A birthday reflection in the time of Trump, pandemics, and social upheaval

I have never been much for celebrating my birthday, close as it is to my least favorite American holiday, the Fourth of July.  I have always associated it with drunkenness, fireworks that terrified my pets, and jingoistic displays of  a nationalism in which I’ve never really believed.

As I’ve often said, I would be very happy if the embarrassing chant, “U.S.A., U.S.A.” was replaced with “Hu-man-race, Hu-man-race.”  This attitude results from coming of age in the 60’s, where a horrifying war and inexcusable public policies eventually morphed into a self-absorption masquerading as self-reliance and personal freedom, having now landed at the current point where a madman with all the worst aspects of our American character has almost managed to dismantle our country while cowards who have lost any vision of who we are or who we could be stand idly by.

But things must break up in order to reconfigure themselves in a new and more positive shape, and I think that may be what is happening now.  Not since the 60’s (with the surprisingly transient blip of 9-11) have we had an event that shapes a generation.  And a generation shapes a nation.

We are, in one moment of historical paroxysm, experiencing a pervasive fear for our individual physical well-being, a political and cultural anger that infects all sides of the political spectrum, and a shocking awareness that our American way of life is both fragile and unjust.

Our current circumstances will pass, but these awarenesses are now etched in the minds and hearts of an upcoming generation.  What they do with them remains to be seen, but we can never go back to the somnambulant consumerism that has gripped us for the last fifty years.

They are going to have to dig deep.  They are going to have to find what is good in our character — and there is a great deal that is good (witness what we did during and immediately after WWII) — and they are going to have to clear out some of what is destructive and self-absorbed.

They will never be able to think of themselves as individuals without a collective destiny; they will never be able to put on blinders and see themselves as immortal beings whose meaning can be found inside the halls of a mall; and they will never be able to look at our fragile planet as an eternal given that can survive without care and respect.

How they will act on these awarenesses remains to be seen.  But they will not be able to deny this deep generational knowledge that has spread across the globe.  There will be retrograde resistance from the people who think that their purpose in life is to get whatever they want and do whatever they want.  That, too, is part of the American character, and those folks will not give up easily.  We can already see them thrashing around in the dying embers of Trump rallies and in the mindless looting that is taking place under the cover of more worthy protests of social concern.  But the heartbeat of a new awareness and the call for meaningful change is strong.

This is a chrysalis moment, for us as a culture and for each of us as individuals.  We are, collectively, living through something, and we will never be the same.  And so, on this birthday of mine, which so many of you have so kindly acknowledged, I look around me and see hope.  It is hope wrapped in danger, and it requires that the voices of the loud and the stupid not be allowed to drown out the voices of the thoughtful and the caring.  But we are, for the moment, living with a long vision, and can, if we set our minds to it, put the awareness born of that vision into practice.  It will not be easy, but, in its own way, it is exciting. It’s in the hands of the young people, and the task of the rest of us is to make sure that, to the extent that they will listen, we pass on the tools and the insights we have gained on our collective journey.

So, to all of you who wished me a happy birthday, I say, thank you, stay safe, and in the immortal words of one of the thugs in my high school lo those many years ago, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

These are, indeed, interesting times.

Posted on: July 3, 2020knerburn

27 thoughts on “A birthday reflection in the time of Trump, pandemics, and social upheaval

  1. “But things must break up in order to reconfigure themselves in a new and more positive shape, and I think that may be what is happening now.”

    “They will never be able to think of themselves as individuals without a collective destiny; ”

    Thank you, Kent, for two of the most profound insights for today’s challenges. You offer a complex vision, affording demanding responses, but it is the first heartening vision I’ve had in a long time.

  2. As always Ken, you words are refreshing, enlightening and spot on. Thank you for being you and sharing your words which are a becoming of hope.

  3. Happy Birthday. The world is better because you are in it. Your shared thoughts, written words, grace and compassion are needed gifts to all! Love and virtual hugs to you Kent!

  4. Ironic, isn’t it, that Trump is visiting Mt. Rushmore and will be so close to Pine Ridge on your birthday. Yet at the same time he, in his ignorance, is doing so much to raise awareness of the injustices that have been so wrong in this country from the very beginning of white occupation. The Washington, DC NFL team, which I have never been able to support, is now, finally considering changing its name. I hope this isn’t just trendy or politically correct, but is a recognition of what has been disrespectful and hurtful and needs to be changed.

    I agree with you 100% and am glad you feel hopeful today. It will take persistence, courage and commitment to see the needed changes through.

  5. Happy Birthday to you Kent! I love your newsletters~
    I am forever chanting Human Being Thank you for that..
    Sincerely, Linda

  6. Truth, sir, absolute truth. The next few years, I believe, will show us how many of the older generations will have the guts, the strength, and most important of all, the heart to cleanse and reject what must be removed. I believe there are enough willing to do the hard work, and hopefully we will collectively never again become complacent, never again trust those who profit significantly from the corruption so widespread in the majority of “our” elected politicians. We must never again fail to keep many pairs of eyes on them at all times. Our false sense of security and superiority got us here. And, truth be told, the story we’ve been told about our history has been a lie from day 1.

