenchmen and women were more than happy to go along with the Vichy regime. Erich Fromm’s study of this phenomenon led to the publication of his post WWII work, Escape from Freedom, in which Fromm observed the willingness of otherwise decent human beings to abdicate their privilege of making decisions for a nation-state (and the responsibility for those decisions) to a powerful leader promising to make them great again. The cost for that greatness? All their civil liberties, rights and ultimately their very human dignity. That and 12 million human beings systematically annihilated.

The siren call of Trumpland to “Make America Great Again” readily demonstrates that the invitation to escape from freedom is alive and well today. More troubling, given the history that Fromm is pointing toward, the willingness of so many Americans to be manipulated by the demagoguery of Trumpland and to dissemble about their willingness to support a monster are portents of alarm indeed. 

The second part of my calling - and I believe that of all of us who now must endure the hardships that Trumpland will pose -  is resistance. How that resistance will occur is unclear. I believe each of us must find our own way to resist from the subtle to the blatant.

Calling the Trump regime on every move they make is critical. Deeds conceived in the darkness of shuttered corporate boardrooms and their subsidiaries in the Trump government must be exposed to the light of day. We must demand our media once again become responsible to their duties to report the news critically and hold them accountable with our subscriptions and refusal to view their programming when they do not. Our remaining senators must be willing to filibuster bills and delay confirmations in the US Senate. And we must jam the court systems with legal actions designed to slow or halt the advance of tyranny.

Keeping ongoing pressure on the regime through protests and civil disobedience is another must. Here we must be very careful not to present the opportunities for the regime to crack down in the name of national security. A martial law state once entered might well prove intractable once in place. As Machiavelli reminds us, it’s a lot easier for the Prince to be feared than loved.

Voting with our dollars is another aspect of resistance that could prove quite powerful. Whatever else Trumpland is, it is the miscarriage of a free market fundamentalist culture whose bottom line is always profit. Identifying the corporate and moneyed interests who supported Trump and refusing to provide them with any more of our cash to be used in dominating us is a powerful tool of resistance. 

Some of the most powerful forms of resistance are less direct. Our artists must create the images, our musicians the songs and our writers the literature that will speak to our broken hearts and wounded souls. Our artists must provide us with the means of confronting the unjust regime in which we now find ourselves and articulating the hopes of a New America when it falls.  

It will be an uphill struggle in a superficial culture addicted to tweets and memes. But consider how powerful the image of the young Vietnamese girl burned by napalm and the young college student mourning the slain Kent State student proved to be in ending an unjust war in Southeast Asia. Consider the hopefulness inspired by a stylized poster of Barack Obama just eight years ago, a poster which still hangs above my head in my office as I type these words. Consider the salve to our wounded souls in Orlando that the images of a mile long row of candles encircling Lake Eola Park in the heart of Orlando provided after the Pulse massacre.

Humor is an important means of resisting. Our comedians must not hesitate in using humor to lampoon the empty promises of Trumpland and the disingenuity and hypocrisy of their makers. And G_d knows, the Trumpsters will provide them a wealth of very rich material for satire. That starts with a president who would love to deliver mercifully short State of the Union addresses via Twitter.

Silent Symbolic Resistance
Symbolic resistance is critical to the ultimate goal of rebirthing a New America. Standing silently but not participating in the pledge of allegiance is a powerful form of resistance already underway in our country before the election. 

While Trumpland has appropriated the language of the former America, in fact we are no longer “one nation,” we are highly polarized islands of frightened blue surrounded by a sea of angry red. We are deeply divided, thus hardly “indivisible.” And the notion that a Trumpland that rose to power by demonizing whole segments of its population could ever be a place “with liberty and justice for all” is an incredibly bad joke. 

So long as our pledge is meaningless, we should treat it accordingly.

When I am in foreign countries and their national anthem is played, I stand silently and respectfully. I plan to do the same in Trumpland even as my heart will break knowing what that anthem once stood for. 

Resistance requires grounding. It is important that those of us who would confront Trumpland in all of its forms find ways to ground ourselves spiritually. We must begin by finding time alone in silence, turning off the frantic chattering of our social media and cell phones.

We also must find community in which we can find support and guidance. This should not be merely congregations of the like-minded. We need people to call us on our own shit but always in a context in which our value as human beings and our belonging to that community is never in question. Most of all, we must find diverse but kindred souls with whom we can dream of the New America we wish to come into existence and begin to plan how that can be accomplished. 

I believe that New America is surely coming. But an awful lot of turmoil must be endured before that can happen. 

[Continued with Part XI]

Harry Scott Coverston
Orlando, Florida

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)

© Harry Coverston 2017

No comments: