“I hope to be a more responsible citizen at some point,” is something I wrote when I recently redesigned this site. It’s true, I do, although I’m not exactly sure what that means. Paying closer attention to my community? Participating in political processes like voting? Helping others do the same? I’m not sure how best my abilities can serve us.
Meanwhile, I thought I’d share with you something that I do right now. Years ago I set up a mailing list for my family and close friends. I mostly use it to send them photos of my kids, but occasionally I’ll use it to send excerpts of articles that I feel are important.
I avoid in-person discussions about politics; however, I find reading and sharing text to be a rewarding and thoughtful exercise. So, today I sent three emails to my family. I did this in the same way that I began writing about typography — by sharing excerpts of things I read, not my own writing.
Here are the emails I sent today:
History tells us what will happen next
Trump says he will Make America Great Again, when in fact America is currently great, according to pretty well any statistics. He is using passion, anger, and rhetoric in the same way all his predecessors did — a charismatic narcissist who feeds on the crowd to become ever stronger, creating a cult around himself. You can blame society, politicians, the media, for America getting to the point that it’s ready for Trump, but the bigger historical picture is that history generally plays out the same way each time someone like him becomes the boss.
On a wider stage, zoom out some more, Russia is a dictatorship with a charismatic leader using fear and passion to establish a cult around himself. Turkey is now there too. Hungary, Poland, Slovakia are heading that way, and across Europe more Trumps and Putins are waiting in the wings, in fact funded by Putin, waiting for the popular tide to turn their way.
We should be asking ourselves what our Archduke Ferdinand moment will be. How will an apparently small event trigger another period of massive destruction. We see Brexit, Trump, Putin in isolation. The world does not work that way — all things are connected and affecting each other.
America Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyranny
For the white working class, having had their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed primitive, and their economic prospects decimated, now find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk about reality, described as a kind of problem for the nation to overcome.
And so they wait, and they steam, and they lash out. This was part of the emotional force of the tea party: not just the advancement of racial minorities, gays, and women but the simultaneous demonization of the white working-class world, its culture and way of life. Obama never intended this, but he became a symbol to many of this cultural marginalization.
Mass movements, Hoffer argues, are distinguished by a “facility for make-believe … credulity, a readiness to attempt the impossible.” What, one wonders, could be more impossible than suddenly vetting every single visitor to the U.S. for traces of Islamic belief? What could be more make-believe than a big, beautiful wall stretching across the entire Mexican border, paid for by the Mexican government? What could be more credulous than arguing that we could pay off our national debt through a global trade war? In a conventional political party, and in a rational political discourse, such ideas would be laughed out of contention, their self-evident impossibility disqualifying them from serious consideration. In the emotional fervor of a democratic mass movement, however, these impossibilities become icons of hope, symbols of a new way of conducting politics. Their very impossibility is their appeal.
But the most powerful engine for such a movement — the thing that gets it off the ground, shapes and solidifies and entrenches it — is always the evocation of hatred.
What makes Trump uniquely dangerous in the history of American politics is his response to enemies. It’s the threat of blunt coercion and dominance.
Trump tells the crowd he’d like to punch a protester in the face or have him carried out on a stretcher. No modern politician who has come this close to the presidency has championed violence in this way.
Supporters have attacked hecklers with sometimes stunning ferocity. Every time Trump legitimizes potential violence by his supporters by saying it comes from a love of country, he sows the seeds for serious civil unrest.
Trump is not just a wacky politician of the far right, or a riveting television spectacle, or a Twitter phenom and bizarre working-class hero. He is not just another candidate to be parsed and analyzed by TV pundits in the same breath as all the others. In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event.
Responding to cruelty with kindness
Normally I would have blocked him, or sent him something cutting & then blocked him. But for some reason—maybe because I heard this week’s This American Life, which discusses responding to cruelty with kindness…or maybe because he wasn’t all-CAPS-ing epithets at me—I didn’t block him. I wrote this: