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.



Comments (20)

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  1. Dougie Blackwood says:

    All true.

    I do not know whether Joe Biden will make a transformational change to american life or not. He is an old man and must work with an embedded culture that excludes large swathes of the population. The multiple security services, the military and the money men in the background that decide what makes them more billions of private wealth while the US budget sinks under the weight of snouts in the trough kleptocracy. I fear any good ideas he has will be rapidly extinguished, just as they were for the much younger Obama; remember his pledge to close Guantanamo, It’s still in business.

    Obama did bring in a form of health care, since watered down. I hope and expect that Biden will try to blow life back into that. I hope he succeeds but we shall see.

  2. Pete Roberts says:

    I am definitely not a Trump fan but he can continue to cause chaos and disruption by legally challenging the election results. If there are any grounds at all for a legal challenge he will go flat out for it, and there does seem to have been some dodgy stuff going on with the counting. It’s not over yet.

    1. Bill says:

      The main areas where Trump suggested that dodgy stuff was going on were in those controlled by a Republican administration. All evidence of election fraud in America, by research, has been shown to be no more that 0.0009%. There is therefore no area where a recount or an investigation would deliver any more than a handful of votes to Trump. The man does not understand the system. First they count the votes cast in the polling booths and then the postal votes – even Trump has in the past used a postal vote. While I do not think that the Democrats have bags of false votes to be found in the night, it is even less likely to be found in an area where the Republican administration is counting the votes.

      Suck it up Donald, you are a loser and if justice was to be done you would spend the rest of your childish life behind bars for all the damage you have caused. Danage that with a corrupt Republican Senate, Biden will struggle to repair.


  3. SleepingDog says:

    Like psychology, fairy tales (or folk tales) and political parties are based on the study of comparisons. Sometimes false dichotomies. For example: either abolish slavery now and pay slaveholders huge compensations for their loss of ‘property’/future profits, or keep people enslaved for another ten years before this once-in-a-generation opportunity comes round again.

    I am pretty sure there are fables based on the ‘new boss turns out to be pretty much like the old boss’ two-cheeks-on-the-same-arse theme, but anyway, here is a much simpler one taken from the introduction of Michael Rosen’s introduction to his edited volume of Workers’ Tales:
    “The leading figure in one of the socialist groupings in Britain, for example, used to regularly tell an old joke-fable about a rabbi and a goat, in which a poor man goes to the rabbi to tell him how miserable life is, what with the little home being so overcrowded. The rabbi tells the man to put his goat in the house. A few days later, the man goes back to the rabbi and tells him life is worse, the goat has made it even more overcrowded, and it’s eating all the food and leaving its droppings everywhere. The rabbi tells the man to sell the goat. A few days later, the man returns and thanks the rabbi profusely: life is so much better, there’s more room, and everyone’s happy!”
    So the USA has just sold the goat. But the problem of setting oneself one a pole opposite from the rest of the world, is that pro-USA foreigners will increasingly start wondering which is the evil end of the axis, as they watch the Great Santa laughingly dismember Democracy with a chainsaw as the latter lies truncheoned on a broken pavement waiting for an ambulance than never comes.

  4. Jane Kelton says:

    I understand and appreciate what you’re saying. I live in the US (not happy about it, but that’s my story) and believe me, for so many of us, even white people, we don’t expect that everything will be fine from hereon. We know how the police treat African-Americans; we see our neighbors struggling. Some of us are struggling ourselves. Not all of the white working class were Trumpers. Trump shocked a lot of people into questioning the status quo. Republican policies (or lack of) regarding Covid 19 didn’t go unnoticed. No one over the age of 50 who deals with our err, health system believes that things were fine until Trump. I have a little bit of hope; there are more people waking up than you might imagine. People of colour have been awake all of their lives and are doing more than their share of trying to wake the rest of the country. Again, not terribly optimistic, but there’s a subtle shift going on here.

  5. Daniel Raphael says:

    Outstanding article, Michael–but for you, that’s routine.

    I suggest that rather than “unity,” what the US needs, and what is needed in all nations, is further division, more polarization. There can’t be unity within a system–which prevails everywhere–that is literally killing our planet. Is the object of life for those extant on this earth to join hands and sing “Kumbaya” while the oil lobby and the weapons merchants finish the job of making the earth uninhabitable? That would seem to be the “nice” thing to do, wouldn’t it? My concern is not that of unity, but of divisions and polarities that make real sense. It makes sense to not be united with those who demand the continued destruction of air, water, and fertile land, so that they might put more zeroes into their bank accounts. It makes sense to stop the expenditure of stellar sums on a military and weapons industry that openly promotes war with the latest “enemy” so as to justify their own careerist ambitions and greed.

    When you reflect on it, the system we have right now is psychotic–a clear death wish. That would be acceptable, if it were only the death wish of those wishing it; unfortunately, like the COVID pandemic, it spreads to all of us. It’s one thing if death-obsessed psychotics in boardrooms and suites want to end their own lives, but their way of “doing business” carries out the lethal “hit” on all the rest of us, as well.

