Could this really be happening again?
First the anxious checking and re-checking of news and opinion pieces, looking for some sign of certainty amid the noise. Going to bed, content that in the end reason would prevail. Waking to a text message telling me that the world had changed for the worse while I slept. And finally the shock, the disbelief, the creeping dread.
Once again, a majority of voters has pushed their country down a patently absurd course. Once again, everyone will be worse for it. And once again, the suffering will be nowhere near equal, as the oppressed and the marginalized are punished for the audacity of existing, and of refusing to do so in silence.
Brexit was the rattle of the window-panes and the first, distant howling of the wind; now the gale has arrived, and the rafters are coming down around us to rapturous applause.
Admittedly, Trump’s win wasn’t a total shock. I have been anxious these last few months, mindful of the way he consistently out-performed all expectations. And his message, however heinous, is an undeniably effective one. Throughout the campaign, Trump has been the one setting the tone and forcing others to react to him; even Hillary Clinton’s slogan, “Stronger Together”, was a clear repudiation of her opponent’s decisive rhetoric. In hindsight, the outcome doesn’t seem quite so unexpected.
But it’s not just Trump. It’s Nigel Farage. It’s Marine Le Pen. It’s David Duke and Vladimir Putin and the alt-right and Europe’s sickening reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis. It’s fear of the past repeating itself. Fear of dictatorship and world war.
Does that seem paranoid and melodramatic? Why?
These things have happened before, many times in many places. There’s nothing about this time or this place that’s special, nothing that makes our current world invincible. People of my generation and in my sphere of experience have lived in an unusually long period of relative calm; I can’t help but wonder if that time of peace is coming to an end.
But let’s put that aside. The world isn’t ending right now. All that’s happened is that the most powerful and influential country on the planet will soon be led by a man who is either a raging, putrid bigot or fully willing to court raging, putrid bigots in a grab for power. Oh, and there are a lot of raging, putrid bigots. A whole lot. The overwhelming majority of them look just like me, and come from the same background and broad experience as I do, and absolutely reap the same ingrained privilege that I have my entire life.
We’re not the ones who are going to truly suffer if the lamps go out again. Sure, it will be bad for everyone. But if we’re lucky, people like me and people like Trump will be allowed to come out the other side in more or less one piece. There will be no such mercy given to the people who aren’t like me and who aren’t like Trump.
If, some day soon, those people look at the juddering, unstable mess that we’ve built on their backs and decide that the only sensible solution is to burn the whole thing down before it can collapse and crush them, then I will quite happily sit and twiddle my thumbs while the lighter fluid and dry straw gets passed around.
Because I really think that’s why this happened. No, it wasn’t fucking economic anxiety, but it also wasn’t because voters are stupid or because Bernie Sanders didn’t get the nomination or whatever self-serving nonsense white liberals are telling ourselves right now. It’s because people like me realized that letting Those Other People get a shred of dignity and freedom would involve some tiny sacrifice on our part, and that realization fucking terrified us. And we responded to fear, as we have so often, with anger. We don’t deserve to be angry, but maybe we deserve to be afraid.
You were probably hoping for something a bit more positive toward the end of this– maybe something about unity or action or whatever– so here’s the closest thing I can muster: if history has taught us anything, it’s that our societies and our cultures sleepwalk into darkness. The road to hell isn’t paved with good intentions; it’s paved with we-didn’t-know and who-could-have-guessed and we-never-saw-this-coming.
See it coming. Know what’s happening. Watch for the signs. It’s not too late.