  7. Happy Birthday, Kent. And thanks for all the wisdom your books have provided over the years.

  8. A very happy late birthday wish to you and hope there many more to celebrate. Do keep on writing I, love your books and you have opened a world for me that I was unaware of. thank you.
    Anne Murray (UK)

  9. I’m not big on celebrating my birthday or the July 4th either Kent, but for those like yourself, we celebrate you and those who care about Liberty, Justice and Equality for All.

    It’s what prophets taught, especially Jesus, treating others as we’d want to be. The Golden Rule has always been The Golden Path to the Deities and Heaven.

    It may be why you were born, and so close to the 4th. It is synchronistic being on the cusp. You were actually born on the day George Washington took command of the Continental Army. It’s not his fault this country hasn’t and may never live up to its creed. He actually warned of it. History has shown how the opressed become oppressive.

    It is the problem of evil in us all that Jesus warned of in Matthew 15:19, which Jung confirmed. But there is light in the darkness and Symbols of Transformation that Freud couldn’t see.

    Micaiah knew 2,800 years ago to know the spirits that can possess us in 1 Kings 22. They will claim us.

    Someday we’ll enter the eternal dream.

    We just need to amend when we fail. Will this country ever? We can only be concerned for ourselves and help others as best we can as you have.

    The spirit that moves you is good, Kent.

    We live in a stolen land. Stopping the flood of opiates on reservations is task at hand by addressing the unmet needs that can get any of us addicted to any substance. Big Pharma needs to be sued for deliberately targeting native people.

    I’ve shared your books with more than a few tribal native people. You give us all hope, helping us to care for the pain and hurt, seeing how it is through the eyes of native people. That’s what sets your books apart from most others.

    This is their land. The prophecies of the Ghost Dancer are coming true.

    At least you were born close to the date of the battle of greasy grass. Custer had it coming after the massacre on the Washita. So does this country.

    Many Blessings Kent

    Long May You Run

  10. Happy Birthday, Kent. Well said… We’re all so messed up!!! We blame and shame one another so often, on all sides. Hopefully, all the chaos will ultimately lead us to some light and renewed awareness of who we all really are, children of the living God– and not some other ‘popular’ identity-of-the-week, whereby we can again become the latest victim. All the best on your birthday! May your voice remain strong for a long time.

  11. Happy Birthday! Your words have opened my eyes and induced me to further study Native American culture, art, teachings, and plight. Thank you.

  12. Happy birthday to you, Mr. Nerburn. I’ve been following your blog for a while now and been wanting to read your book. I came across Neither Wolf Nor Dog on the streets of NY. I’m reading it now. Thank you for expressing profundity, humility and deep awareness through your words. In many ways, it felt like a sign to pick up that book. Wishing you good health, joy and love.

  13. HBD Kent. Can I copy and paste a paragraph onto fb? Crediting you of course. It’s the chrysalis moment ¶.

  14. You have spoken well as always. You have a strong voice and a strong heart.

    I believe all that is happening in 2020 is giving us the chance to have the good vision we need to right many wrongs.

    Maybe today we should be celebrating Dependence Day instead of Independence Day. We need to see how dependent we are on each other and our earth and our God. Because it’s only in the diversity that God created that makes anything and everything work. It’s only through this dependence that we can have true and meaningful freedom.

    May we all learn to see in one another the place where the Holy Spirit resides.

    Happy Birthday! May all the good you give return to you many times over.

  15. Oh Happy Birthday Kent !!! Many more to come I pray !

    Thanks for the brilliant words which we all needed right now…. ever think of running for president ? You’d get my vote !

    Shelley

  16. I have three daughters, ages eighteen, sixteen and thirteen. I am printing your post and giving each of them a copy…and adding a copy into each of their time capsules/memory boxes. I pray that your thoughtful, honest and truthful words will inspire, aspire, motivate and MOVE in them the change that is theirs to make, and to meet, in this world they have inherited.

    Thank you for pointing my children in the Bigger & Better Way.

    Celebrate not another year older… but another year Wiser, my dear friend!

    Godspeed.

  17. Hi Kent. I just came looking for info on your Dancing with the Gods book and saw it was your birthday last week. Happy one more revolution around the sun day plus a few. We were at my sisters cabin near the Shenandoah River over the 4th weekend, playing in the river and enjoying the woods. Hope you are doing as well as possible. M

  18. It is outstanding to find a person who thinks in the “collective activity” as the cure for the planet and all human problems, when actually we are mainly driven by the egoistic self, thinking nothing, but in oneself and in what belongs to me, will belong to me, did belong to me. Those are the main problems of the self. And if that is not enough, in the self lay the conflicting emotions. You know them, they are pride, arrogance, greed, lust, hatred, jealousy, envy…Unfortunately these conflicting emotions rule the mind much more than compassion, loving kindness, charity, morality, ethics. truthfulness, etc. The self is always concerned with its belongings, whether it is intelligence, wealth, a wife, a family, a house… The self by force has to grab on someone or something in order to be. But when we get rid of that selfish self, we find AWARENESS. Now, that’s a really marvelous “thing” to find and a real cure for the planet and humanity. AWARENESS ITSELF, where the self disappears.
    As long as the selfish self is ruling us, there will always be upheaval, in one way or the other.

