It’s late November, 2018 and life still feels like it’s in a weird state of suspension that started the moment Trump was announced the winner of the 2016 election. From that moment forward we have had to live with nothing but questions. How did this happen? What is Trump going to do? What will the Democrats do? Can the courts stop him? Can Mueller stop him? How can I stop this?
Endlessly, we have uncertainty about what laws are going to matter, what people’s rights are going forward and basic anxiety about what’s going to happen next.
Masha Gessen is a Russian/American author of an indispensable book, The Future is History, about how Vladimir Putin has re-established totalitarianism in Russia. Gessen tells us that in a totalitarian state “The boundaries are ever-shifting.” She quotes philosopher Hannah Arendt, whose observation is that totalitarian societies “produce a state of constant flux and inconsistency.”
That is what I feel in America today. Where we used to have confidence in the laws, now our present and future are constantly destabilized when Trump declares he’ll just dispense with those laws. There’s an emoluments clause in the Constitution preventing the President from taking payments from other nations. Trump says who cares and no one stops him. We have nepotism laws saying you can’t hire your family members into government jobs. But what does the law matter if nobody stops him? Treaties promising our defense of NATO and other allies. Trade deals formed the rationale for American business investments. All those promises are broken.
The slide toward rule by autocratic whim is a path of endless anxiety for citizens.
Masha Gessen says totalitarianism “requires the population to be ever-vigilant in order to stay abreast of the shifts. A hypersensitivity to signals becomes essential to survival.”
Checking the news and social media all through the day is that hyper-vigilance, is that anxiety. We have questions that almost can’t be answered. Has the Executive branch of the United States been subjugated to Russian government control? Are we at war? What does that mean for us? Who is defending us in this war? What remains that I can defend? Will America be safe to live in two years from now? Five years from now? These questions are shaping every major life decision we make.
I created the ResistanceMom podcast as a place to talk about each of these questions.
But having a would-be totalitarian in the presidency means he’s not trying to replace old laws with new laws. He wants there to be no law, only him. If there were a new set of laws, or even a new legal framework, we would adapt to that and adjust, for better or for worse. But Trump needs us dependent on his words, paying him endless attention, constantly wondering what will happen next.
There is no stability in this kind of regime. It directs all information, resources, and decision-making around feeding his delusions, his narcissism and his cruelty.
Americans need to direct all our long-term efforts securing, perfecting and enforcing democracy. Democracy is our lodestar. America needs democracy. Democracy is inextricably bound to equality, transparency and human rights. The Middle East needs democracy. Russia needs democracy. We have to become uncompromising and evangelical about democracy. More on that another episode.