We realize American society’s got problems much bigger than that. But if U.S. citizens don’t hold fast now, we may be lost forever.
The President meanwhile seems to be feeling his way down two possible paths, after casting off the most obvious: unity and reconciliation through change. Because he’s not capable of any of that. And both of the directions the President seems possibly headed in are divisive and destructive.
And we don’t think the President has any grand plan in mind. Evidence of that comes in his unceasing repetition even these days of all his usual campaign messages. His response to widespread protest, which wasn’t even really directly about him to begin with, is still largely improvisational. But his survival instincts have worked out for him in the past. And he’s surrounded by opportunists who will not hesitate to “help” the President shape his response in ways that could irrevocably reshape American society to be far more protective of its ruling class, and less tolerant of people they consider antagonists and outsiders (or as Trump puts it: enemies and haters and “THUGS“), even if they are also Americans.
• Path #1: Scare white folks. Especially in suburbia, where the President’s been losing ground. Even though population growth in urban areas has soared over the last few years, many more Americans live outside major cities than in the middle of them. According to CityLab, about 27% of Americans say they live in cities, 21% say they live in rural areas. And the most: 52%, say they live in suburbs. Many of them may be a mere few miles from a major urban area that may now be on fire or partly destroyed. And that makes them increasingly if not alarmingly concerned with their homes and their families. And while it still feels far away: they’re watching it on TV, not in their backyard, it’s not that far away. So if violence, curfews, and militaristic police actions in cities continues and expands, people who might otherwise fight to their last breath at even the idea of the U.S. military being used to occupy America, might start thinking it isn’t such a bad idea.
How does this help Trump? The President’s got to win all the “purple” states he did last time, unless he’s able to pick up some others that didn’t. That means he loses Michigan, or Florida, or Pennsylvania, or maybe Wisconsin, and his chances of winning go down a lot, maybe even close to zero. (This is sort of the exact opposite of why we predicted he’d win in 2016.) And just a week or so ago, everything seemed to be going in that direction: seniors and women in suburbs seemed to be growing especially disgusted with Trump, especially over his handling of COVID-19, where he seemed to classify seniors as virtually expendable at times. Now, those exact same people, if they’re terrified enough that looting and unrest could touch them, could easily flip back to Trump.
And that’s assuming there is an election.
• Path #2: Use the military to “solve the problem”. We’ve seen so many pundits in the last few days insist that despite Trump’s rhetoric, he’ll never actually invoke the Insurrection Act, which would (or at least might) allow him to put the U.S. military, under his direct control, into every single damn state. But why not? Who’s going to tell him no? Why wouldn’t he, if it’s a path to keeping him in power, which seems to always be his only objective ever, laid even more bare by the events of the last few days?
There is no way the President’s actions won’t get even more extreme between now and Election Day, because when don’t they? And this is that accelerated. Don’t lose sight of the fact that he is deliberately inciting more unrest. To what end? None. Oblivion. Or, imposition of military control.
So what’s a way for civic society to move forward without falling into those traps?
- First of all, stay visible, stay active. Most of the protests we’re seeing right now are tremendous, peaceful and great. Give the President the type of demonstrations no American can object to, and let him do damage to himself when he invariably objects.
- For leaders other than Trump: listen, and make sure people are heard. But also, that’s not enough right now. Trump—in his Coronavirus reaction, or rather lack of it—redrew America in which the President takes no responsibility, and everything falls on the governors. So now it’s their failure, not his, if social structures fall. And governors and mayors are experiencing the most direct expressions of all the righteous anger and perhaps unrighteous violence, not him. Which is why it doesn’t really cost him anything to help foment it.
- Engage. Start showing some change to people who believe nothing is ever going to change. Start transferring some power. That’s not much of an answer but something we’re beginning to see happening the most productively in places where civic leaders are doing the most to get out and communicate they’re willing to do that. It’s not going to be perfect.
We understand it’s hard, if not almost impossible, if you’re a governor, or mayor of a major city to grapple with the boiling over anger of everyday citizens, plus physical threats to people and places of business, plus managing police power that’s been militarized to an extent we’ve seldom seen in action before (without ratcheting it up even more as the President wants), plus a continuing unprecedented health crisis on top of it all.
But even so, listening is not enough anymore. Action is needed. Not of the type the President prefers. Action to mend. To really start changing things. We know real change takes time. But this is the time.
Trump wants us all to turn on each other. Because that’s what he always wants. At least let’s figure out a way to start not playing to the President’s hand. We’re not talking about tempering or not expressing anger, instead recognizing and hearing all of it, then strategizing ways that the President’s ways, which are always incendiary, and designed to elicit violent response and increase not decrease fury, does not turn into the way of the land.
Because the level of abuse of power and incendiary behavior coming from Washington is only going to increase between now and Election Day. That’s a given. So is more rioting in response a given too? It’s going to take a lot of holding back by righteously angry people for it not to. And this isn’t a time to hold back either. Trump’s not gonna stop, so why should those pushing back stop? They shouldn’t. If nothing changes, there’s no reason to.
Yet then we go in widening circles. And things fall apart.
And most Americans will still view most of this at a distance. And come to see crackdowns, maybe, as good, if they feel it’s to protect them and their families.
So that sets a clear path amid everything that’s on fire—literally and figuratively—for Trump to crack some heads, proudly declare “dominance” (his word), protect the First Amendment for him but nobody else, pay no heed to Constitutional rights, nor human rights. And proclaim that to be America.