  19. Dear Kent,

    As usual, John Gray, a British writer, nails it:
    State of the nation: Why we are entering a new age of disorder.
    https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2020/07/state-nation

    Intellectual attitudes towards the state of the nation mirror those towards the coronavirus. In each case, an influential body of opinion expects a reversion to what it regards as normalcy. The pandemic will soon be defeated, or else it will fade away. With the end of lockdown, the economy can continue where it left off.

    Similarly, many seem to believe that the political changes of the past four years are anomalies. The Brexit referendum, Donald Trump’s presidency, Boris Johnson’s majority and the inability of the EU to achieve solidarity in face of the largest economic dislocation in its history are all aberrations from the normal course of events.

    These expectations are not correlated with political allegiances in any simple way. Most of those who believe coronavirus is overhyped and lockdown overdone are Thatcherite Brexiteers. Those who believe the political shifts of recent years can be reversed are mostly progressive liberals and unreconciled Remainers. What these seemingly divergent groupings have in common is the faith that the order they imagine existed until a few years ago can somehow be reinstated. They recognise that things cannot be just as they used to be. The restoration they have in mind will be an enhanced, re-energised, super duper version of the old order. But however embellished, it will still be the ancién regime. It is a nostalgic vision, and plainly hallucinatory.

    As it applies to British politics and to the global scene, any programme of restoration is an exercise in magical thinking. Whereas the pandemic has advanced some trends and reversed others, it has also rendered some issues defunct. Debates about Brexit and the future of Western capitalism are examples. Brexit is irreversible, while Western capitalism has splintered into a variety of state capitalisms. At the same time Britain and other Western societies find themselves without a consensus on values that can enable them to deal with the virus or shape their future.
    ****
    We are in the early phases of what has so far been a comparatively mild pandemic. Many epidemiologists believe the virus will go on to re-emerge in successive waves, possibly in different forms in different regions, and become endemic throughout the world. But there is an enormous amount that is not known. (We don’t know precisely how the virus originated, for example.) Maybe an earlier, more draconian and shorter lockdown in Britain would have been the wisest policy on precautionary grounds. And yet conceivably some variation on the Swedish approach, which avoided lockdown, may in the end prove the least costly. Mass testing and contact tracing are being promoted as all-purpose solutions. But if not everyone who catches the virus displays symptoms or develops antibodies and immunity proves to be transient, as some studies from China suggest, test and trace is not a panacea. Relatively minor behavioural changes such as hand washing and wearing face masks seem able to curb the virus’s spread to a surprising degree, but only if they are widely adopted.

    A vaccine and effective treatments will help greatly, but there is increasing geopolitical conflict over how they are to be distributed. The US has bought up nearly all of the global supply of remdesivir, an anti-viral drug that might shorten the recovery time of coronavirus patients, for some months ahead. Will Xi Jinping make a Chinese vaccine available in countries whose governments are at odds with his policies in Hong Kong? We do not know how the virus will evolve, or how increasing knowledge of the disease will be used.

    There is another kind of uncertainty at work. There is nothing approaching agreement on the values that should shape policies towards the pandemic. The spurious exactitude of quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), which are used by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to evaluate whether treatments are cost-effective, conceals a host of ethical difficulties. A rebooted version of 19th-century Benthamite utilitarianism, QALYs multiply how much longer a patient will live after a given treatment with the future quality of their life. But what counts as quality in a human life? QALY theory may tell you a few years of life for a disabled child are worth less than longer life in a healthy productive adult. But this is not a result that squares with everybody’s intuitions. I, for one, reject it out of hand. Ethics cannot be reduced to an arithmetical formula.

    Underlying all this is the deepest uncertainty of all. Significant numbers of people have shown they care more about other goals than they do about stemming the pandemic. Some are ready to risk infection in order to promote a cause to which they are passionately committed. (Unfortunately, science has yet to demonstrate that the virus refrains on moral grounds from spreading in mass gatherings of protesters.) Others are ready to take the risk in order to return to work or have a day at the beach. Growing numbers resist government advice because they insist on making their own choices about how they want to live.

    Some may say this is no bad thing. People should be free to make their own judgements of risk, and act on them: that is what living a normal life means. The former UK Supreme Court judge Jonathan Sumption has been writing in this vein. All such arguments skate over differences in the nature of risk. If surfers choose to practise their sport in weather in which some will likely drown, that is their business. If some do die, many more will not start doing so a few weeks later as a consequence. But the risks taken when you expose yourself to the virus are multiplicative. Not only do you increase your own chances of dying, you greatly increase those of others. One super-spreader can infect hundreds of unknowing people. There is also a question of resources. Will those who expose themselves to a high risk of catching the virus in order to live what they consider a normal life be treated by the NHS when they fall ill?

    Arguments such as this illustrate the intellectual hold of obsolete philosophies, in this case Millian liberalism. Today we are much too closely interlinked with one another to be able to apply the “one very simple principle” proposed in John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859). “Over himself, over his own body and mind,” Mill declared “the individual is sovereign.” This was always a dubious proposition. In a time of a worldwide pandemic it is an absurdity.

