It’s safe to say that 2020 has not gone as planned for the vast majority of us. In fact, every day seems to be a slap in the face followed by a punch in the gut followed by a beating with baseball bat as if to tell us, “You’re complaining? Let me show me how much worse I can hurt you.” Here in the United States, while our systems have long been broken and unjust for much of the population, there was a false belief that we were immune from the challenges that have long faced many other countries and delayed, destroyed or derailed their democratic systems. For Americans, the belief in American exceptionalism kept us blinded to the reality that we have been living on borrowed time for a very long while now.
Until this year, the largest atrocity that many Americans have ever seen committed on our own soil was 9/11. The idea that we would become a country under siege—being attacked from the inside—was simply unfathomable to all, except those who have studied the collapse of other countries or who have lived through a country collapsing. They started warning us a while ago; many of the rest of us not so schooled in history or first-hand experience started warning everyone very loudly as soon as Trump got the GOP nomination to run in the 2016 election. But a lot of you didn’t listen.
Even when the “unthinkable” occurred (though many of us had already figured out it was going to happen) in 2016 and Trump was elected and installed as our 45th president, there was this almost childlike belief that our system of checks and balances would keep things from getting too bad. Though to be fair, many white Americans were also more than willing to sacrifice the comfort of their fellow citizens of color and marginalized Americans to keep the ruse going that America was a democracy and a land of milk and honey.
Since Trump was installed, America has been slipping into the abyss of fascism and authoritarianism. Writers such as Sarah Kendzior and Umair Haque have been sounding the alarm all along, but as long as the masses were still getting paid, could get a biweekly manicure, and drink cold beer and eat chicken wings at the local Applebees—well, things weren’t too bad then after all for them. I mean sure, there were Americans who were being left behind and who were not surviving, but for most of us it didn’t seem like our problem. Until 2020.
It was somehow still easy for many to look the other way when children were being put in cages and our fellow Americans’ rights were being threatened and Congress wouldn’t impeach a man who had earned multiple reasons for impeachment within the first six months of his presidency…until a pesky virus arrived and suddenly, everyone’s life was being turned upside down.
As of this writing, 200,000 Americans have lost their lives due to COVID-19.
200,000 Americans are dead and our government isn’t doing anything—worse, it seems to want to actively promote spread of the virus for “herd immunity” that, if we even got it, would cost literally multiple millions of lives to achieve. The Trump administration knew at the beginning of the year the threat that COVID posed and instead, encouraged us to go live our lives. They wouldn’t even tell us to wear masks to stay safe until the body count began to grow. The administration fumbled the messaging so badly, that a public health crisis has become a will of political beliefs.
Since COVID turned our lives upside down in March, almost no day has passed that the Trump administration has not told us who they are: a wanna-be authoritarian regime where soon the only people who might still have some rights are the good white people who are “patriotic.”
Yet for many, we are so overwhelmed by the rigors of living through a pandemic and trying to survive (while homeschooling our kids and securing bleach wipes and toilet paper) that we have clung to the fantasy that our national nightmare will end and there will be a return to normalcy, if only we can vote this guy out.
We also clung to the hope that if an 87-year-old cancer survivor could stay alive long enough for us to vote this dictator out, that our rights would be protected and again, we might return to “normal.”
The thing about life though, is that it happens when you are busy making other plans, and as I learned this year with my own dad’s untimely death, death doesn’t get a damn about the plans. Death does not consult us and it sure as hell doesn’t work on our calendars.
Which is why the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is viewed as a tragedy. For starters, yes, her passing is sad, but she led an extraordinary life and was blessed with longevity of years. She was not a perfect woman, and no doubt she made some missteps on race, but overall, she was an inspiration and a true heroine. However, the fact that democracy and our very future was being placed on her shoulders should give us all pause. It has been reported that she told her granddaughter that her wish was that her replacement would not be selected until after the next president was installed.
A dying 87-year-old woman should not have had to carry that weight. Her last days should have been reserved for her loved ones, not us.
