America’s 245th Birthday Resonates with the 1850s

Unlike much older countries founded on a history, the Framers conceived of America as an idea:  It was to be a new republic based on self-government, with free and fair elections and no king.  If you kill free and fair elections you kill the republic.

This Fourth of July saw the United States of America under the shadow of disgraced ex-president Donald Trump now living in the exile of his electoral defeat and actively promoting insurrection.

In the deranged exuberance of his narcissistic rage, Trump is now dedicated to inciting Americans into a new Civil War:  all-out lies are in order, disinformation is a must, blind loyalty  to leader are required, and anyone not on board be damned, Republican or not.

The cruel, cowardly and submissive Trumpist party is bringing back to life the irreconcilable divisions of race and ideology that defined the 1850s and drove one half of America to hate and want to kill the other half of America.

Been there, done that, yet we’re back again cultivating the specter of another Civil War. This madness is the consequence of living in historical amnesia; of choosing ignorance over truth, nationalistic hubris over the informed awareness that can open the way to actual greatness.

Rewriting history so it becomes propaganda will seal the deal of our self-defeat.

All great empires fall from within. No one can invade and destroy them because they can repel all external enemies. The rot comes from within and it begins with lies and thoughtlessness, cruelty and greed, cowardice and fear. These demons are all home grown. They learn to look like us and to sound like us until they become our friends. And then, it is in the intimacy of that sinister friendship that they move in to extinguish our better angels. They lead us to unreason.

These are the demons of apparent normality that make acceptable the great evils they mask. Their narcotizing power is precisely what makes them so effective and devastating.  They will demolish into rubble even the mightiest of nations.

How improbable it seems, then, that an individual as simplistic and crude as Donald Trump should wield such a sickening influence on his party, and that he can exert his power all the way from Florida! But our history of institutionalized racism and exploitation can explain this apparent incongruity.

Trump is an ordinary crook who became extraordinary only after he made his way into the White House. Once there, his criminal conduct acquired nation-wide and world-wide consequence.

The bullhorn of the presidency amplified his talent for demagoguery to the point of causing at least half a million entirely preventable Covid-19 deaths with his lies about it. Then later, proving accurately sensitive to the seventy-five million Americans who voted for him and saw him lose, Trump knew himself powerful enough to pull his tin-pot dictator “stop-the-steal” conspiracy.

This is his crazy but effective Big Lie about Joe Biden stealing the election from him, a surprisingly well-received fabrication that led to the January 6 insurrection: Trump furiously animated it and helped make it happen. Six months after January 6, we’re deeper than ever into this lethal and growing fog of disinformation.

Perhaps unwittingly, Trump lit the match that set on fire the neoliberal kindle of financialization fifty years in the making and now burning wild. He knows exceptionally well how to channel the rage in people who can’t grasp the actual causes of their legitimate anger.

Often lacking the understanding of how financial power, government, and the allocation of resources all actually work in unison to preserve themselves at the cost of the rest of society, the MAGA folks accept their leader’s false and simplistic version of events. And it is precisely this mass thoughtlessness that the rentier status quo promotes top-down because it provides the fertile soil on which staggering corporate fortunes can grow, along with authoritarianism.

The rhetorical vehicle of choice for autocracy rides on oversimplification, emotionality, and perpetual lies. Every lie needs another lie to keep it going, quickly devolving into an infinite regression of falsehood and confusion.

We’re watching right now how a new America is being created, except this emerging America is anything but new because it turns its back on the future and forcefully embraces its brutal past.

This “new” America is re-taking the kind of civic decay that can nullify the gains we’ve made in the struggle to achieve a more perfect Union, most notably the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which many consider the birth of actual democracy in the United States.

From this vantage point we’re a young democracy still fighting to survive. The forces against it are great. We’ve seen them in the genocide of millions of Indigenous Peoples; in two-and-a-half centuries of slavery; in the ferocious Civil War this country fought over slavery, one half to preserve it, the other half to end it. We saw antidemocratic forces bring down Reconstruction; we saw them again in the hundred years of Jim Crow after Reconstruction.

Then democracy reemerged in the Civil Rights Movement and the Voting Rights Act, but only to be followed yet again by a reaction that has included the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, both of which disproportionately affect Black and Brown people.

In its 245th birthday, the see-saw pattern of American history is clear. We need to break it. We need to break it by doing something radically different. It is time to relent on the American conceit of world domination and perpetual conquest. The clear and present danger we face of losing our democracy signals the vital need we have to invest domestically on our human capital. This is the new frontier. All hands on deck. We can refuse unreason.