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The Great American Awakening

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Photo by Nathaniel St. Clair

Photo by Nathaniel St. Clair

Old wounds break open. Deep, encrusted wrongs are suddenly visible. The streets flow with anger and solidarity. The past and the future meet.

The news is All Trump, All the Time, but what’s really happening is only minimally about Donald Trump, even though his outrageous actions and bizarre alliances are the trigger.

“As the nightmare reality of Donald Trump sinks in, we need to put our resistance in a larger perspective,” Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman wrote recently, describing Trump as “our imperial vulture come home to roost.”

The context in which most Trumpnews is delivered is miniscule: more or less beginning and ending with the man himself — his campaign, his businesses, his appointees, his ego, his endless scandals (“what did he know and when did he know it?”) — which maintains the news at the level of entertainment, and surrounds it with the fantasy context of a United States that used to be an open, fair and peace-loving democracy, respectful of all humanity. In other words, Trump is the problem, and if he goes away, we can get back to what we used to be.

In point of fact, however, the United States has always been an empire, a national entity certain of its enemies — both internal and external — and focused on conquest and exploitation. Yes, it’s been more than that as well. But the time has come to face the totality of who we are and reach for real change.

I believe this is what we are seeing in the streets right now. Americans — indeed, people across the planet — are ceasing to be spectators in the creation of the future. The protests we’re witnessing aren’t so much anti-Trump as pro-humanity and pro-Planet Earth.

As Fitrakis and Wasserman point out, Trump is “actually (so far) a moderate compared to scores of murderous dictators the U.S. has installed in other countries throughout the world. Especially since World War II, our imperial apparatus has constantly subverted legitimate attempts by good people to elect decent leaders.”

They present a partial list of “duly elected leaders the United States has had removed, disappeared and/or killed to make way for authoritarian pro-corporate regimes.” These leaders include: Patrice Lumumba of the Congo; Salvador Allende of Chile; Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti; Mohammad Mossadegh of Iran; Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala and many, many more. Their removals, and the installation of U.S.-friendly dictators, were accompanied by social chaos and mass killings.

Also included on the list were such names as Tecumseh, Sitting Bull, Chief Joseph — a few of the innumerable indigenous leaders who stood in the way of Europeans’ conquest of the Western Hemisphere, the mentioning of which opens a chasm of largely unexamined and whitewashed America history. Tens of millions of people died and numerous cultures were mocked and destroyed in his American holocaust spanning centuries.

This is part of our history and it can’t be diminished and written off any more than slavery can be written off. In our failure to face such history honestly, we remain trapped in collective unawareness — and thus trapped, we repeat history again and again and again.

As French anthropologist Rene Girard has said, in his book Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World, “. . . men kill in order to lie to others and to themselves on the subject of violence and death. They must kill and continue to kill, strange as it may seem, in order not to know that they are killing.”

This, so it seems to me, is the psychological and spiritual foundation of militarism and the military-industrial complex, which, among much else, has bequeathed Planet Earth with enough nuclear weapons to wipe out all existing life. Donald Trump, whose vision of American greatness is all about military triumph, commands some 4,000 of them. This is terrifying, but not simply because Trump is untrustworthy and impulsive. It’s terrifying that we’ve created a world in which anyone commands that kind of power and that alone is a reason why the time for profound, deeply structural social change, is now.

And I don’t believe change will come from elected or appointed leaders, who, as they settle into office, have to make their peace with the current situation, a.k.a., the deep state, with its unquestioned militarism. This is the status quo Trump both represents and lays grotesquely exposed for what it is, like no other president in memory.

In other words, I don’t think we’ll ever vote real change into place. The social infrastructure won’t be seriously altered by those who are empowered by it, as Barack Obama, who was elected to be the bringer of hope and change, demonstrated during his tenure in office, in which he continued the Bush-Cheney wars.

Serious change will only emerge from an external force able to stand up to the existing momentum of government and the special interests attached to it. The multifaceted resistance we see on the streets — the great American awakening — may be that force.

One recent example is the huge outpouring of support that emerged last week in Phoenix, when Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, married, mother of two, was suddenly seized and deported by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement during her yearly check-in.

“I think we sugar-coat it by making it very procedural, but actually, that night she was kidnapped from her family,” community organizer Maria Castro said in a Truthout interview. She described the confrontation with the deportation authorities:

“Myself and about half a dozen people jumped in front and were being pushed. The van literally pushed me at least 30 feet, hyperextending my knees, hurting some of my friends, knocking some of my fellow organizers down to the ground. It wasn’t until we had one of the vehicles in front of the vans and then, another person started to hug the wheels and put his own life at risk, because this is just the beginning. This is the beginning of the militarized removal of our communities, of our families, and of our loved ones.”

With Trump as the official voice of the status quo, more people than ever before are becoming aware that “the way things are” can be challenged and changed. The moment is here. Social policy should not dehumanize anyone.

Robert Koehler is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

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