Let me apologize in advance for what may be an upsetting piece of writing for some of you. If you’re in a state of shock or exhaustion from recent events, perhaps you should skip this one.
I don’t offer this analysis in order to further distress anyone — but until you understand what is happening and how that influences your psychological state, you’ll remain the emotional equivalent of a rag doll shaken to-and-fro by events. Such understanding may not bring you to a place of calm acceptance. But it will set you free.
Overall, Snyder’s message is that the United States is not unique—neither in the world today nor against the backdrop of history—in being pushed in more authoritarian directions. If anything, Trump is exploiting the same tactics Putin and state-run media in Russia use, but with the American addiction to 24/7 media and smartphones and other devices, we’re making it easier for an emerging authoritarian like Trump to consolidate his power.
It is true that many of the more radical items on this administration’s wish list have yet to be realized. But make no mistake, the full agenda is still there, lying in wait. And there is one thing that could unleash it all: a large-scale crisis.
Large-scale shocks are frequently harnessed to ram through despised pro-corporate and anti-democratic policies that would never have been feasible in normal times. It’s a phenomenon I have previously called the “Shock Doctrine,” and we have seen it happen again and again over the decades, from Chile in the aftermath of Augusto Pinochet’s coup to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina
Chaos in the White House reflects the deepening turmoil in the psyche of the president as deep-seated inner conflicts become projected as radical dangers and threats in the outside world. Because there can be no genuine reflection and no failure can be admitted, the desperate sense of superiority demands that all enterprises be deemed a success. The need to be seen as omnipotent and uniquely able to solve everything means not only that the truth and the facts will be routinely rejected, but also that the security of the country and the guiding principles of democracy may also be sacrificed.
In this war of the elites, those who understand the “crisis of civilization” and are working to build community resilience as a response should be wary of hyper-partisanship. It may be essential over the short run to oppose both the rise of an authoritarian state and the dismantling of national climate policy. But no matter how fierce the contest, it is vital to remember that getting rid of Donald Trump will not make America great again.
King Donald is the ultimate finished product of industrial civilization’s paradigm and the consummate mirror of our personal and collective shadows. It may be that before he completes his first term, he will be impeached or removed by some other means. Catabolic collapse and the climate catastrophe that he is presently exacerbating will continue unabated. Other madmen or madwomen will succeed him. But more importantly, he isn’t just one politician who isn’t any worse than another.
When an individual or a society will not confront its shadow, it invariably projects it onto the “other.” The shadow loves nothing more than the notion of exceptionalism. In fact, it thrives on it. Exceptionalism’s twin, of course, is entitlement. We are entitled because we are exceptional. We are entitled internationally to extend the tentacles of corporate capitalism to every inch of the planet, and we are entitled intra-nationally by “virtue” of race, class, and economic status, to deliriously consume everything in sight and oppress and dominate all whom we deem not exceptional.
This is our last gasp as a democracy. The state’s wholesale intrusion into our lives and obliteration of privacy are now facts. And the challenge to us—one of the final ones, I suspect—is to rise up in outrage and halt this seizure of our rights to liberty and free expression. If we do not do so we will see ourselves become a nation of captives.