My life has been a combat of calm against fear. I was raised to be very frightened, and as a child had night terrors. I expected violence on every street corner and monsters in every closet. The moments of moral courage I have experienced in my life were very hard work, and have mainly been driven by indignation about unfairness and disrespect. On the other hand, when I have faced unexpected moments of actual physical danger, I found myself strangely calm.
After 9/11, I compensated for the general sense of a powerful adversary to whom I was a nothing to be sacrificed, by volunteering for the Red Cross and Safe Horizons, driving supplies into Ground Zero while the pile was still on fire, and working with bereaved families. Then I certified as an emergency medical technician; the wave of 9/11 ultimately carried me in the New York City emergency ambulance system, treating the victims of stabbings and shootings and heart attacks, and doing CPR on about fifty people. I also cut one umbilical cord. During my first year on ambulances, I was constantly afraid of nerve gas attacks and powdered anthrax. We had been told in our orientation that, if there was a large scale gas attack, the first three hundred of us responding would probably die, the same way that 300 firefighters died on 9/11.
Then one day, my partner and I were driving the ambulance from Canarsie to Manhattan, and the skyline was glinting beautifully in autumn light, and I felt a kind of a click and wasn't frightened anymore. I can't fully explain it, but I have felt that click a few times in my life.
Recently, I have been frightened again, of what Donald Trump means to me personally. In those despairing 4 a.m. moments, I feel like a Jewish person in Berlin in 1932. In a recent essay, President Trump, I reviewed his violent rhetoric, about punishing adversaries and outsiders and 'the other", and I asked what would keep him from carrying out any of those threats? My answer: nothing would. Trump seems to me the very paradigm of the man who would respond with insensate joy once given the authority to order drone strikes, beatings, killings, and torture.
I had a moment of panic yesterday, when I saw two news stories in the feed on my cell phone, one that Hillary Clinton had slipped below 270 guaranteed electoral votes, and the other that her national lead over Trump was well within the margin of polling error. Then it was reported that large factions of FBI agents are rabidly pro-Trump, leaking information--and disinformation-- about Clinton that they hope will swing the election. I began to see the outlines of a coup, elements of government teaming up with ambitious Republican legislators and super-annuated wannabes like Giuliani and Gingrich and white racists and Breitbart and David Duke and KKK and slipping down white voters who can be fooled to form a victorious reactionary backlash against the democracy which elected Barack Obama.
To a historian five hundred years from now (if there are any), Obama may be not the beginning of a glorious new period of racial unity, but a Walter Rathenau figure. Rathenau was a sophisticated,intellectual, progressive and Jewish politician,foreign minister in Weimar, assassinated in 1922 by a non-Nazi right wing extremist group; one of the things we have forgotten about Germany is that Hitler was far from the only force trying to destroy the republic. The traditional right and the Army were all collaborating towards that goal; Hitler himself was the Donald Trump figure who came out of nowhere to finish the work. Reaction is general, and then comes the man on horseback.
Donald Trump has truly been a transformative figure, a kind of political daemon whose force of personality warps everything around him out of shape. Estimated total casualties for World War II are about 60 million people in all categories, soldiers, civilians killed in bombings or starved, and Holocaust victims. One view is those 60 million died because Hitler wanted them to, or, anyway, because he was restless. Trump has that same appetite and power, and the proof is that no one in public life, can simply ignore him. Trump by his malign mana reveals who people really are. Nobody has behaved quite the way I would have predicted. Giuliani, whom I always greatly disliked but I thought had at least some integrity, obviously would like to be the Goebbels of the situation, as would Newt Gingrich. The knowledge that people who have grown up within mainstream electoral politics care only for power and have no commitment whatever to democracy is a revelation. I always knew Gingrich was a radical, but did not know that even he had no limits whatever, would reform himself to join a fascist movement.
The very first manifestation of the Trump Effect was to make a whole field of Republican candidates turn out to be much tinier than I ever thought. Ted Cruz had himself aspired to be the man on horseback; now he is grudgingly campaigning for the man who said his wife Heidi was ugly and crazy, and accused his father of involvement in the Kennedy assassination. Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, everyone who is just trying to get by, use Trump a little, survive in his environment, will be drowned in the cataclysm to come, like the old German right was by Hitler.
