Monday, June 8, 2020


Probably as you, and everyone else, I have been spending a lot of time lately trying to make sense of what is happening all around us. Everything seems to be turning upside down. Our lives seem to be devolving into swirling disorder. We wonder, with some fear, what is happening now and what is likely to happen in the near future.

Here are my musings of the day for what they are worth:

---We Americans have been in chaos for three and a half years since Donald Trump was elected president. He was the first star of popular culture elected president. He had not held any public office before. A person of no apparent internal convictions, he was elected entirely on image. The image was strength and power; and this resonated with the elements of American society that felt threatened by the social changes going on around them. His "base" was the angry white working class man, southern whites, and white evangelical Christians. Trump brilliantly solidified the traditional Republican base of big business with this fearful white base. He went on to gain complete control over the old Republican party by using intimidation and reward. He destroyed, or tried to, anyone who crossed him in any way. He seemed to be truly strong and powerful.

Donald Trump is now and has always been a minority president (Clinton got 3m votes more than he.). The majority of Americans oppose him. To be sure, the majority fought back against Trump. In the mid-term elections of 2018, the Democrats won a huge sweep and regained control of the House of Representatives. The Mueller investigation carried out a lengthy examination of the Trump campaign's ties with the Russians. The Democrats impeached the president and the Senate put him on trial. All along, Trump built up his power. He and his acolytes declared victory when the Mueller report was published. They declared victory anew when the solid Republican party kept him from being removed from office in spite of obvious abuses of power. His opponents grew increasingly frustrated and angry as he continued to act in defiance of the Constitution and run the government in disregard of established norms and structures. The steam built up in the pressure cooker.

Thus, the country has been held hostage in a pressure cooker for three and a half years by a genius of media manipulation.

---By March of 2020, a new crisis suddenly appeared, a pandemic caused by a highly contagious and deadly novel virus. Trump first treated this as a media problem. He pretended it did not exist. By the time he recognized its reality, it was too late. The country had to go into a lockdown for weeks on end. Individual Americans felt as hostages anew, this time to a miniscule organism that had no conscience. Trump's treatment of this crisis revealed in stark reality his utter incompetence at public policy. The outcome of this was his surrender to the virus and the reopening of the country.

---At the same time the country was reopening, a video recording captured the egregious and violent death of a black man under the knee of a white police officer. The pressure cooker exploded. Held hostage by the president for three and a half years, then held hostage in their homes by the virus, people burst out into the streets in virtually every American city and town. They were protesting the killing; and they were also protesting what Trump and the virus had done to them. The mass demonstrations were a safety valve. 

---President Trump was caught completely unprepared for this popular explosion. And so he retreated to his original impulses that got him elected in the first place. Playing up the acts of violent lawlessness that were offshoots of the peaceful demonstrations, he declared "domination" over the protesters and called in all the armed officers he could muster. This came to a head when he had peaceful demonstrators violently removed from a space so he could have a photo op in front of St. John's holding a Bible. When he tried to call in the army against the lawful marchers, he crossed a red line. The generals revolted. They refused to allow the American armed forces to be used to put down their fellow citizens who were exercising constitutional rights of free speech, assembly, and petition. Trump's coalition of force collapsed as numerous retired generals went on TV to denounce the president, not the demonstrators, as the danger to the country. Trump could survive Mueller and impeachment, but he could not survive the revolt of the generals. The sand was washed from under his feet.

The president who had risen to power on an image of strength and control had lost it. This became starkly obvious to everyone. He has not recovered. He is now overwhelmingly unpopular according to every public opinion poll.

If the election were held today, Trump and the Republicans would go down to a landslide defeat of historic proportions. The Democrats would sweep the White House, the House of Representatives, the Senate and countless state races. The Republican party would face a catastrophic collapse. They would reap the outcome of their Faustian bargain. Where the party would go from there would be anyone's guess.

However, no one should ever count Trump out. He divides the world into "winners" and "losers." He sees himself as a winner. There is no telling what he will do to win the election coming up in less than six months. The chaos of the last three and a half years may be just a warm-up.

---What to make of the demonstrations? They are widespread, even around the world. They are popular. Thousands of people are marching everywhere. They are multi-cultural. Indeed, in many places, they are majority white demonstrations. They are also long lasting. They have been going on for two weeks now with no sign of letting up. Moreover, there are no counter-demonstrations to oppose the marchers.

There have been acts of lawless violence. In some places, criminal gangs have smashed windows, looted stores, attacked police, and destroyed property. However, these acts were separate from the peaceful demonstrations and they were short-lived. They were never the main impetus of the demonstrations which were peaceful marches for racial justice.

What about historical parallels? Some people have compared the new demonstrations to those of 1968. I do not see it beyond a superficial level. The clashes of 1968 came out of a different historical dynamic. At that time, the Civil Rights movement had been going on for years and had accomplished a great deal of political and social change in America. However, this was at the same time as the Vietnam War rocked the country. All of this came to a violent head in 1968 with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. White reactionaries then arose to fight back against the force of Civil Rights which it blamed for the frightening violence. Under the banner of "Law and Order," the Republicans drew up a Southern Strategy to get the votes of white southerners, who had traditionally voted Democratic. It worked. This gave the Republican party a long, half-century run of political power. So, the demonstrations of 1968 were the start of a clash of counter-revolutionaries against the revolutionaries. We are still in this historic period of counter-revolutionary backlash against revolutionary changes.

The demonstrations of today are more like those of 1963 when the revolutionary period was just beginning to build as a transformative force in America. The revolutionaries then had a clear agenda and the expectation that this was achievable. They did see various civil rights and voting rights acts enacted in Washington. The mood of today is like that---the expectation of change, in this case the reform of policing to guarantee equal treatment of all races at the hands of law enforcement officers. These reforms will come. The mood of the country today is closer to 1963 than to 1968.

What is happening now is the resurgence of the revolutionary forces that have been challenged for a half-century by counter-revolutionary forces. The clash between those who want a continuing development of democracy and those who want a return to pre-civil rights days has been going on since 1968. Sometimes the reactionaries had the upper hand, as under Ronald Reagan. Yet, there were times when the revolutionaries scored big victories, as in Roe v. Wade in 1973 and marriage equality in 2015. 

What brought the clash to a head in 2020 was the convergence of forces, namely the presidency of Trump and the coronavirus. The fatigue of three and a half years of anxiety set the stage for an explosion of reaction. The revolutionaries have reclaimed the streets as they are reclaiming history. They are extending their reforming impulse to racial injustice. President Trump was elected by his "base" as the man of strength and power to "dominate" in the interest of the counter-revolutionaries (Make America Great Again). He has been shown to be incompetent at both government and holding his base together. He was only an image after all, a Wizard of Oz who has been exposed behind the curtain.

So, these are my thoughts of the moment as I struggle to make sense of what is going on around us. I have not seen a time quite like this. Yet, I am not frightened. I am not worried. In fact, I am quite encouraged. I see the American people reasserting the values of democracy. Countless thousands of ordinary citizens of every description are willing to risk violence (police) and death (virus) because they believe deeply in the principles that made this country great: freedom, equality, and justice. For this, they are willing to risk their lives. I am lost in admiration for them. Democracy is very much alive and well. I can only take heart at this. There is a better day ahead. 

Always remember, friend, you and I are here for the living of this hour. May we find strength and courage. Peace.