Monday, November 27, 2017

As If All that Wasn't Enough

One more post — if you can stand it — on Trump, chickens and eggs, white supremacy, and education. This tweet storm is by Jared Yates Sexton, a professor of creative writing, born to the white working class in Indiana. He spent months of the 2016 campaign attending Trump rallies, which resulted in a book called The People Are Going to Rise.

After my [earlier] thread on how Trump is only a symptom of American fascism, people have been asking exactly what it entails, what these people say and believe, and it's worse than you think.

My family, for decades, has expressed not just openly racist sentiments, but an open admiration for dictators, murderers, and a taste for authoritarianism that knows little bounds. We're talking open admiration for Adolf Hitler, who, according to them and so many people I've known, had "good ideas." Some say he "took it too far," others don't.  These are people who long for the days of lynch mobs, who roll their eyes when you bring up the concept of due process. The death penalty isn't strong enough for them.

For most of my life I was surrounded by people who believed in white supremacy, politically, intellectually, and physicality. Some of them would hide behind the phrase "I'm not racist, but..." while others would defend the very notion of racism as reality. They were white supremacists, pure and simple, though many of them looked down on Neo-Nazis and KKK. Now? They share their memes and openly support them. 

What happened was that white supremacists in this country won a messaging battle. They shouldered in and won a seat at the table and respectability. People like Steve Bannon knew how to play them like instruments and how to bring them over into full-throated white supremacy by giving them cover. It's "nationalism" now. They were always right *there* with white supremacists, but Trump and Bannon brought them into the fold. They gave some cover, gave others the excuse.

I've seen these people at Trump rallies speak openly about wanting to murder journalists and liberals, getting laughs out of how they'd want to torture them first. They, like many people I've known, dream of a breakdown of society where they can use their weapons to kill openly and reshape society "the way it ought to be."

This is part of the reason why Midwesterners [and, I'd add, people in upstate New York] put up Confederate flags. It's racism, but it's also the dream of being able to rise up and remake this country into a fascist place. This was obvious too at the rallies, where they not only threatened people, but they were comfortable to spout this stuff openly, the way my family was comfortable among themselves.

Trump's ascension was built on this. He didn't inspire it, he gave it cover. He made it a legitimate mainstream worldview. As I wrote in my NYT editorial, Trump became a "safe space" for his followers where they could be as racist and fascist as they wanted to be in public without repercussions.

In my reporting on the campaign trail I watched them get bolder and louder and more outspoken as he gained momentum. They knew, at a Trump event, they could be open about who they were. Trump opened the floodgates on this, emboldened a section of society who had been largely kept under wraps and pushed to the margins.

Suddenly, people like my family, who were racist and fascist, weren't racist and fascist anymore, which is what they had always believed anyway. They just saw it "the way it is." Republicans had given them support for years, but only as a political ploy. Fox News had given them a reality for their own profits. But Trump believed it, lived it, and he energized it like nobody before.

Now, we're having to see this for what it is. An existential threat, but an existential threat that's ALWAYS been there. It's just been hidden mostly.

I think people wanted to believe that America was better than that, that they didn't really live in a country where they were surrounded by fascists. But they were, they always were. The NYT article about the Neo-Nazi [on November 25] was problematic, but in truth, you would be absolutely shocked by how many people you interact with daily who are sympathetic to fascist and Nazi ideologies. If you come from a family of them, if you lived in a town of them, you've seen this, heard this, but probably never thought they'd come out openly.

Unfortunately, they've always had power, but now they're gaining more and they're more open about this fascism, which means that white supremacists are in turn gaining power. It was a thin wall between these people and these white supremacists. That wall has been demolished.

To get past this, we're going to have to treat fascism like a disease and quarantine it. Take away its seat at the table. And we're going to have to get back to making education a priority. Rising college costs and student debt have meant that people like my family are not only less likely to get educated, but that they look at education with a sour grapes mentality. They thumb their nose at education because they can't afford it. Their ignorance becomes a characteristic they have to own and grow proud of. 

If we can prioritize education again, and stigmatize fascism/Trumpism, we might be able to make it past this situation. But if we don't, we could be staring down a really horrific hole. 

No comments: