What price a few more self-indulgent, windy words? What can be said about the inauguration of America’s first post-truth president that hasn’t already been said?
I’m just going to write. These are half-formed thoughts at best, but they’re better than silence. Better than acquiescence. Writing, attempting to make sense of the chaos and contradictions of the world, and to arrive at truth through words, is fast becoming a revolutionary act in itself in the age of emojis and cat videos. Those of us who believe in the power of words, in the search for facts, for truth, are in the minority now.
But then again, we always were. Sallust once wrote that only a few people truly desire liberty. The rest seek nothing more than fair masters.
Democracy itself has been brought into disrepute by Trump’s election. The Chinese government has incorporated him into its own propaganda, to mock the very idea of free elections and multiparty democracy. What’s the point of elections if they hand the levers of state power over to a racist, misogynistic buffoon? Vox Populi, Vox Dei indeed. It’s hard to swallow that particular trope with a straight face right now.
On the one hand, obviously, this is all terrifying. A fascist who meets all the criteria that Umberto Eco laid out in his seminal essay on ur-fascism, or ‘eternal fascism,’ is now President of the United States. Trumpism is as ludicrous and full of contradictions as its ideological predecessors in Germany and Italy, but it was powerful enough to sway a sizeable rump of the American population into believing that only the strongman could save a declining republic. And at a time when the stock market is shattering records, and unemployment is at a historic low. This seeming contradiction should give us pause for thought.
On the other hand, this is all very exciting. The battle lines are clear. The cause is just. I never thought my generation would get the chance to fight fascists in the streets for the soul of civilization. I thought our grandparents would be the last to have the privilege of fighting for truth, beauty, freedom, and love against the forces of evil. The liberal, capitalist order seemed unassailable, unquestionable.
Now, of course, it has never looked weaker, more desperate, more pathetic. I wonder if we’ll miss it when it’s well and truly gone. In fact, I’m almost certain we will. Moderation, compromise, consensus, stable jobs and financial security have always been an underwhelming sell. Liberalism has always been unheroic, ungrandiose. It makes no pledges of eternal struggle, no promises of the ultimate sacrifice. It merely encourages peace, trade, good governance, an avoidance of extremes. This is always going to strike some people as being insufferably dull. There are always going to be angry young men wanting to die for some sacred cause, unwilling to accept the adult compromises of jobs, children, taxes. It’s much more exciting to throw your lot in with something heroic. Witness the appeal of Zionism, or the Islamic State. Witness my own excitement at the prospect of glorious battle.
But of course, the other side now controls the most sophisticated machinery of political surveillance, intimidation, and oppression that there has ever been. They’re better armed, better situated, and better prepared. I don’t think any of us on the left really understood that this could actually happen until it was too late. And now that it’s here, there’s not a lot of time to catch up. The other side has been stocking up on canned goods and buying high-powered assault weapons, ultimately served well by their anti-state paranoia. We may lose this fight.
I’m reminded of an interview I heard last year with Cornell West. The interviewer asked him, if he was so pessimistic about the chances for the victory of the causes he championed, why he continued to fight? West responded that if at the end of all the struggle, of all the causes, all the shouting, the end result is that we of the left lose, well then we lose. It doesn’t mean the fight wasn’t worth fighting.
This is a fight worth fighting. Nativism, bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia, unfettered greed, the destruction of the planet itself as a habitable place in this universe; these are all worth fighting tooth and nail, to the bitter end. Who cares if we win or lose?