It is very regressive for a democratic society to slide towards authoritarianism. One big reason for this change is fear. Donald Trump and Steve Bannon understood the psychological effects of fear and they weaponized it to take power. Consider the Facebook Cambridge Analytica data scandal, where data got into the hands of Bannon [who] used it to manipulate voters. With Trump’s campaign, it seems like they perfected the a strategy of fear mongering to manipulate people into some other type of reality.
Do you see what I mean a little bit? We are laggards, us Americans. Our definitions of what a high crime is are totally obsolete, way out of date. The fact that we Americans don’t consider modern ideas genocide, torture, hate, and fascism high crimes — but only 18th century concerns like obstruction and collusion — says to the world that we are not civilized people, that we have not really understood history, and that we have not really joined modernity. We are still backwards and behind — and, for us, that also means that our democracy is less robust, more fragile, that we are all the more vulnerable to extremists, lunatic, and fanatics, precisely because their malicious intentions and acts aren’t high crimes.
When I look at America, here’s what I see. A country where the extreme, fanatical right wing takeover of its institutions — all of them — is almost complete. From laws to courts, representation to presidency, norms to rules, from press to public sphere — America is now controlled almost entirely and exclusively by the most fanatical kind of right wingers the rich world hasn’t seen for decades, probably since Nazi Germany. Yes, I mean that. Let me make my case — and you can judge for yourself whether my words carry any weight.
The longer we pretend this dystopian world is not imminent, the more unprepared and disempowered we will be. The ruling elite’s goal is to keep us entertained, frightened and passive while they build draconian structures of oppression grounded in this dark reality. It is up to us to pit power against power. Ours against theirs. Even if we cannot alter the larger culture, we can at least create self-sustaining enclaves where we can approximate freedom. We can keep alive the burning embers of a world based on mutual aid rather than mutual exploitation. And this, given what lies in front of us, will be a victory.
But like all resurrections, something must die, for old America to live again. And that thing is new America. And that, my friends, means that democracy is the brief period American had in between two dark oceans of apartheid and authoritarianism
This is who we’ve always been, a nation of madmen and sociopaths, for whom murder is a line item, kept hidden via a long list of semantic self-deceptions, from “manifest destiny” to “collateral damage.” We’re used to presidents being the soul of probity, kind Dads and struggling Atlases, humbled by the terrible responsibility, proof to ourselves of our goodness. Now, the mask of respectability is gone, and we feel sorry for ourselves, because the sickness is showing.
It is very strange that the self-styled populist wing of the left is so indifferent to this project.
Collusion in real time
In 2016, Andrew Harvey and I published Savage Grace: Living Resiliently In The Dark Night of The Globe. In Chapter 1 of the book, we forecasted essentially what is happening in this moment in terms of the demise of the last vestiges of democracy and human rights on this planet. We chose the image of Kali, the Hindu goddess of creation and destruction as the symbol of our current global predicament. Two years later, we are witnessing a virulent, worldwide embrace of white nationalist, authoritarian rule. Ultimately, Kali seeks to transform the human ego and rational mind and bring us into a more permanent residence in the heart, but the process is often excruciating. Might she also want to transform the image a country or a community has of itself? “This is not who we are.”—Or is it? How shall awake human beings respond? What is our work? What is our calling? How do we reconnect with the authentic sources of meaning in our lives and the web of life itself as totalitarian rule is poised to dominate our consciousness and our countries as we stand on the threshold of the potential extinction of all life on Earth as a result of catastrophic climate change? We will be posting portions of Savage Grace in the coming weeks because it is proving itself to be prescient and empowering in this very dark time.
I have been writing about collapse for more than a decade, and perhaps you have been reading about it for even longer. While I know that it is inevitable and that in tandem with climate catastrophe it will be even more horrific than seasoned students of collapse anticipated, it matters to me how it unfolds. Throughout history, the collapse of societies has played out in a manner unique to each one. How this collapse plays out matters to me. It is poised to be violent, and my intention has always been to minimize the brutality. The first step in that project is to name what is so at this moment in time and to stop minimizing it by pointing to the myriad evils the Unites States has perpetrated on other countries in the past. Indeed, the chickens have come home to roost, and now it is our turn to deal with them.