On to the Inauguration, Please

Are we at the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end?

So many questions. So many unknowns. To take the pulse of the country, I took the pulse of a small group of intellectuals. What was Trump going to do, I wanted to know. I heard a wide range of views, though almost everyone I asked said, “Your guess is as good as mine.” Nobody I talked to— all of them white, relatively well off and male— saw what we used to call “the light at the end of the tunnel.”  Or, if there was a light it wasn’t all that bright.

One professor, an expert on the American war machine, suggested that Trump might well launch a military attack on Iran. “Yuk, it’s a scary time,” he emailed.”I worry that Trump will refuse to leave office and provoke a civil war.” An East Coast historian who has written a lot about the American Civil War, has, for months, urged friends to calm down and de escalate their rhetoric. That historian wrote, “I think a lot of what Trump is doing is bluster. I can’t really see what he can actually do to stay in office.”

A Pacific Northwest professor, who has long studied borders and border clashes, wrote, “Based on personality and show business, Trump will be escorted out of the oval office at 11 a.m. by U.S. Marines and announce his candidacy for 2024 as he exits.” A former SDS leader who became an investor and an art collector told me, “Trumps’ lawyers are quitting and he’s running out of steam. It will be horrible to live with him until January, but I don’t think we’re headed for a civil war.”

After I sent out questions and received responses I watched Steve Talbot’s documentary on the year 1968 which first aired on TV in 1998, and that features Tom Hayden and a cast of thousands rioting in the streets of New York, Chicago, Paris and Prague. Near the end of the film, Talbot focuses on George Wallace and his run for the presidency. Wallace’s followers with their American flags and their pasty white faces look like Trump’s followers today.

Hayden links the Wallace phenomenon to what he calls, “the angry white man.” He also says that after King’s assassination he thought that there might be civil war and that he’d be “imprisoned and killed.”

In a way, we’ve been here before, though I don’t know anyone today, aside from Black teenagers, who think they might be imprisoned, shot and killed. Also, after King’s assassination, Reverend Jessie Jackson explains on camera in Talbot’s film that the Memphis police drew their guns and charged the Black suvivors on the balcony. “No, the bullets came from the other way,” Jackson told the cops. Whether it’s ‘68 or 2020 the bullets come from the same direction. Not long before he was shot and killed, King gave a speech in which he said, “We will get to the Promised Land.”  Many of us would just like to get to Biden’s inauguration in January 2021 in one piece.

Jonah Raskin is the author of Beat Blues, San Francisco, 1955.