Ginsberg’s passing is the clarion call for many, who now realize we are on the road to being fucked and not a good fucking either. The thing is, we have been on this road for a long time. Every time we laughed about Trump’s ignorance or assumed that some invisible “system” other than the very obviously broken existing one would save us, we empowered this man to kick things up another notch.
Now we sit, less than two months away from an election that will determine our collective future and still there is no consensus on how to proceed. The current system is awful, let’s face that—things should not be allowed to return to “normal.” But a second Trump term will only move us closer to an authoritarian state and once we reach that point, there is no turning back short of some serious bloodshed and other myriad kinds of suffering for years or decades or maybe even generations to come.
As we have seen already in recent months, Trump will use the military and police to carry out his plans. Just a few days ago, Trump announced that the teaching of our real history as it relates to race in this country (and other less-than-pleasant truths) is not something he will allow. Sure the federal government doesn’t set school curriculum but let’s be honest, who exactly is going to stop him? He can’t directly ban Tik Tok either or even block it from the internet, but he got the folks who run the app stores to take the app off their list, didn’t he?
In less than four months, Trump has changed the narrative on the George Floyd protests and as much as it pains me to say, it is working. The data show that white support for the Black Lives Matter movement is decreasing, after reaching an all-time high at the beginning of the summer. Despite the vast majority of national protests being peaceful, Trump was able to change the narrative because the one thing he understands is white supremacy and the white mindset. In a country founded on white supremacy, to underestimate his reach borders on the delusional.
The uncomfortable truth is that while it’s easy to say let this raggedy-ass country burn, I don’t think most of us are prepared for that reality. Especially as we ourselves have become the shithole country that Trump has accused so many other nations of being, and we are not welcomed in most other countries at this time…so leaving isn’t even an option.
That means the only sane and healthy option is to get this man out of office; however, between previous gerrymandering, a highly infectious disease and attempts to make voting difficult for many, just voting alone isn’t going to be an option. It means we need a multi-prong approach which will include (among other things) direct action, bodies on the line, voting and mutual aid.
We will need to find a strength that, frankly, given the way this year has gone already, is going to be hard. And for many Americans, it is a strength we are not accustomed to, but we have to accept that no one is going to rescue us. We are the cavalry. No more kicking the can down the road. We are all we have and we have to act now. We have to save ourselves despite working, homeschooling and trying to survive during a pandemic—which has all of us exhausted. Frankly, for white-bodied people with material resources, for whom struggle is new, this is your chance to follow the lead of the BIPOC folks and groups who have been working for liberation and move from learning to action. This is action time.
As Americans, this is our adulting moment, America is broken and problematic but unless we come together and work together, nothing is going to get better. I would be remiss to not mention the state of our planet: Climate change is real and the climate change crisis that we have been warned about is here and honestly has been for a while. No longer a future event, the fires raging on the West Coast are proof of how real the changes are and that alone combined with Trump’s blatant disregard of science should terrify you. Again, our very survival on this planet requires someone capable of understanding science and not scoffing at it.
Joe Biden may not be the change-maker we want, but I feel confident that a Biden/Harris administration will staunch the hemorrhaging and stabilize things enough that we can catch our breaths and get serious about dismantling this system while we aren’t on fire. You can’t rehab and remodel a house when the structure is literally burning. When dealing with a demagogue such as Trump, we can’t even be assured that there will be be a plot of land to rebuild on after he is gone. Because if he puts another justice on the supreme court, combined with all his lower court appointments, his presence will be felt. He will have a very important branch of government almost entirely at his beck and call. And he already has the other “checks and balances” branch, Congress, more than halfway under his thumb. America will be turned into the picture-perfect white Christian cishet male-controlled “utopia” the GOP and its supporters desire.
In this moment, I am reminded of the words my father said to me, when telling me that my mother had died. “Have a good cry tonight and tomorrow we will regroup.” I shared similar words to my family upon announcing my father’s death. I share them with you: Rage, cry, do whatever you need to do in this moment. But afterwards, we have work to do. There is plenty of it, but if we all do something, we can be the change.
As for Ruth Bader Ginsberg, thank you for your service to our country, thank you for being a trailblazer, and may your memory be a blessing to all who loved you.
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Image by Miguel Bruna via Unsplash