    ****

    The causes of the pandemic are in the way we lived before it struck. At its peak, globalisation meant near-universal connectivity between economies, mass mobility of human beings and increasing population density in much of the world. Pathologists argued for years that this system was liable to epidemics of infectious disease. They were ignored because those that occurred, such as Sars in 2002-04, were contained. Now what they feared has happened, and some are warning of worse pandemics to come.

    Yet progressives remain fixated on how to revive the world that engendered the present disorder. They constructed and managed that world, and it flattered their self-image as the rational vanguard of the species. It is only to be expected that they should yearn for the return of their now bankrupt authority. Yet few aspects of the contemporary scene are more laughably grotesque than defunct politicians and advisers demanding a return to the politics of competence and expertise that produced the dysfunctional euro, the ruinous Iraq War, the financial crisis, anarchy in Libya and the regime of globalisation that is currently collapsing.

    Credit: Andre Carrilho

    The new Labour leader’s shift of stance on Brexit is instructive. By refusing to demand an extension of the transition period, Keir Starmer has signalled that the issue is closed. The subtext of his message may be less clear. He may believe – correctly – that the upshot of negotiations will more likely than not be a deal. He may suspect, also correctly, that exiting without a deal might not matter greatly in present circumstances. Or he may have heeded warnings that endorsing an extension would be fatally damaging in the old Labour heartlands that must somehow be recovered now that Scotland has been carelessly and irrevocably lost.

    Coming from the chief architect of the campaign to turn Labour into a Remain party, Starmer’s volte-face is commendably bold. But many in his party do not share his astute perception of political realities. Labour’s problem is no longer its leadership but its members. The problem is not the Corbynite remnant, which – however much it rages against the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet – is now little more than a succession of ghosts flitting across late-night television screens. The obstacle to change comes from the mass of Labour’s moderates, who still believe the party can come to power by aligning itself with what they call progressive values.

    For many of them, this includes resisting a change that is now irresistible. Some will be clamouring to rejoin the EU long after that sacred institution has passed into history. Again, many prophesy the break-up of the British state after Brexit. But once Britain has left the EU, Scottish independence ceases to be a credible option. A Scottish state outside the UK, needing to negotiate rejoining the EU at a time when oil is no longer a prize asset, a shaky banking system, no national currency and the prospect of a hard border with England, has little or no prospect of economic viability. The position of Northern Ireland is more complex, but it is not going to become part of the Republic any time soon.

    ****

    Starmer has shown himself to be a political operator of consummate skill. At times his practice of avoiding battles he is not sure of winning has looked opportunistic. He was not notably vocal on Labour anti-Semitism during his leadership campaign. But his swift sacking of his former rival Long-Bailey is as richly symbolic as Blair’s repudiation of Clause IV, and in terms of the party’s future more important. Labour is no longer identified with the politics of demonisation and conspiracy theory.

    At the same time there is an extreme fuzziness regarding anything that might be called Starmerism. A political project has to be more than a series of strategic manoeuvres, and the lessons of the general election have not yet been grasped. Labour cannot win on the back of a coalition of wistful and angry bourgeois radicals in the English metropolises and university towns. The Labour Together post-mortem focuses on the need for a continuing commitment to economic transformation. But working class voters didn’t reject Labour’s economic programme, though they doubted it was properly costed. They rejected the values Jeremy Corbyn embodied – above all, his lack of British patriotism – and represented as his party’s.

    Labour Together recognises the need to overcome cultural divisions, but it is unclear they can be bridged. By arguing that statues of slavers should not be torn down but placed in museums, Starmer nimbly avoided a potentially damaging issue. By rejecting as nonsense calls to defund the police he has outflanked Johnson as the defender of law and order. But there are limits to the agility of even the most artful politician. How far will Starmer go in distancing himself and his party from the Black Lives Matter movement? His choice is between a value-based version of class politics, which is the clear electoral imperative, and the cultural warfare of identity politics. It is hard to see how he can regain his party’s traditional base without alienating the progressive bourgeoisie that now forms so much of its membership.

    Perhaps Starmer thinks he can win by exploiting what he takes to be Johnson’s mistakes. It is a view endorsed by those who compare the Conservative position after Dominic Cummings’ trip to Durham with that of John Major’s government when Britain toppled out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism on Black Wednesday in 1992. Major went on to lose the 1997 election. Public trust in government has suffered a hit in recent weeks, and compliance with social distancing has palpably weakened. But the world moves on rather more quickly these days.

    Before the next British general election, skirmishes in Ladakh may have escalated into major conflict between China and India. Following the destruction of the “one country, two systems” model in Hong Kong, Taiwan’s independence may be actively threatened. A far-right Matteo Salvini government could be in power in Italy and the future of the euro in question. If there are more events like those in the city of Dijon, which last month became a conflict zone in clashes between Algerians and Chechens, Emmanuel Macron could lose out in the 2022 presidential election even to Marine Le Pen. If the pandemic slips altogether out of control in the US, fatalities may reach catastrophic levels. If scenes of anarchy in US cities persist over the summer, Trump may yet win in November; if he loses, he may contest the result. A Joe Biden presidency might continue, under a leftist guise, Trump’s protectionism and neoisolationism.

