Search for Tomorrow
It’s easy to view this all as a Fairy Tale with a happy ending. Evil has been vanquished, good has prevailed. Joe Biden’s victory speech did nothing to dispel this idea talking of “restoring the soul of America” as he declared victory in front of a crowd of supporters on Saturday night. “America has bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice” Biden declared, as Trump imploded in a ball of sulphur consumed by impotent rage. As Trump faces public humiliation and the novelty of experiencing boundaries in the world for the very first time, Biden was going the routine of ‘healing’ and ‘unity’ and name-checking all of the rainbow coalition of diversity that propelled him to victory.
But the problem is the mountain of difficulties facing Biden and Biden’s America are not just legal they are about a pandemic that has killed over 200,000 people, the number of people living in poverty has grown by 8 million since May, and racial division has arguably never been worse as the ongoing spectacle of police violence fuels urban disgust and revolt. Added to this this is a country in which over 70 million people voted for a grotesque neo-fascist, who gained more than 6 million more votes than in 2016.
This is no Fairy Tale.
If this weekend (and for the last month) just Not Being Donald Trump was enough, next weekend it will not be. If this weekend finding a ray of light in a terrible year, was enough, next weekend it will not be.
It’s a time of hope and despair (not necessarily in that order). It feels like life on replay. How many times have you prayed for the centrist candidate to defeat the incumbent ‘evil’, only to be disappointed that the triangulation of your life and dreams fails in its own in-authenticity. Every. Single. Time. Yet pragmatism is seductive. Be reasonable. Take people with you. Don’t frighten the horses. Folks, the horses are deid, nobody told you. The difference is that as the stakes rise the game of playing off beliefs and principles seems a bit old.
From Delaware to Achiltibuie
We have been through a global collective experience of watching Americas dysfunctional electoral systems play out, and, so far, it has survived the test.
I’m not sure if Americans have the same obsession about our elections. Is there someone in Tampa opening up maps of the ballots counting in Auchtermuchty, or the re-count in Achiltibuie at our elections? Okay, my obsession with the demographics of the fourth district of Delaware seems a bit, well, obsessional. But the world is not symmetric in power. America doesn’t have Scottish weapons of mass destruction in their sea lochs. It’s not as pivotal to our global future if Nicola Sturgeon signs the Paris Climate Accord as it is if Joe Biden does.
The other day I compared the Trump family to the Romanian former president and his wife the Ceaușescu’s (and more unfairly the Addams Family). Joking apart there was a famous moment in the Ceaușescu’s downfall when booing (then completely unheard of) began from the back of a large public audience as Nicolae Ceaușescu spoke. As the ripples of dissent broke from the back of the audience the iron grip of the autocrat who had presided over starvation and the brutal rule by the ubiquitous secret police force, the Securitate, began to loosen and then crumble.
On Thursday evening Donald Trump gave a speech in Washington which evoked a response similar to those brave Romanian protestors at the back of the crowd.
Daniel Dale a reporter in CNN’s Washington Bureau, wrote: “President Donald Trump delivered the most dishonest speech of his presidency on Thursday evening. I’ve watched or read the transcript of every Trump speech since late 2016. I’ve cataloged thousands and thousands of his false claims. I have never seen him lie more thoroughly and more egregiously than he did on Thursday evening at the White House. On the verge of what appeared to be a likely defeat by former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump emerged in the press briefing room and took a blowtorch to the presidential tradition of defending the legitimacy of the democratic process.”
In an unprecedented move the three big broadcast networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — cut away from President Trump’s news conference at the White House as the president lobbed a series of bizarre false claims about the integrity of the election. This is an astonishing move. The media are cutting off the President.
Authoritarians, populists and proto-fascists require the fluffers and sycophants to surround and protect them, to maintain the narrative that this is normal and to let the shift-of-ground happen seamlessly. The media have a responsibility in this not to normalise the abnormal.
This is a tipping point. The trick would be to make it a tipping point for the media in the west and our treatment of corrupt and venal political elites, not just in the US of A but in Britain and Scotland too.
But if you were exhausted and stressed by this process of removing a malignancy, think how tired the people who have been resisting police violence and harassment and state murder in their communities for over a year must be? And if we are celebrating media stations and individuals who have finally (finally!) found their breaking point as they stare in incomprehension at an attempted coup which they are broadcasting live – and have been complicit in for years – then we should also be celebrating the millions of people in America that have been resisting the phenomena of Trump and the wider forces he represents.
At what point people find their tipping point varies. For many black communities this has been triggered by witnessing their communities being intimidated, their fathers and brothers and sons being incarcerated, their family members being murdered. If for the white liberal media the tipping point is witnessing the spectacle of an incumbent refusing to accept the result and the formal process of democracy crumbling, then so be it.
These are two worlds.
As Alex Jones attempts to instigate a Civil War at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, the toxicity of the blogosphere has tipped into IRL, the question is what happens next?
Can the apparatus of America’s shoogley democracy rise up to protect itself and its citizens, or will it descend into the madness of delusion, wild conspiracy and a descent into street fascism?
We’re about to find out.
In Umberto Eco’s classic essay ‘How to Spot a Fascist’ he says: “at the root of Ur-Fascist psychology lies the obsession with conspiracies”. “The disciples must feel humiliated by the enemy’s vaunted wealth and power”. We can see this in the oscillation between Trump and his supporters desperate machismo and over-compensation and then the expression of feelings of isolation and vulnerability. We can see this in Jones world – and its replica in a hundred thousand talk shows, blogs and forums. Trump’s projection of elite power when talking of “gated communities” is straight out of this playbook. We can see this again and again as the paranoid tradition in American politics is nurtured and fed.
Legends and Myths
But if Trump is a malignancy the body of America is riddled with the ‘disease’ of Trumpism and it won’t be ‘removed’ or ‘solved’ by his ejection.
As Eddie Glaude, author of the 2020 book Begin Again, about James Baldwin and the history of American politics laid out in a memorable tirade on MSNBC where he described the dark roots of the Trump phenomena:
“America is not unique in its sins … but where I think where we may be singular is our refusal to acknowledge them and the legends and myths we tell about our inherent goodness … so that we can maintain a kind of willful ignorance that protects our innocence.”
“This is the ugly underbelly of the country” he said to a chastened and mesmerised studio “… it happens every generation, so somehow we have to say ‘oh my god is this who we are’ …”
“It’s easy for us to place this all on Donald Trump’s shoulders, it’s easy for us to place Pittsburgh on his shoulders, it’s easy for us to place Charlottesville on his shoulders, it’s easy for us to place El Passo on his shoulders, … this is US!”
This does feel like a moment of realisation that breaks the cycle of denial articulated by Glaude.
But the problem for Biden preaching unity and healing is that he presides over a country that may not want to heal and for which ideas of unity need to be grounded in some reality. ‘False Unity’ may be Biden’s version of Obama’s ‘False Hope’. Moving beyond the hate agenda of Trump may be an obvious starting point but it’s need to be based on some tangible reality other than different words and a different tone. “No Justice No Peace” as the saying goes.
The question is can we include in the “things we don’t need to ‘entertain’ anymore” – the things that have “become intolerable”: police violence, institutional racism, allegations of voter fraud, children in cages – and can anyone make sense of that? Is there enough commonality left in America beyond the empty symbols and slogans to ‘unite’ and can that unity have meaning? Is there enough collective sense and enough sense of the collective to come together in a solidarity that isn’t based on false grievance and imagined threats but the very real ones – the threats that lie within America not beyond its borders, the threats that can’t be shut out by border walls.
At least now the ripples of dissent have broken out from the back of the audience. That’s a start.