Someone just sent me a link to a New Yorker article, President Trump's First Term, which seems to me to based on a delusion, that Trump if elected will try to be a normal President, keeping some of his promises, ignoring others. I concentrate more on questions like, will there be vigilantism? A major difference between Trump and Hitler is that Hitler, when elected, already had the S.A., a private paramilitary force of about 400,000 men. Although there have been no more than hints and possibilities during the campaign this year, people at Trump rallies have been happy to rough up demonstrators when he wanted them to, and there have been reports of armed militias ready to go to war to protest a "rigged" election if he loses. Trump has also called for people to go "watch" the polls in "you know which" neighborhoods on Tuesday (I am writing on the Saturday before Election Day). If, as President, he continues his billionairist merger of the private and public sphere, his actual erasure of the lines, and calls for "volunteers" to help him further put his wishes across at the state and local level, I can imagine that hundreds of thousands of slipping-down Americans, and ambitious ones who aren't, will answer that call--the very same element who staffed the S.A. Rudy Giuliani or Chris Christie would probably be thrilled to command that force. The New Yorker piece also fails to ask whether Trump will make good on his banana republic promise to jail Hillary Clinton (and why would he stop there?)
The Trump Effect has also revealed just who Julian Assange is. Assange, who I thought was a hero, is willing to throw me and millions like me under the bus, by doing everything he can to foist a President Trump upon us. I can't tell whether Assange hopes a President Trump will pardon him (or maybe even knows he will), or simply is carrying out an old anarchist goal of "worse is better", that needed radical change will only come after the violence and despotism of a President Trump. What Assange believes doesn't matter: to him I and my fellow progressives are merely eggs to be broken. I am not willing to be sacrificed to attain Assange's utopia any more than Bin Laden's.
I had also imagined that the fundamentalist crowd, like the Reverend Jerry Falwell, Jr., was authentically religious, had the courage of its convictions. When Trump's remarks about grabbing women “by the pussy”, made to an open mic on the Access Hollywood show in 2005, came to light, Falwell commented: “We’re all sinners, every one of us. We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t”, This gave me a transient wish to preach Mr. Falwell a sermon based on Matthew 4:8-11: “Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”
The resurgence of anti-semitism, which I never expected to see in America in my lifetime, is also a revelation. I have seen Photoshopped images of Jewish journalists in ovens and with bloody bullet holes in their foreheads. Trump may not personally hate Jews but is willing to welcome the anti-Semites into his coalition. The biggest mind-fuck of all has been to see Jews, like Trump's own son in law Jared Kushner, willing to turn a blind eye to this, for personal ambition or because they are happy to accept a little hatred from someone they think will support Israel. In the transformative world of the Trump Effect, Jews are throwing other Jews under the bus. Perhaps the final word is that Trump World is a state of nature, a free for all, everyone against everyone (and God against all).
Another factor which greatly raises the danger level is the prevalence of mediocre people who think they are geniuses. I recognized twenty years that Gingrich thought he was a brilliant historian, intellectual, novelist, when he was a hack at all things. Donald Trump, who inherited a couple hundred million dollars, lives in a self delusive bubble where he thinks he is a genius, though he has never done anything extraordinary; his casinos and hotels have frequently failed, and no one who was a great businessperson would ever have touched Trump University, or needed to license his name for water or steaks. Trump thinks he "has a very good brain", "knows more about ISIS than the generals", doesn't read, doesn't listen, alienated Roger Ailes by refusing to prepare for debates, etc. I am not sure what would prevent Trump from ordering a "pre-emptive" nuclear strike on North Korea, to pick just one of the many lunacies which could easily happen when a stupid man thinks he is smart. Stupid presidents who take advice--Ford, Reagan, both Bushes--can get by. Stupid people who think they are smart may sink us all.
Last month I wrote about the astonishing trope that we live in a "post truth" world. That would by definition be a world of gross and increasing inequality, because not a single liar since the beginning of time has consciously wanted to be lied to, and powerful liars have always punished those who they catch telling them falsehoods. Liars in power may delude themselves; there was a moment when Hitler's generals were still safe telling him that the invasion of England would not work, and then came a moment they no longer were. But that is very different than knowingly granting others the license to tell the lies you yourself feel entitled to utter. So liars like Trump by definition live in a world in which there are two kinds of humans, those to whom there is a duty to tell the truth (themselves) and those to whom there is no such duty (the German people in 1932, the American people today).
As much as the inchoate violence, the lies put us at a critical crossroads. Our society has never been more complex, dangerous and rapid, and if we sink into a morass of lies, we will lose our way and a new dark age will come. It couldn't be simpler or more obvious.
I have been back and forth on the issue of whether I would ever leave. My fear tells me to go, if even a portion of the things I am predicting happen; but my self respect reminds this is my country, my home, from which I should not consent to be chased. I remember Harry Randall Truman, who refused to leave his home on Mt. St. Helens; but also remember what happened to him.