    Any of these eventualities, and others that cannot be foreseen, would change the world profoundly. In this age of acceleration, is it likely that large numbers of UK voters will make their choice four years from now on the basis of an episode, in Dominic Cummings’ road trip, that will be as remote and irrelevant then as the forgotten fracas in 1998 over Peter Mandelson’s mortgage is today?

    Undeniably, the government is in trouble. Consistently overpromising and under-delivering, it has dithered unconscionably over schools and the two-metre rule. Test and trace systems have been belated and patchy. The treatment of care homes has been atrocious. Johnson needs to act quickly if his government is to maintain any reputation for competence.

    Part of the problem comes from the toxic inheritance from the David Cameron and Theresa May regimes. Regarded by progressives as a sinister authoritarian power grab, the Johnsonian project of reinventing the British state is a response to the broken machine of government left by a decade of austerity. Ousting Mark Sedwill from a position of concentrated power was a logical step in this project, though any success it may have will only emerge many years from now. Austerity has been ditched in favour of a bold Keynesian programme. But infrastructure building of the sort outlined in Johnson’s “new deal” also takes time, and will do little to stop the fast-approaching avalanche of joblessness. At a point when physical mobility is decreasing and society needs increased digital connectivity, pressing ahead with HS2 is not only horribly wasteful but positively surreal. Always pernicious, the Universal Credit scheme will be a disaster in a period of mass unemployment.

    Whatever Johnsonism may be, it is not a type of neoliberal economic orthodoxy. The offer of British citizenship to 2.9 million Hong Kongers – widely popular with voters – suggests Johnson’s brand of conservatism is hardly an expression of anti-immigration xenophobia either. The danger for Starmer is that the Johnson government could end up embodying the conservative social democratic values he is trying to instil in Labour.

    Paradoxically, the economic crisis may work in Johnson’s favour. Insofar as Starmer has a view of the economy, it appears to be that of the Economist, the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal: there is nothing wrong with market capitalism that a few judicious reforms can’t remedy. Like these august journals of business opinion, Starmer’s new Labour has not noticed that the system it proposes to reform no longer exists.

    Instead of China converging on the free market, Western economies have morphed into versions of Chinese-style state capitalism. The difference is that Western states are not aiming to dominate the global market but to insulate themselves from it. Greater security against market shocks is integral to the process of deglobalisation that is under way. This may not be grasped by paleo-Thatcherites rhapsodising about free markets. Yet I believe the logic of de-globalisation is well understood by leading actors in the government. Orthodoxies forbidding the state from acquiring a stake in private companies and subsidising the wages of workers are likely to be shredded as the gigantic scale of economic construction required in the wake of the shutdown becomes ever clearer.

    ****

    The most intractable difficulty the government faces is not one of its making. There is a reason, beyond palming off responsibility, why ministers have harped on about “following the science”. In Britain, only science has retained any authority. Scientists have no greater competence in questions of ethics and politics than anyone else; but there is no longer any common body of values to which political leaders can defer when trying to legitimate their policies. As a late secular efflorescence of a theistic idea of the sanctity of the individual, values have come to be regarded as being essentially subjective and emotive. The test of what is right, good and true has become personal feeling.

    This poses a difficulty not only for governments but also protest groups. Movements of communal solidarity are currently based on the hyper-liberal premise that individuals determine their own identity and morality. But it is impossible to formulate an idea of social justice, still less embed it in society, when values have been privatised. This is also why talk of “true conservatism” – an emerging discourse on parts of the right discontented with the Johnson government – is anachronistic and ridiculous. Intermittent and partial as it may have been, the common life of the past has gone for good. Culture war is not a passing affliction. Like the virus, it has become an endemic condition.

    Britain faces a future in which no government will be able to invoke a consensus on values in support of its policies. This country is not soaked with apocalyptic religiosity as is the United States, nor is it awash with guns. If opponents of protest movements take to the streets, there could be a serious threat to public order. But the Hobbesian problem Britain faces is subtler and deeper than suppressing lawless violence. The task is maintaining a fragile peace in a culture of fragments. We are going to have to learn how to live with disorder, just as we must learn to live with the virus.

  20. I doubt that very many of you will read this very insightful commentary sent to me by perhaps my most erudite reader, but I encourage you to do so. Though it is Anglo-centric, coming as it does from a British commentator, it is full of general ideas that can be applied to particular circumstances other than those it addresses. It is what I consider the best kind of thinking: intellectual analysis that broadens one’s categories and context for understanding the world around us. Too much of our current public discourse is directed toward shaping opinion rather than increasing understanding. This piece is worth your time, though it might be an unfamiliar slog through deep waters. Read it to increase the context of your understanding, not just your information base. Thanks, Himanshu, for sending it.

