Friday, November 11, 2016

The Death of a Moderate: My Radicalization

I was not born to be a radical. I hate confrontation in all its forms, and I am by nature and inclination a peacemaker. Temperamentally, I'm a mild mannered man who descends from a line of mild mannered men. I like quiet, even solitary, pursuits: writing and reading books, watching movies, listening to music, looking at and thinking about art. I am not a religious man, except in the sense that I think that faith, hope, and charity are the greatest of all virtues, and that how you treat the poor, imprisoned, hungry and sick is a pretty good indication of how close you are to the kingdom of heaven. I tend toward moderation, and I don't like to see people get upset. So, no, I am not a natural born radical.

But we find ourselves in radical times. The election of 2016 isn't just another election. I take the President-elect at his word. I think he means to do the things he has said he will do. Will he succeed at shattering families by building a wall, or deporting millions of people, or instituting a religious test? Will he further normalize torture and surveillance, atrocities for which he's stated admiration? Will his administration pursue the anti-LGBT policies outlined in the new Republican platform? With his picks for the Supreme Court and the Cabinet, will he strengthen the police state and the prison/industrial complex while weakening our civil liberties and environmental protections? I don't know. He's a man who has bankrupted several businesses, including a casino, so his management abilities are suspect. But I take him at his word that he will attempt to do these things, and I believe that his team of political castoffs and alt-right xenophobes, as well as his most fervent supporters in the swamp of white nationalism, all mean business. I take them at their word.

So I am being radicalized. I've been a vaguely left-of-center guy for about half my life now, after having been a vaguely right-of-center guy for the first half. Now, at last, I am a leftist. I have to be. I have no choice. Implicitly or explicitly, the Trump campaign has trafficked in various bigotries since it kicked off last year: race-baiting, immigrant bashing, misogyny. Now this grotesque parade has marched into Washington and will soon take the reigns of power. There can be no moderation in the face of this kind of evil. There is only acquiescence or resistance. I choose resistance.

Ironically, I've also been radicalized because in one profound way the President-elect's supporters are actually correct, whether they realize it or not, and this has clarified for me what is wrong with the American Left. The election of Donald Trump proves once and for all, if we're smart enough to see it, that neoliberalism is a failure. The slide from New Deal liberalism (which, we should never forget, sprang up as a corrective to the hyper-capitalism of the 1920s) to our current state of privatized cronyism has been long and ugly, but the worst of it has transpired in my lifetime. 

From Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Barack Obama, the government has propped up Wall Street's financial services industry, fueling reckless casino capitalism. This system very nearly imploded in 2008, the natural collapse of greed and stupidity, but it was saved at the last minute by Bush and Obama. This age of rewarded incompetence will not come to an end under Trump, a man whose entire life is a testament to rewarded incompetence. Likely it will get worse, as will, I suspect, most things. Neofascism is the worst possible antidote to neolibralism, yet it is rushing to fill the void that decades of failed economic and social policy--not to mention a now permanent state of war--has blown open in our national culture. It makes perfect sense that a carnival barker con-man like Donald Trump would be the one to step in to take charge of this pyramid scheme.    

Earlier this year, I read William Shirer's THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH, long before it occurred to me that Trumpism was any kind of real threat. (I don't think Trump's another Hitler, by the way, despite his Nazi admirers. Hitler was a fanatic, and Trump is too venal to ever be a fanatic. A lazy bigot and a desperate narcissist, he is more Mussolini than Hitler.) One of the things that Shirer's book makes clear, however, is that the path to fascism is paved by the weakness and corruption of the preceding governmental system.

We can see how this weakness played out in America. As conservatives drifted further and further to the right over the last twenty years they pulled the center with them, and neoliberalism (the dominate political force on the left since the 1990s) helped to create the very economic and social problems that Trump's racist xenophobia promised to fix. Trump's immigrant-blaming and wall-building are shell games, dumbed down answers to legitimate fears about our increasingly complicated world. But Neoliberalism didn't offer answers at all. It only offered to stay the course, a steady hand on the tiller of a sinking ship.

So I am radicalized, against the neofascists moving to Washington, but also against the neoliberals who will either be powerless to stop the tide of shit coming our way or who will, in all likelihood, cravenly attempt to ride it.

Where will my radicalization lead me? I don't know yet. I've been a radical for about a day and a half. Give me a minute. I'm just now starting on this journey. Hell, I'm still packing my bags. The one thing I know is that I can't stay where I am. That's not an option anymore. I must move.