Into the Darkness
In the sepia-tinged gloss of historical hindsight, it is all too easy and commonplace for the privileged among us to run back the Story of Us as an elegiac and sanguine novella; a linear arc of progress pock-marked by escalating tensions involving ever-greater swaths of humanity — mucking up a perfectly sensible narrative. Turning the ship around can often be construed as more a reaction to the rising currents than an attempt to truly change course.
The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it is not a smooth bend. It is choppy, chaotic, and often fraught with conflict. The things that are right and just arrive when it makes practical sense for them to do so. Often, it takes a clear plurality of support from the populace at large and favorable civil conditions. For a fairly recent example, look at marriage equality. This was at the grassroots level a movement rooted in enduring activism, and unimaginable passion in the face of violence and oppression. At the top of the pyramid, however, the sea-change was far more low-stakes, reactive and hive-mind — shrewd and practical political and business decisions of acquiescence, appealing to the passion and power of the many. Truth doesn’t tend to win until enough people are willing to hear it, much less believe it. So it is. And so we are here. These are truth-telling times.
The neo-feudalist economy caused by unchecked, unregulated capitalism that turned at best a winking nod to social welfare, more often a blind eye, and at worst a joyous ax, has facilitated a nationalist, authoritarian rise in pitch, and an abrupt shift right in federal ideology. Donald Trump is both the drooping wilted leaf of this societal rot, and the root.
Trump the politician, for all his bluster, is the product of fractious wealth concentration among the global elite — men very much like Trump the businessman. It is no secret that this true elite (not the intelligentsia or coastal elite, mind you, they are mere interlopers in the club and not the backroom VIP lounge entrants) have a penchant for shuffling the deck of the world order, and a potential to set fire to it, if it suits their interests. They stoke the flames of racial tension, and ostracize those already precariously perched in society’s margins. So it appears that this has become our new reality.
It is quite easy to get lost in the “now.” For it is all we can sense, and it is all we are given. But it is this “now” that is of most pressing concern. The rhyme of history dictates that disastrous consequences await societies that reach their point of no return. The American and French Revolutions, the American Civil War, World War II and The Red Scare, our current global apple cart, all arriving with near metronomic regularity some full lifetimes apart. Through this lens you could surmise that it would be more surprising if this is not the abyss; it will indeed get dark.
The United States, and all her citizenry — from the browbeaten to the bullheaded — from the Atlantic to the Pacific, will likely face down demons old and new on an unimaginable scale. So is the volatility of our history. So is the course of our progress. To dismiss it as a “blip on the map” is to downplay the enormity and totality of what’s to come. When coalitions form, when economies fail, when dictators rise across the globe, when bodies lay still upon the streets, there is nothing more real or complete. Past watershed conflicts were indeed quite temporary, often lasting less than the course of a two-term president, yet the effects are grave and the forecast is ominous. Battles will be fought. Lives will be lost. Rights will be rolled back or revoked. For marginalized groups, these are perpetually simmering concerns, and set to boil. When a nation fails, the out-groups are often the first to hear its roar, and the first to feel its rage.
And yet, remarkably, humanity has not extinguished itself yet — not for a lack of trying. From fossil fuel-accelerated climate change to nuclear weapons to the mass production of foods that only partially contain food, it is clear that the developed world drifts perilously closer to its breaking point. And with strong-men authoritarian figures and kleptocratic shadow agencies proliferating from pole to pole, we are being steered ever closer toward the abyss without our consent, the ship moaning and creaking as it bends against the stormy sea.
So, what to do? Among the many more foolish pieces of advice I’ve heard kicked around is “ride it out” because it will all be over soon and things will return to normal. That is a privileged position to take, and tacit approval of the status quo. Yet the stakes are much too high, and the night is much too dark.
Instead, it is a call to take disciplined, measured action to protect yourself and others, to reach out to our most vulnerable, to aid in our communities, to work hard, stay healthy and stay true to our destination. As we’ve seen from history before, the subsiding of the tempest will not arrive before its ready, but it is our duty to ensure that as many of us safely reach its end so that we may begin to build again.