“The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say…
And it’s thirty-six hours past Judgment Day.”
-William Shakespeare and Bob Dylan
In the mid-1990s, I lived in Moscow. It was the “Wild, Wild East” of Yeltsin time, in the post-Soviet breakup, the rise of the gangsters. Aged war veterans, their suit-coats heavy with military hash, selling watches and dried fish on the street. Gangs of homeless children roaming the city. Nuclear scientists and dress designers selling their labor cheap to Western firms as drivers and cleaners and gofers. Go-getters gunned down on metro steps, in restaurants, after falling out with their “partners.” Reporters letter-bombed in their offices for investigating army corruption. The sell-off of vast industrial combines to government cronies for pennies on the dollar. The collapse of civic society, of the structures and infrastructures that had knitted some kind of fabric – however tawdry in places, however ridden with its own injustices – for millions of ordinary people, who were now facing beggary, illness, epidemics, collapse and violence in the radical uncertainty of a world turned harsh and alien in what felt like the blink of an eye.
As for me, of course, my withers were unwrung. I was an American, working at an English-language newspaper owned by a Dutch go-getter, and living on a salary that would’ve made me a beggar in my homeland, but in the desiccated moonscape of post-Soviet Moscow allowed me to live in humble but decent comfort, sharing a rented flat still stocked with The Collected Works of Leonid Brezhnev: volume after never-cracked volume groaning in the Uzbek owner’s glass-fronted bookcase.
I had come to Moscow from the radical collapse of my own life, with everything I still owned crammed into two suitcases, and the vaguest promise of perhaps landing a job at that English-language paper. I went there in pursuit of a failing romance and, with wild improbability, found another romance, with an Englishwoman, that determined the course of the rest of my life. I was in my mid-thirties at the time – how impossibly young that seems now! – and, unmoored from all familiar surroundings, in a land that was itself unmoored and uncharted, I found myself experiencing life with a heightened sensibility, a sharpness and vividness I’d never known before.
One day, I was walking from The Year 1905 Station, which commemorated the first revolutionary uprising against the Tsar. It was sometime in September. I was on my way to see the woman of the improbable romance. It was a bright day; I bought flowers from one of the innumerable vendors who lined the city streets with bouquets of heart-striking beauty, often sold from remarkable wood-and-glass cabinets that kept the flowers fresh.
I was thinking of nothing in particular, walking in the balmy yet slightly cooling wind, when suddenly I sensed – with a penetrating, unprecedented sharpness that rang in me like a bell – the shifting of the seasons. In an instant, in a micro-pulse of Being, you could feel the summer end and the autumn begin. Something had changed: what had been was no longer, what was to come had now arrived.
For weeks now, maybe months, I’ve been having that same feeling about my homeland, the United States. The season, the era, the historical epoch has shifted and changed: what has been is no longer, what is to come has now arrived.
And what has arrived? The coup. The authoritarian coup that so many of us have feared and warned against and railed against, for years on end. It’s here. Summer is gone. The season has changed. This is the weather we live in now.
Look around you. The coup has come. Dissent is being criminalized. In Florida, for example, they’ve just made citizens criminally liable for any damage done during a protest they participate in – even if, as we’ve seen documented time and again, this “violence” is committed by a provocateur in league with the cops. (Or by the rogue, berserking cops themselves.) What’s more, any fascist who drives his car or truck into the living human bodies of American citizens protesting injustice … will face only misdemeanor charges. To kill or maim a protestor is nothing. To protest injustice – especially murder by the agents of the state – is a felony worthy of years in jail. This criminalization of the most basic, constitutionally supported rights to protest is being replicated in state after state.
Such examples of our new heavy weather now outstrip the capacity for enumerating them. Even as I was writing this piece, the murderers of Breonna Taylor were exonerated of all charges by a grand jury in Kentucky. The only cop charged in this egregious killing of a young black woman has been given knocked-down, chickenshit charges of endangering … the white folks in nearby apartments.
At every turn, high or low, national or local, juridical, legislative, governmental, you will be overwhelmed with examples of an authoritarian tyranny – a genuinely, undeniably, murderous fascist regime – already in power. And a regime taking open, brazen steps to destroy every last operative element of the electoral process that might oust it.
