“Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization.”- Masha Gessen
“The simple step of a courageous individual is not to take part in the lie.”- Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
As I write this, reports are circulating that Donald Trump, our President-elect, intends to follow through on some of his most divisive campaign promises and actually create some sort of registry for Muslim immigrants. More broadly, regardless of whether this specific plan is put into action now, there can be no denying the fact that Trump is busy populating his incoming administration with bigots, xenophobes, and conspiracy theory peddlers in addition to the usual crowd of corporate courtiers. Indeed, an anti-Semitic white nationalist, Steve Bannon, now sits literally at the right hand of secular power.
None of this should surprise us, and we should believe him.
Trump’s campaign involved not the mere violation of established norms of political behavior, but rather their outright desecration. It featured overt appeals to racial fears, xenophobia and misogyny. He winked approvingly at acts of political violence and vigilantism. He mocked the disabled. He re-tweeted quotes from Benito Mussolini. He threatened to jail his opponent.
And despite all of this, he was elected.
The trajectory of the new Trump administration is clear- indeed, has always been clear since the man who put wind in the sails of the racist birther canard first announced his candidacy for the highest office in the land: the Other will be scapegoated and demonized. The next four years will be about apportioning blame and settling scores. Our politics will continue to become cruder and crueler even as we continue to become more vulgar and violent. Indeed, these trends will probably intensify.
In the Age of Trump, we are confronted by successive outrages. Normalcy is being constantly redefined. It is a struggle just to keep our bearings.
We are in greater danger than we care to acknowledge. It is much easier to fan the flames of hatred and resentment than to control the blaze once it begins to burn. And we will soon have more political arsonists, on both the Right and the Left, who have learned their lessons from the Master only too well. There will be copy cats and imitators, and it is quite possible, as people grow increasingly desperate, that much more dangerous demagogues will emerge.
We are on the cusp of a conflagration that could consume us all.
More than the fate of our own Republic is at stake. In our interconnected age, America exerts a tremendous cultural and economic gravitational pull on the rest of the world. As a result, as we sink, we may suck the rest of the world down with us. So too, we have a unique capacity to either intentionally, through the use of nuclear weapons, or negligently, through our failure to take meaningful action to reduce the emissions driving global climate change, literally bring about the end of civilization. The Age of Trump heightens the risk of both.
At the dawn of the Trump regime, dissent and nonviolent acts of civil disobedience are the two essential mechanisms for preserving our own integrity and avoiding complicity in a newly emergent form of radical political evil. In this regard, the greatest challenge we face isn’t overcoming our fear, but rather, the conscience-dulling effects of our comfort and complacency. This is the inertia that keeps us silently at work in our offices and cubicles, and out of the streets.
But be warned: in the Age of Trump, silence is complicity in the lie! Silence makes accomplices and accessories of us all.
Opportunities for collective and individual acts of nonviolent resistance and dissent abound. Counter the siren call of normalcy with a shout of alarm and warning. If there is a protest in the streets, join it! Speak out, always and without exception, when confronted by ignorance, bigotry, or demonization of the Other. Be willing to interpose your own person between the Other and danger, forming a physical circle of protection around them. There is literally no act of defiance or disobedience too small or insignificant to matter because every one of them is a form of prophetic witness to the truth that sustains the hope of a more decent common future together. They are acts of love, and love remains the most subversive force in history.
But we should harbor no illusions. Dissent can be a lonely path; it is akin to donning, socially at least, the proverbial Shirt of Nessus in defense of our own humanity and convictions. A dissident must be willing to stand alone, and be subjected to revulsion and mocking. As Chris Hedges has written, those individuals who have the courage to make “a moral choice to physically defy evil teach us something extremely important about rebellion. It is, when it begins, not safe, comfortable or popular. Those rare individuals who have the moral and physical courage to resist must accept that they will be pariahs. They must live outside the law. And they must be prepared to be condemned.” And we see this now- protesters in America are more likely to be demonized than defended.
This reality should not deter us. As Pope Francis has taught, “blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others.” And we might go further: in Trump’s America, blessed also are the dissidents, blessed are those with the courage to make a start!
My brothers and sisters, listen to the voice of warning in your hearts. The day is coming when you will rend your garments and lament not what you have done, but that you did not do more. Truly, “[w]e must love one another or die.”