Right about now, the world is baffled by three questions. One: what the hell have Americans let happen to their country? Two. Wait — is it going to happen to us, too? And three: why don’t Americans call for Donald Trump to resign? What the?
I’m going to be be blunt with you in this essay. Americans are out of their depth right now. They have no idea how to deal with an aspiring dictator like Trump. Those of us who’ve studied and lived through authoritarianism do, though.
What America needs right about now is a mass movement calling for Donald Trump to resign. No, there’s no such thing, though I certainly admire those who’ve tried to start one. When I say “mass movement,” I mean “mass movement,” as in millions, if not tens of millions of people. What there is right about now are sporadic and disunited waves and forms of protest. But they’re not enough to force an aspiring dictator out of office.
There should be a mass movement to force a President and his Administration this incompetent, malicious, and deceitful out of office, right now — but there isn’t one. As in, millions, or tens of millions, lining the streets of the Capitol, and not leaving, until they do.
Put another way: Why the hell is America’s silent majority…so deafeningly silent? In any other country almost, a mass movement to force leaders this incredibly bad out of office would spontaneously arise. But America’s silent majority appears to be either drugged, asleep, comatose, or brain-dead.
There should be a mass movement to kick these horrific idiots out of office, now. In what sense do I mean? I mean it in three senses. One, comparatively. Two, historically. Three, in the sense of plain common sense and human decency. Let me explain.
Trump’s concentration camps. Trump’s raids. Trump’s bans. These alone would probably have been enough to force a head of state out of office in many countries, certainly in most rich and advanced democracies. But America’s silent majority didn’t care enough about these gross and flagrant abuses of power. After an initial wave or two of outrage, they shrugged. That was because these abuses of power were directed at America’s hated minorities. And so what was eminently predictable to survivors and scholars of authoritarianism happened next. Trump’s abuses of power are now directed at “real” Americans, too, finally. So now the list goes like this.
Trump’s camps, Trump’s bans, Trump’s raids. Trump’s plague. Trump’s depression. Trump’s gestapo and shock troops, beating and gassing people in the streets.
Do you see how incredible that list is? That’s not a rhetorical question. Why the hell don’t more Americans demand Donald Trump’s resignation?
In any other country — even most poor ones by now — that list would certainly have caused something like society’s immune system to kick in. There would have been millions pouring into the streets in protest. My friend Ben, the London copper, says: “If that happened here, Whitehall — where Parliament is — would have been lined with people, and they wouldn’t have left until the PM stepped down.” My friend Claudine, from Paris, says: “If that happened here, Paris would be burning, and it wouldn’t stop until Macron resigned.” Every single non American I know asks exactly the same thing right about now: “What the? Why don’t they force him to resign? What the hell is wrong with Americans?”
I shrug. It’s not a conversation I particularly enjoy having. Talking about America is depressing. But I do have a few answers — or at least guesses at answers.
Americans are completely out of their depth right now. Though America’s the kind of bully as a country who’s installed authoritarians in other nations — Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Iraq — it doesn’t know how to remove authoritarians. Here, again, is a friendly tip, from someone how’s survived oh, about six authoritarian collapses by now.
You outwit the authoritarian, you checkmate him, you think several moves ahead. How do you do that right now? There’s a crucial election. Trump’s going to steal it — that’s obvious, there’s a plan which is being executed in plain view, for all to see. You stop him from even contesting the election. Checkmate.
What I don’t mean by mass movement is a Twitter trend, once every few days. Or the same few hardy protesters outside the White House who have been demanding Trump resign for years now. Or even Black Lives Matter protests, worthy as they are. I mean exactly as I say. A mass movement — made up of millions, or tens of millions of Americans, whose unity and strength are indisputable, whose goal is to oust a maniac president who’s let his country fall into disease, depression, and mass death.
The strange thing is that when I say that to Europeans, Canadians, Asians, Africans, Latinos and Latinas — literally everyone else in the entire world — it makes perfect sense to them. They nod along, and mention often that that’s obvious.
But when I say it to Americans, I get the look. Everyone who’s not American knows the look, too. It’s what Americans give you when they don’t believe you, don’t understand you, can’t process what you’ve said, get angry at you for saying something that violates their norms. The eyes go blank, the lips curl downward in repressed anger, the brow furrows, the muscles tense up. The look.
Yet what I’m talking about is neither rocket science nor science fiction. What is it? It’s called democracy. Your responsibilities and duties to it, if you want to keep one, that is.
America is a country that has a President which has failed it in every imaginable way now. He’s the head of an essentially fascist movement, whose brownshirts literally beat people in the streets. He’s built camps and put kids in cages in them. He’s created a Gestapo of his own, that operates extra-legally.
And now he’s let a pandemic spiral out of control and become a plague. He’s using that Gestapo on even white Americans. He’s caused a depression with his ruinous mishandling of the economy. He’s responsible for the world’s highest death count at the hands of what should have a virus that resulted in far, far less death and suffering.
