Around this time four years ago, while I was wading through the sudden gush of sewage and horror on the internet, I stumbled across some skinhead’s comment on a news site. “You’ll all see now,” he boasted. “The race war will start within a month.”
It scared me at first. Briefly. Then it actually had the reverse effect, and snapped me out of my spiraling mood as reason, my erstwhile and ever-reliable ally, just refused to stay quiet. My reason wasn’t scared. It actually laughed.
“30 days? This dumbfuck actually thinks he’ll get his race war in 30 days?”
It was awful that anyone would wish for such a thing. It’s a very real desire in this country that has to be fought every day. But for just a second, I actually felt the tiniest bit sorry for the guy. Here was this wide-eyed idealogue, this new inductee to politics, who had finally been lured out of his cave by a candidate promising him the world—and he’d believed him. He’d trusted Donald Trump to do what he promised, to bring on the race war, to reinstate slavery, and all within 30 days.
“Oh, you poor skinhead,” I remember thinking. “You’ve been had.”
Donald Trump was (Was! How marvelous the past tense can be) an accidental fascist. The authoritarian who could have seized permanent power in America if he’d just ever developed the competence to do it. But while he was a heartless racist narcissist who craved adulation from any corner he could get it, he was the wrong guy for these Nazis to pin their hopes on. Because he didn’t actually share their goals. Because he was just using them. Because, as we repeatedly tried to warn them, he was a serial liar.
There is a delicious irony to the fact that after all those years we spent calling out his lies while his starry-eyed followers hung on his every contorted word, it was his followers who were lied to last. Right up to the end, he lied to them. He promised them jobs and walls and hoaxes, revolution and race wars and fascism. He would tell them the sky was blue one minute and red the next, and they would follow along.
The last four years have not been easy, certainly, and there continues to be a race war of sorts underway in this country—as long as it is not safe for people of color to walk the streets, there will be. But it’s not the open war Mr. Skinhead so naively hoped for.
Now that the inauguration is done, now that all Trump’s opportunities to whip up a race war from the oval office are over, I wonder if that stupid Nazi I saw four years ago in an internet comment thread is feeling a little disillusioned with politics. Maybe feeling a little raw. Maybe starting to realize that—oh my god, could it be? Say it ain’t so!
Donald Trump lied to him.
I keep hearing about how close we are to civil war. That’s wrong. We’re not close. We’re in it. It’s a cold civil war, but it will turn hot and we will lose it if we continue pretending it’s not even happening. You can’t win a war you won’t admit you’re fighting. And the way to win the cold civil war is difficult, painful, and costly. It is by aggressively prosecuting and/or neutralizing Trump and every element of his terrorist movement. That is the only course of action that prevents a fascist takeover of the United States.
And when I say “every element” I mean EVERY ELEMENT.
The stupid grunts on the ground who can easily be whipped into attacking governmental institutions – the traitors we saw on Wednesday.
The leadership elite who spread the lies and agitate the troops. Trump, Miller, Hawley, Cruz – it’s a long list.
The propaganda arm that perpetuates the lies and helps organize the thought structure. This is the biggest pillar of the whole thing. I’m talking about FOX News, OANN, Breitbart, Newsmax, but also Parler, Twitter, Facebook to the extent that they facilitate the spread of propaganda.
The financing arm. The banks and megacorporations and billionaires that are funding this attack on the US.
The intelligence & infiltration arm. The police who are KKK, who open the gates for the attackers.
This is a vast and well-organized fascist movement against the United States. It will not be happy until our government is subjugated or destroyed. It is a cancer on American democracy and needs to be surgically removed.
I understand doing this will make the fascist movement angry. I understand they may retaliate. That is what fascist movements do. The alternative is to capitulate to them, pussy-foot around the issue, and try to find a way to make fascists be less angry without calling them to account. That doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked the last four years. It has never historically worked in any country where a fascist movement rose. That approach is exactly what got us the attack on the capitol this week. A soft response to that attack emboldens it. It encourages more attacks.
My wife really crystalized this for me last night. Imagine that Trump was just a bit more savvy and had planted 5 people in that mob charged with planting bombs in the capitol, on a timer switch. They could have easily gotten them in there – everyone had backpacks. They could have killed everyone in the building, eliminating the entire Legislative branch. Or imagine Trump had walked down to the capitol with them, like he said he would, and stood on the front steps screaming, “Drag Nancy Pelosi out here!”
Does it really seem that hard to imagine? We were THIS CLOSE to an absolute collapse of the US government. THIS CLOSE. There are fascists in this country, right now, who realize that. They see the roadmap. They are making plans.
This is not about healing the country. You heal AFTER the surgery, not before. This is about defense of our way of life against threats domestic. This is a cold civil war. I hope it never turns hot, but we need to fight it as hard as we fought the last cold war. We need to fight it as if our lives and our freedoms are on the line because THEY ARE, people. They are.
