I stayed up late watching the early Super Tuesday exit polls and spent this morning writing an even longer version of this post that explained and defended all of the assumptions built in to the argument. I anticipated the strongest criticism would come from comfortable, well-intentioned liberals who, it seems to me, are in a dreamlike state of denial regarding the vicious drift of American politics, and whose Pollyannaish attitude in this election cycle has been proven wrong time and again.
Here’s one example of the kind of thing I’m talking about, from the economist James Galbraith, who is as smart as they come among Democratic Party muckety-mucks. “There is a difference between a carnival barker and the leader of a neo-Nazi party,” Galbraith said on the radio yesterday. “We don’t have the militias, we don’t have the brownshirts.” Another guest on the program, UPenn scholar Anthea Butler, who happens to be a black woman, was not convinced that heavily armed Americans with a hatred of minorities and a growing lust for violence, some of whom self-identify as militia members, don’t bear comparison to the paramilitary squads who terrorized the Weimar Republic. Neither am I.
Watch this clip of a woman being physically assaulted at Donald Trump rally in Kentucky, and draw your own conclusions about how quickly such scenes might devolve into lynch mobs.
It sure doesn’t look like a carnival to me. Neither was it an isolated incident of violence by Trump supporters at one of his rallies. Obviously.
What I really want to say to my friends back home in America is this: if you really don’t want to let bullies and thugs take charge of your country, you must not hide behind smug complacency, nor succumb to helplessness.
It is still entirely possible that a positive outcome—or at least a temporary extension of the steady imperial declension that is the status quo—will emerge from the electoral process, farcical though it may be. So you should definitely vote.
However, it is also my sense that the best and brightest of the Ivy League have once again misread the situation and that the worst outcome, a Trump presidency, is far more likely than salaried, mortgage-holding Serious People in the coastal states will admit. At this point, I don’t think they’ll admit it until it hits them in the face with a truncheon.
If Trump becomes the Republican nominee for president only to lose in the general election, it does not follow that the raving racist mobs he has emboldened will turn around, go home and console themselves by watching reruns of The Apprentice. No. The next American fascist leader will be more organized, disciplined and aggrieved—and therefore more dangerous. This will be true even if Trump somehow evaporates like a mirage and fails to secure the Republican nomination.
Which leads to the other thing I want to say: it is important to start thinking now about what you, personally, plan to do in the event that Trump or someone like him contrives to throw the full weight of the federal government behind a campaign of racist persecution against millions of innocent people. That is what Trump has promised, and that is what his supporters want. It could happen next year, in five years, in nine years—or never. But it is time to seriously reckon with the possibility.
Stop pretending it can’t happen in America. The country was founded on an act of genocide. Modern governments, too, have proven that they can manage forced population transfers. Whenever you hear a genteel discussion on the merits of Trump’s “immigration policy,” you should picture a concentration camp, because that is the real, unmentionable subject of the conversation. Picture your friends and neighbors being taunted, hunted, captured, thrown in cages and disappeared following “minimal, minimal, minimal torture.”
We may need to build a new underground railroad to save the targets of such persecution from immediate harm. This would be a formidable undertaking, requiring the commitment of personal resources, the extension of trust toward strangers and acts of personal courage.
It may seem daunting, but it’s actually easy to get started, and I’ll tell you how: talk about it with your friends. Ask them that question: what do you plan to do if Trump somehow made good on his campaign promises?
I’ll go a little farther. If you are white, do you have any personal contacts with the people in your community who would most likely be targeted? Do they know that yours is a friendly face? Do they have your phone number? Do you have a spare room? Do you know anyone who does? If you are brown, black or Muslim, you may have been thinking along these lines for a while, perhaps since you got The Talk. It’s not a bad idea to keep a go-bag packed—they aren’t just for redneck survivalists anymore!
Lest this seem an alarmist follow-up to the Super Tuesday results, recall the frank and disturbing comments made by a former director of both the CIA and the NSA, Michael Hayden, on Bill Maher’s show. Don’t think for a minute that the bureaucrats in charge of the national security apparatus aren’t thinking and talking about how they would respond to an order to deport millions of people—and don’t presume that guys like Hayden would win out over the unknown numbers of Trump supporters and deceptively named “Oath Keepers” in uniform. I mean, just look at Col. Sanders here, from that ugly scene in Louisville:
Speaking of people in uniform, do you have any friends or relatives on your local police force, or in the National Guard? Have you had a conversation with them about what constitutes an unlawful order? You might open it up by asking, “Hey, what do the people you work with think about all of this?” so as not to put them in a defensive posture.
Don’t resign yourself to defeat, but do have a Plan B and a Plan C. The discussions necessary to the formation of those plans will form the networks that will enable survival in the worst case or, should we see a better result, a movement toward positive change.