    You recognize the inadequacy of this change of the guard, Michael, and it’s to your credit that you are not misled by the standard refrain of (false) “healing” and (equally false) “reconciliation.” For those of us on the left who recognize the world is out of time and the division that must be made will be made not in ideological quarrels but in action, Gene Debs uttered words that can serve as our rallying cry today: “I refuse to obey any command to fight from the ruling class, but I will not wait to be commanded to fight for the working class. I am opposed to every war but one; I am for that war with heart and soul, and that is the world-wide war of the social revolution.”

    1. Jane Kelton says:

      This, too. Well said, Mike and Daniel. I like to add a note of hope, but I know that people who have been radicalized by witnessing the brutality of the past four years, and who have started fighting it have a long road ahead. The whole system needs to change, it’s structural inequality from the word go.

  6. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

    I still can’t get away from the fact that, as near as dammit, half the popular vote was still for Trump’s populist rather than Biden’s establishment agenda. Has anything really changed? Will that disgruntlement just go quietly back into Pandora’s box?

    1. Trump’s “populist” agenda is doing rather a lot of work here.

      1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

        Indeed, a ‘populist’ agenda can cover a multitude of different sins. That’s the nature of the beast; style rather than substance, a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups rather than a definite ideological programme or set of policies. Thus, it can be ‘left’, ‘right’… whatever ‘branding’ you need it to carry in order to appeal to the disaffected.

        There are a lot of ordinary people who feel frustrated by the political class; populists like Trump and his counterparts harness their ressentiment by telling them what they want to hear, confirming their hostilities and prejudices, whatever these ‘phobias’ happen to be, and ride to power on a wave of popular and often inchoate acclaim.

        Okay, this Trump’s gone; but only by the skin of his teeth. The ordinary people are still there, and so are their frustrations. Does Biden represent a welcome return to business-as-usual? Can the US breathe a huge sigh of relief? Or will popular ressentiment generate further Trumps, further rejections of the value system or morality that denies the disaffected’s frustration and its perceived sources?

        1. You say “Okay, this Trump’s gone; but only by the skin of his teeth. The ordinary people are still there, and so are their frustrations” which is why I write: “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.”

          Populism can indeed find manifestation from the left or the right thought the prevailing form is from the right. This isn’t coincidence.

          1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Yep, the right certainly perfected populism it in the 20th century, and I agree with your reservations about Biden’s narrow victory. Some commentator on the wireless this morning described the street-parties in Pittsburg as less a celebration of a Biden victory than a celebration of a Trump defeat.

          2. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            If you have time, have a read at Jonathan Hopkin’s new book, ‘Anti-System Politics. The Crisis of Market Liberalism in Rich Democracies‘, which presents the argument that the rise of the xenophobic right and the anti-capitalist left is part of a common global trend.

          3. Jane Kelton says:

            Thanks for the recommendation.

        2. florian albert says:

          ‘the ordinary people are still there and so are their frustrations’

          Robert W Merry – a conservative historian, whom I had never heard of – explained Trump’s appeal as a reaction against the nation’s elites and the Washington establishment. US Elites believe in globalism, immigration, free trade, identity politics, cultural liberalism and anti-nationalism. Much of the population is hostile to nearly all of this. Ultimately, it is a contest between the elites’ liberalism and the nationalism of most of the people. Merry believes that nationalism is almost certain to win here but that Trump’s myriad deficiencies led to him wasting a potentially winning hand.

          1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Also, we shouldn’t underestimate the appeal of his maverick and iconoclastic style. Trump was a bull in the china shop of conservative (with a small ‘c’) values; from the very start of his campaign to win the Republican nomination, he sought to disrupt the established culture of US and, subsequently, international politics. I believe this is how he operates in the business world as well.

            I wonder how easily Biden & Co. will be able to glue it all back together again and get US politics back to business-as-usual.

    2. MacNaughton says:

      Well, Trump didn’t stand on any particular platform, like any other presidential candidate would . He didn’t have any policies or programme of govt. His whole campaign was based on himself, not any set of policies he was going to enact.

      That 70 million Americans voted for a crook with no policies is indeed mind-blowing…

  7. Arboreal Agenda says:

    Did anyone hear the David Frost interview with Biden in 1987 on R4 tonight?

    He came across as very decent person and the kind who, for once, comes across as someone you would trust with great power. The contrast with Trump is as stark as it gets. That at least is a cause for some hope even though that was over 30 years ago when Biden was 50.

  8. Barbara Sharp says:

    Excellent article articulating realistically where we’re at on the election of Biden/Harris

  9. Jay Rones says:

    So, Joe Biden walks into a bar…and sees a hot young woman sitting alone at a table…. He sits down next to her and says, “So…do I come here often?”

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