  21. Dear Kent,

    In his 1989 book “Coming To Our Senses”, Morris Berman made the case that a large section of the US population is the driest tinder imaginable for fascism and that it would be a reality in his lifetime (he is in your age group). It looks like his prediction is beginning to come true. The column below is about recent events in the city you live near:
    Note: The author uses the phrase “American Idiot” in a very precise way which he defines in an earlier column as (https://eand.co/the-triumph-of-the-american-idiot-32d50a8357fb): “Now as I’ve discussed before, when I say “idiot,” I don’t mean it as an insult. And of course, I don’t mean all Americans. I mean it in a precise way, almost a nerdy way, to explain what really happened to America — and what other societies should be careful of. Does anyone really want to end up like Trump’s America?
    So I mean idiot the way the Greeks did: someone who was only interested in private gain, advantage, profit. For the Greeks, the creators of democracy, there was nothing worse than an idiot — because the road to tyranny lay through idiocy, by way of a lack of virtue. That’s a strange idea to Americans, who’ve been taught for ages now that virtue is selfishness, greed, cunning, ruthlessness, abandon. But to the Greeks, all these things would have paved the way for social collapse — and indeed, they did, as Athens fell to the Fifty Tyrants.”

    https://eand.co/this-is-american-democracys-last-chance-e1e53cbc25db

    I woke today, as you might have, to news that…secret police were abducting people off the streets of Portland. Heavily armed men, with no badges, driving unmarked cars, simply disappearing people from the streets, with no explanation given. Onlookers horrified as men in fatigues drag protestors away.
    If that feels ominous to you, it is.
    It’s de facto martial law, by any other name.
    There are about 110 days until the next American election. And America is now in a fight for its life.
    Imagine the following scenario. America’s new secret police descend on cities nationwide — just as their chief has already literally, proudly promised — in a new national policy of repression. They can snatch up anyone they want, anywhere, for whatever reason. They begin doing just that. Oddly — or maybe predictably — they begin targeting critics and opponents of the Administration, whether protesters, or just people out for a walk or a drive. Who’s going to stop them? They’re secret police, after all, operating at a federal level.
    Donald Trump’s polls have taken a battering given his astonishing indifference to a lethal pandemic. And yet — 110 days from now — his poll numbers are still within striking distance of the Presidency. He still has an Army of American Idiots whose support is unwavering. That army makes it possible for him to come within a hair’s breadth of winning the electoral college — or winning it outright.
    And on election, and the days leading up to it, all those secret police, those armed men now patrolling the streets, snatching people up anywhere, everywhere — they make all the difference. They repress enough of the vote for Trump to cruise to a victory. The Supreme Court and Senate certify that victory.
    Bang! American democracy comes to a final, ignominious end. Because you know and I know that another four years of this…well, America’s going to end up somewhere between Russia, Iran, and North Korea, as a society. Not a democratic one, but one ruled by a fascist-authoritarian dynasty, and their cronies.
    America’s fascist-authoritarian implosion is now complete. Democracy has died. Trump is America’s Gaddafi, Kim, Putin. And by the way — Coronavirus still ravages the country. Poverty skyrockets, depression and suicide soar, society stops functioning. And in the middle of it, the fascists’ cronies win big, being handed control of everything from the nations’ energy grids to its school systems to its hospitals. Who cares if they don’t work? The point is to make money — and there are huge, huge amounts of it to be made, as any Russian oligarch will tell you. Bang! Democracy’s dead.
    Sound implausible to you? Then you haven’t been paying attention. I’m not one for conspiratorial thinking. And it’d be one thing if a normal President arrested a few protesters. But when Donald Trump creates a secret police force, that’s quite another thing. Why? Because there’s a pattern of behaviour that’s by now well established. A particular and precise one.
    Camps. Actual…concentration camps. Kids in cages in them. Ripped apart from their moms and dads. Which, by the way, is genuine genocide. Raids. Purges. Ethnic bans. Inciting hate, spreading violence. Institutional, cultural, and societal dehumanization, of hated minorities, opponents, the press. Who does all these things? Only one category of people does, and there is a particular and precise word for them: fascists.
    Fascists. Can we say it already?
    Donald Trump’s pattern of behaviour is exactly that of a fascist hoping to seize power, and remake a nation. There is literally no other word to describe it. Liberals, even conservatives, democrats — nobody else does these things.
    We all learn this in grade school, then again in middle school, then again in high school, then again in college. At least three to four times over our lives. What fascism is: this simple checklist and sequence of hate rising to power, going from camps to bans to raids to purges and so forth.
    What’s been missing from that checklist in America? Only one thing, really: a secret police force. An SS, a Gestapo. Now there is one.
    The fascist checklist is complete. You might object at this point. “But we’re not committing genocide!” Oh, my friend. But you are. Those “family separations” are a form of genocide. Putting kids in cages is a form of torture.
    We all know this. The problem is that Americans have been playing dumb. Someone like me, who’s lived through fascist-authoritarian implosions, studied them — and there are many of us — comes along and says: “Hey, uh, guys. This looks a whole lot like a fascist implosion. Why aren’t you more worried?”
    And while some Americans have been, by and large the response has come: “Shut up! It’s not happening here! This is America, dammit!” Indeed it is. Guess who the Nazis studied as a model to base their genocide of the Jews on? America, and its mechanisms of slavery. But I digress.
    America’s been in a kind of deep, profound denial about its own descent into fascist-authoritarianism over the last three years. That’s exactly why the bad guys have been so staggeringly successful — it’s taken them just three years to accomplish more or less the entire fascist checklist.