I see the post-RNC convention poll bounce, I read the miles of raging, patently insane comments on the Facebook pages of radical right Senate candidates, I shudder under the deluge of relentless propaganda, I watch protesters and innocent black civilians get murdered at the hands of fascist racist cops, I hear Trump supporters talk about COVID in the past tense even while another 3,000 Americans die to it during his convention, and I think, I can’t. It’s too much. It’s too much. There is too much madness, too much hate, too much pure insanity, I can’t, it’s too much.
And I have a day of weakness, a day where I’m beaten. I retreat into games and books and the loving arms of my family. I have a chance conversation with someone else in the fight, who’s scared like I am, and somehow it reinvigorates me. I have a conversation with my niece who has suddenly become politically aware, who doesn’t buy this BS for a minute and is talking to her other high school friends, and it stirs hope. I see two baseball teams refuse to play their game, leaving the field empty but for a Black Lives Matter flag laid across home plate, and I find courage.
I remember what it means to speak out.
I remember what it means to be an AMERICAN.
I find a wellspring of rage.
This gibbering, fanatical horde, this subscriber base of madness–they’re terrifying. They’re powerful. They’re cheating. They’ll do anything to win.
But we don’t have to let them.
They use COVID to their own ends, knocking doors when decency holds us back, holding massive rallies to whip up frenzy when our common decency for our fellow human beings keeps us from even meeting 6 to a room. They gut the post office so our votes won’t be counted, expecting that our fear of COVID will keep us home on election day, and I realize –
Yes, I’m scared.
But I am also FURIOUS.
How dare they? How dare they take what was actually great about this country and pervert it? How dare they spit on us, gaslight us, lie about us, all while we keep stupidly trying to have a conversation?
I’m done talking with them. I’m done caring what they think.
We are in a war for the future of this country.
Yes, a war.
I hate to use that word. It carries awful implications. I don’t use it lightly. I’ve avoided it for three and a half years.
But you can’t win a war you won’t admit you’re fighting, and it’s time to admit we are in a war for the future of this nation. That’s not just some lofty ideal. That is a very real phenomenon with very real impacts. It will determine whether you are allowed to speak your mind without being attacked. Whether you can safely walk the streets with brown skin or a Democratic tote bag. Whether you can survive the global pandemic. Whether the planet we live on survives for our grandchildren or dies in fire.
THIS IS A WAR. And the stakes are the greatest they have ever been.
Are you making calls for a Democratic candidate? No? WHY THE HELL NOT?
Are you contributing as much as you can? No? WHY THE HELL NOT?
Are you scared, are you curled into the fetal position? I get it. Believe me, I do.
But you aren’t alone. WE ARE IN THE MAJORITY. But they are so good at lying, so good at making us feel like shit and at spreading terror, that they’ve tricked us into giving up.
We have to fight. We have to get out of our comfort zones. They are laughing at me as I type this – literally, I see their little mocking laughter emojis popping up on another post of mine where I dared to speak out, and every single one makes me angrier.
These people are destroying our country and destroying our lives.
Are we mice?
Or are we Americans?
An old man walks to a podium in a silent room. There are no crowds. There is no applause. The nation he loves has been reduced to this: lonely and distant, sickened, cut off from its allies and friends. He can speak to his countrymen only through the camera lens, and so he begins, fighting the feeling that he is speaking only to himself.
Imagine the fear. The vertigo. The disorientation of a 77-year-old who has spent his life in front of cheering crowds, forced now to speak to an empty chamber.
Yet he does it.
He rises to the moment, because he must.
Is he the right person? Did the voters who chose him make the right decision? The questions are academic now, consigned to the judgment of history. He is the nominee. There is no going back.
He speaks in this alien room, this macabre reflection of the country he loves. He addresses a nation that is nearly unrecognizable to itself, bleeding and burning and alone. And he extends compassion.
He extends empathy.
He extends hope.
He delivers them like he has found us in the desert, and we receive them as if he is dripping water into our parched mouths. As if we have forgotten the taste of moisture and sustenance. We lap them up and feel our strength slowly recover, our muscles slowly loosen. And when we are able, at last, to stand again, he reminds us that we are Americans.
And what that means.
He reminds us that we have beaten this particular enemy before. That we are a nation of immigrants, of diversity – that it is not our weakness, but our strength. He reminds us – this old man, this stuttering, feeble creature – how to stand in defiance.
He is weak and old, just like his country – yet the fire still burns. His love for his nation, for the dreams of its highest ideals. You can hear it in every word, see it in his eyes.
He is not done. Despite his age, despite his weakness, he will not quit the fight. Will not end his defiance. Will not simply allow the nation he loves to slip into oblivion.
And as our will floods back into us, as we realize with crushing relief that this man is equal to the challenge, we realize:
Neither will we.