And at every turn, you will see a national “opposition” in the political-media class that is so pusillanimous, so craven – so utterly corrupt and complicit – that you know there is no institutional balk in the power structure of our political system that will stand against the final, complete destruction of the constitutional republic. They’ve already surrendered. We watched them surrender every single day during the openly criminal, openly unconstitutional rule of the cheap gangster Trump.
It’s as grubby and simple as this. The moment that President Trump declared that he would continue to profit directly from the operations of his world-wide businesses – with not even the fig leaf of a blind trust or any other separation from his private profits to hide behind – he has been violating the emoluments clause. From day one. From the millisecond after he finished taking the oath of office, he has, in effect and in reality, been taking bribes to influence government policy from every single individual and interest, foreign or domestic, who pays money to his business enterprises.
This is so impeachable – so slam-dunk, open-and-shut, cut-and-dried, undeniably impeachable, requiring nothing for conviction but a week’s worth of receipts from any of his hotels, resorts or rental properties – that even the most cowardly and compromised “resistance” could have brought this fascist tyrant down in weeks. Laying out this snooty, elitist flim-flam in a broad national campaign to accompany the impeachment process – so that even many of Trump’s supporters could have seen the blatant grift he’d perpetrated – might have roused enough public opinion to force a tiny handful of GOP senators to vote for impeachment.
But the “opposition” didn’t even try to do this. After taking control of the House in 2018, the Democratic leadership adamantly and explicitly ruled out impeaching Trump for any of the high crimes and misdemeanors that constituted the daily activity of his rule. Until, of course, there was a case involving an arms deal where Trump’s incessant, daily impeachable criminality might possibly have impinged upon … Joe Biden’s political prospects. But even then, Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership made a very deliberate decision NOT to use all the powers at their command – especially the power of Congressional subpoena, with the prospect of jail time for non-compliance – while weakly, with no PR campaign to rouse support, going through the motions of the most empty impeachment proceeding in American history. They didn’t want to win. They didn’t even try to win. They made a few speeches that Aaron Sorkin might have penned in one of his fictional ultra-centrist orgasms, then let Trump walk.
The corporate media is also in the tank. They’ve gobbled up so much money from their continuing amplification of Trump’s lies. He’s made billions of dollars for them; then given trillions more to the elite corporations and individuals who operate them. When Trump destroys the last vestiges of the constitutional republic after (or even before!) the November vote, the New York Times – and other institutions going under the ludicrous appellation of “the mainstream media” – will have positioned themselves to keep operating, profitably, in the new authoritarian regime. Our elite media, owned without exception by corporations or individual oligarchs who have profited immensely from Trump’s policies (whatever demurrals or harrumphs they might offer at their dinner parties), will accept, grudgingly, the “new realities,” even as they poke around the fringes of whatever ineffectual shows of “dissent” are still allowed.
It could have not been this way. It did not have to be the way that it is. “It is what it is,” as Trump said recently, shrugging off the greatest feast of mass death in American history, for which he and his gang are primarily responsible. We did not have to see democracy die for the greed of a tiny elite. We did not have to see the planet die for the greed of a wealthy elite. We did not have to see the wealth of the earth and its boundless resources converted into weapons of death, into systems of despoliation, into steaming shit which our elites have transmuted into gold for themselves through the alchemy of human suffering and death.
None of what we are seeing today – the relentless rise of an authoritarian police state; the lawless rule by kleptocrats; the genocidal violence (verbal and physical) aimed at an ever-increasing circle of “enemies” and dehumanized “Others;” the looting of trillions of dollars corruptly transferred from the common people to the super-rich; the endless wars, the state murders, the sanctions and “humanitarian interventions” that condemn millions to death, ruin, famine and despair – none of this had to happen. It was entirely within the capabilities of homo sapiens to devise and inhabit a more just and equitable and humane form of existing together in the common world we inhabit.
And it may be so in some future time, beyond the immense and now unavoidable, cataclysmic suffering which we have engineered, and acquiesced to, in the human-inflicted disruption of the climate. This is our only hope: that those whom we will never know will know a better world somehow, somewhere, in a future we can’t even imagine.
But now, in this moment of time, our moment of time, we must say not what we ought or wish we could say, but what we feel, what we know, what we see. The coup has come. The tyranny is here. The climate’s cataclysm cannot be avoided. It’s thirty-six hours past Judgment Day.