What’s Next, as America Tears at the Seams
There is an America for anything you want to believe, and that is both seductive and dangerous.
That bizarre sense of dislocation is normal. If you wake up and you can't make sense of the world around you, just keep in mind that you're not the only one.
When the world has shifted on its axis just a few degrees overnight and you seem to be the only one who's noticed, you start to question your sanity. Maybe you're misremembering? Have you misunderstood something fundamental? Did something terrible happen and you're hallucinating? Were the rules not just a bit different a few months ago? That you even have to ask yourself that can be terrifying.
We’re at the point in Wonderland where a Republican questions whether a man in his thirties trying to have sex with a 14-year-old girl is actually that bad because Jesus's mom was young, too. This, against the backdrop of what I've come to affectionately call Rape Month, where on the one hand we're glad to see gross dudes go down but then also we're talking about rape and harassment all day, every day, which, I have to say, is exhausting.
Meantime, America is pulling out of diplomatic talks on every topic imaginable. Foreign leaders are openly wondering about our head of state's, well, everything. The ones who are already out of office are speaking frankly: Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia, called Trump "nuts" on TV. Vicente Fox, former President of Mexico, has been recording YouTube videos mocking Trump for a year now and he's started the hashtag #fuckingwall on Twitter. Actual Nazis are in the streets and previously rational people are saying "yes, well, it's not that many Nazis, is it?"
Societies can crumble in many ways, but one is mass delusion. I travel and talk to people all over the country and though very few Americans are willing to entertain the notion that they might have been propagandized, they are quite willing to believe that people unlike them or who disagree with them have been. That increasingly common belief leaves us prey to fear-mongers and demagogues, people who would tell us that right and wrong is easily delineated by ZIP code or that "people who believe in X or practice Y religion want to oppress and kill us."
We are not on a heartening path. We are a society increasingly driven by fear and misinformation and and full-throated rage, much of it impossible to articulate. If you watch the late-night comics you might hear phrases like "increasing authoritarianism." There is not a red and blue America; there is an America in which Trump has golfed more than any President in history and there is an America in which the stock market is at record highs and jobs are coming back. There is one in which Hillary won the primary unfairly and one in which Bernie is poisonous. There is an America for anything you want to believe, and that is both seductive and dangerous.
The tree of liberty can be watered with sweat as effectively as blood. We can continue to buy into narratives that polarize and divide us into ever-smaller factions, or we can do the galling and painful work of actual empathy, the sort that changes nations.
That’s not about forgiveness or redemption. It's about understanding that we got here as a society, and will have to fix things as a society. The damage is structural.
None of this is normal, but it is real and we have work to do to change that. There are evil people, but there are far more people who are deluded, primed by decades' worth of political ads and media monopolies to accept fact as fiction and lies as truth. We have to decide whether we prefer to be a vengeful society or a proactive one, and what we settle on will set the course of our country for generations.