    Hence, the world looks on at Americans, baffled, bewildered, horrified. “Don’t they get it? Doesn’t anyone teach them what fascism is at school?” I get asked this literally every single day by friends from Europe, Canada, Asia, Africa.
    I tell them: nobody doesn’t know what fascism is. Americans are just playing dumb. Why? Because that’s what their leaders and intellectuals do. Nobody much — at this late date — says it’s fascism. Not the opposition, not the media, not the intellectual class. Not regularly or enough, anyways. The result is that the average person thinks it’s going too far, impolite, impertinent. As a result, there’s been far, far too little resistance to fascist-authoritarianism in America. How can you fight a thing you won’t even name? Trump was impeached for bribery — not putting kids in camps. What the? Americans are playing dumb — all the way into the abyss.
    What’s about to happen over the next six months couldn’t be clearer. It’s not that those secret polices are anything new: they’ve been targeting non-people, Mexicans and Latinos and so forth, hated immigrants and refugees, for the last four years.
    What’s new is that they are now targeting Americans. That is a very, very clear signal of what the fascists are going to do. How they’re going to escalate. What the future holds. They are going to use the fascist institution they’ve built, and cross the final line — use them domestically.
    Now the secret police doesn’t just come for the “non-person,” the immigrant, and throw them into a camp. It comes for you, your brother, sister, husband, wife, the good white American. And then it throws them into a camp, too. It comes for the opponent, dissident, critic.
    All the machinery of fascist-authoritarianism that’s been constructed over the last few years will now be put to use against “real” Americans — not just hated others. It will be used to intimidate and frighten and bully people, in order to chew away at the workings of democracy — making it harder for them to vote, coordinate, organize, associate, make their voices heard. Just doing that much will now carry a risk and a price — you become one of the non-people, too.
    You get disappeared in the camps. You get written up. Your papers have a black mark on them. The party does not approve of you. You are an undesirable now. You are an enemy of the state.
    How likely are you to join that protest if you know the secret police will be there throwing people into camps? Be honest — don’t be a hero. Just be real. Even if your answer is, “I’d still go!” — for most people, that’s not going to be the case. This is how fascist-authoritarians steal power — by bullying, frightening, and intimidating people.
    That’s also why it’s never taken a majority of fascist-authoritarians to destroy a society. In Germany, in the Islamic world, in a place like North Korea. It just takes a brutal enough minority — who use the institutions of the state, culture, and society, step by step, to frighten and bully everyone else into line. A minority can indeed seize control of a society. Trump has his Army of Idiots — and they’re a minority, true, but a very, very large one: somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of America. That’s more than enough to end democracy for good.
    Americans should have challenged the construction of fascist institutions like secret polices and camps long ago. But they didn’t. Still, it’s not too late. Or is it? Nobody really knows — and the only way to tell is to try. To stand up and challenge it now, before it truly is too late, and Trump is the Fuhrer of a fascist America.
    The endgame of America’s fascist implosion was always — always — obvious. That may be hard to hear. But it’s true. The institutions the fascists had built — camps, secret polices, secret trials, and so on — were one day going to be used against “real” Americans too. One day in the very near future. For what purpose? For taking away their powers, rights, voices. To make them pliable, submissive. If they weren’t going to be part of the fascist project — then they’d better not say anything or do anything to stop it. Why else does anyone build repressive institutions — but to create a fascist-authoritarian society? But Americans didn’t get that. They never quite seemed to understand that fascism was about to hit them, in the teeth, right where it counted. That it wasn’t just for the non-people. That it was coming for them. Because the entire point and purpose of fascism is that everyone becomes a fascist, either through silence and acquiescence, or through cheering, raging hate.
    Fascii: the bundle of sticks. Everyone becomes a part of the fire. Everything goes up in ashes. Americans, playing dumb. They learned it in school. But they’ve spent so long pretending that I don’t even know if it’s become genuine ignorance at this point. Sorry to be blunt — but the stakes are too high to mince words. Americans need to act now. Who on earth doesn’t know it’s fascism when mass death and secret polices are at your door? When more than a hundred thousand have died of a pandemic, 90% of which could have been prevented? When an indifferent leader is pushing people to go out and infect each other? When protestors are being tear gassed, unprovoked? When reporters are being arrested? And now, when the secret police is literally grabbing people in the street?
    What’s that old quote? First they came for the Mexican labourer, and I did nothing. Then they came for the Syrian refugee, and I did nothing. Then they came for the Guatemalan family, and I did nothing.
    And then they came for me.
    The old quote doesn’t go quite like that. The new one, though, does.
    This is not a drill. This is American democracy’s last chance. But will Americans finally, finally stand up, and act like it?
    Umair
    July 2020

  22. Dear Kent,
    The article below was posted on Morris Berman’s blog.
    It will be seen as politically incorrect as will be Berman’s comment below, but having lived in the South (10 years) and the North (7 years) I have to agree with it (Yes I know its not 100% of the US population but its a very large section (40%)of it):
    “At last, a writer who is not afraid to call the American people stupid, repeatedly, and the cause of our collapse. It can’t be said enuf. I wd have also appreciated ‘soulless buffoons’, but at least he said that Americans are dead. Duh!”

    https://medium.com/@indica/biden-cant-save-america-from-covid-19-7678f1a415dc

    Excerpts:
    “A huge chunk of the American public simply doesn’t care, even if people are dying and the economy is on fire. They’re just dead inside.”