Let me put that even more sharply. There are 150,000 dead. There are 40 million facing eviction. There are easily more than 25 million out of work. America has more infections today than the entire population of New Zealand, which just recorded 100 virus free days.
How do Americans brook all this and shrug? You’re right — some don’t shrug. But not enough seem to care, or understand something crucial.
If you want to keep a democracy, sometimes you need to throw the bastards out, and not accept no for an answer. It’s your responsibility and duty as a citizen, too, not to simply accept such shocking levels of negligence, malice, and incompetence. And not to simply shrug and wait until the next election, either, if it’s under threat. But to act now. By using the civil liberties you still have left to protect and restore democracy’s vitality and power. Why don’t Americans get that?
One reason is that Americans are used to being the ones that wreck democracies elsehwere — instead of ever really standing up for their own. American troops have marched across the earth, and anywhere a nation didn’t want to be capitalist — bang! Death and disaster soon followed. Vietnam, Chile, Pakistan, the story was always the same. Americans thus became inured to abuses of power. Who cared if their military was being used to bomb and hurt people for making their own democratic choices? Were they even really people anyways? But that attitude, so fundamentally anti-democratic — you can choose anything you want, world, as long as its capitalism — was badly corrosive. It robbed Americans of the spirit of democracy.
And now they don’t seem to have it at all. “The President’s going to steal the election? Another hundred thousand are going to be dead? Duhhh, what should we do?”
Isn’t the answer obvious? How could it be anymore obvious? Kick them out. But the reason it’s obvious to literally everyone else I know — African, Asian, European, Canadian — is that they’re not American, they haven’t been the world’s bullies, its badly behaved hegemon, its perpetual aggressor, fighting fake wars for capitalism’s sake. Americans won’t understand that, so let me make it clearer. Anytime a nation anywhere on earth didn’t want to be a capitalist society — and that country wasn’t rich, which is to say white — American either bombed, invaded, or destabilized it, and then usually installed a figurehead dictator who was friendly to American capitalism. Yes, really.
Again, everyone knows this but Americans. But because American don’t even understand the role they’ve played in the destruction of democracy around their globe — how can they understand the destruction of their own?
My friends from around the world haven’t had their attitudes to democracy so badly corroded yet. The world understands democracy is a fragile and tender thing, which needs constant protection — but Americans, having attacked democracy so long the world over don’t understand anymore what it means to protect one.
Americans will still think that forcing some poor country not to be a social democracy with extreme violence is…democracy. We’re “liberating” them. What the? No wonder Americans are so badly confused at this moment. If you’re the nation that created Pinochet, Saddam, the Taliban — what did you think was going to end up at home, that people would develop into brave and noble and thoughtful defenders of democracy? Of course not. People would stop understanding what democracy really was, having stolen it so much and so often around the globe.
So what’s happened at this juncture is that Americans don’t understand their responsibilities as citizens. Which is to line the streets and remove this idiot and his fascist goons from power, ASAP, as in yesterday. That’s checkmate, the only way out of an election that’s going to be a slippery mess. The only way.
Americans, instead, baffled, are waiting for their institutions to protect them. But nobody’s coming to save Americans. How can they? America’s institutions are the very same ones that have let Donald Trump get away with…is it murder to let 150,000 people die needlessly? I don’t know, so let’s just say horrific malice and negligence, over and over again, to the point of mass death.
You never rely on the institutions that let the authoritarian rise to power to protect you from the authoritarian. That only makes sense, right? How can a lever that’s broken lift anything? How can a blade without an edge cut? Come on, now.
Americans don’t get any of the above — not enough. They’ll think I’m crazy, an alarmist, hyperbolic, for writing this. If you think I’m being unreasonable, go ahead, ask any non American friend or even American minority friend you have. I guarantee you that 99% of them will nod along, and say, “that’s right, Americans are being incredible idiots.”
Idiots. I use that word in a very specific sense. That means something like this.
Americans don’t know how to think about the situation they’re in. They’ve never faced the death of their own democracy, they’ve only created the death of democracy for others, which has led to a corrosion in them. So let me offer a few tips, from someone who’s both studied authoritarianism, and lived through it, multiple times.
One, there needs to be a mass movement in America now, to kick Donald Trump and his goons out of office. Two, it needs to happen now, before the election, because that’s the only real way of preserving democracy’s few remaining shredded leaves of integrity. Three, when I say mass movement, I’m not kidding. I mean socially distanced millions living, sleeping, in front of the White House, every day, every night, chanting “Resign!” until Trump and his weird dead-eyed family skulks away through the back door.
Every sane American should be demanding Donald Trump’s resignation right about now. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that “are you demanding Trump’s resignation?” be a litmus test for sanity for Americans. That almost none are is what makes the world shudder.