    “There’s no prescription for this. No public health tool can work on a public that doesn’t care about anybody else, or even themselves. These are people that won’t practice basic hygiene and wear a mask. How are you going to get them to take a vaccine? These are people that make death threats against public health experts. How are you going to get them to listen to them? A change of government won’t help. Americans are ungovernable.”

    “People talk about Biden being close in Texas like it is a good thing. It’s horrifying. After getting nearly 10,000 Texans killed and causing a Greater Depression, things are just close in Texas? How fucking stupid is Texas? And Oklahoma, and 40% of the country?”

    Full column below:

    oe Biden might as well be Joe Gorbachev. He’s a nice guy but the USA is going to collapse anyways. The USSR at least contained Chernobyl. The US will never contain COVID-19, with all the knock-on effects that brings. Namely, the last superpower has already fallen. There’s nothing Joe Gorbachev can do.
    How do you lockdown a nation of fools?
    The biggest problem Biden faces is not figuring out how to suppress COVID-19. That’s known. America has always been 4–6 weeks away from beating COVID-19. They just need a two month lockdown while they get test/trace/isolate in place, like the rest of the world did months ago.
    This has always been true, everywhere. Countries like South Korea and Taiwan already had the infrastructure so they could skip the lockdown part. Everyone else sacrificed and figured it out.
    The US never did and so here we are. The US has never had a national lockdown and still doesn’t have a national plan. But the prescription remains the same. They can lock down now after 160,000 deaths or in 2021 after 300,000, but that’s the only way out. Cases have to be held to a manageable level, and they need national public health. Even a vaccine would require working public health infrastructure.
    The only problem is that this will be impossible.
    No public health tool can work on a population where 40% of people will not comply. Masking, distancing, even vaccines — none of these things work without nearly universal public support. Forget national lockdowns or vaccines. Americans can’t even agree to not breathe on each other.
    Also forget national governance, that’s just imploded into a horrible TV show. Trump has thrown everything to the states in a plan that can only be described as feral federalism. Every region on its own, in the wild.
    The result is that any functioning central government will have to reintegrate cities and states that have been living in the wild for a year. Many of them won’t want to come back. America’s national policy will only be as secure as its dumbest governor or mayor, which is pretty dumb.
    Biden will inherit an exhausted, impoverished, and divided nation which has been trying half-assed measures for months. He will inherit a nation that has already fractured into states. Then he has to make a huge shared sacrifice again. They won’t do it. Trump has been using the bully pulpit to destroy public trust in experts, the White House to destroy institutions, and Republicans have been merrily going along. That won’t all suddenly come back on January 20th. The idiots will still be there.
    No public health tool can work under these conditions. You can’t have 51% masking or 51% vaccination, the virus doesn’t give a fuck about majority rule. A house divided against itself cannot stand. In truth, it has already fallen down.
    How do you rouse the braindead?
    The American body politic is already braindead. Even after getting over 160,000 Americans killed, Trump’s approval rating is the same as during the Stormy Daniels scandal. Nothing matters.
    Tracing the approval ratings of US presidents since Lyndon B. Johnson, you see a clear heartbeat, fluctuating with events and presidential performance. This was the case until Trump, when for the first time there appears what looks like a definitive separation of opinion and reality — an almost flat line. (The Correspondent)
    A huge chunk of the American public simply doesn’t care, even if people are dying and the economy is on fire. They’re just dead inside.
    There’s no prescription for this. No public health tool can work on a public that doesn’t care about anybody else, or even themselves. These are people that won’t practice basic hygiene and wear a mask. How are you going to get them to take a vaccine? These are people that make death threats against public health experts. How are you going to get them to listen to them? A change of government won’t help. Americans are ungovernable.
    People talk about Biden being close in Texas like it is a good thing. It’s horrifying. After getting nearly 10,000 Texans killed and causing a Greater Depression, things are just close in Texas? How fucking stupid is Texas? And Oklahoma, and 40% of the country?
    America had a pulse once, but not anymore. Nixon’s approval rating dropped to 24% after Watergate, but that’d be just Thursday in Trumpland. Trump is literally getting a thousand people killed every day and his approval rating barely moves? This isn’t a country that was killed by COVID-19. America was already dead.
    America cannot be saved
    This is why America cannot be saved. It’s too late, they’re too stupid, and their central government has already collapsed. Republicans have been trying to drown their government in a bathtub for decades and they’ve finally done it. It’s dead.
    Even if America elects Biden, Trump has pissed in the public health well so much that no one can draw water. By January 2021 they’ll be looking at 80 million infected and 300,000 dead and it will just keep going from there. Even if there’s test/trace/isolate, enough people won’t comply that the virus will keep going. Even if there’s a vaccine, enough people won’t take it that the virus will remain.
    Eventually it will slow down, but you’ll be looking at years gone. A broken economy, a worthless passport, and a nation that’s gone from superpower to plague state in a blink of an eye.
    Like Gorbachev, Biden seems like a decent leader, but there’s nothing he can do. The thing he’s running for, it’s already fallen down. There is no cure for stupid, there is no vaccine for cruel, and no election can change that. Joe Biden can’t save America because America doesn’t want to be saved.

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