Searching for an apt descriptor from classics of the Western canon, various critics of the Trump administration have settled on Shakespearean. That’s fine, one supposes, for the tableau of shifting alliances and familial conniving the Bard excelled at. At the situation’s strange core there is also low comedy, though it oftentimes lacks the sparking wit that has sustained enjoyment of Shakespeare’s lighter work through the centuries (See Bob Corker, the “liddle” Senator).
When it comes to tragedy, though… a better term for the tragedy unfolding around us would be Sophoclean. It feels like our story is careening towards a horror predestined by the Fates, and there’s more than a hint of incest.
The tyrant is a child of Pride
Who drinks from his sickening cup
Recklessness and vanity,
Until from his high crest headlong
He plummets to the dust of hope.
* * *
His legislative agenda is a shambles and he’s running out of allies to insult, but here’s at least one way Donald Trump is winning: he’s exhausted us. Consider the travel ban, the flashpoint for organization in the early days of his administration. Panic and rage exploded at how self-evidently un-American his discriminatory executive order was. It felt like an emergency at the time, and protesters treated it like one, swarming to airports in solidarity. The Trumpists withdrew, licked their wounds and bided their time.
That was January 28th.
Since then, we’ve been inundated with a torrent of outrageous proclamations, unforced errors and head-scratching nonsense. We’ve lurched much closer towards the fascist state the president wants (though he wouldn’t call it that, and there’s some small comfort in the fact he’s a lazy fascist). There have been investigations and intrigues of the palace and so. many. hurricanes.
Amidst the bedlam, a modified version of the travel ban was implemented. The Supreme Court allowed key provisions to proceed in late June and handed Trump another victory on Tuesday. Judging from the collective shrug of major media outlets and bustling airports that are experiencing only the usual inconveniences, society has decided there’s nothing to be done.
And what about ICE’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants? For all the big talk from liberals about “protecting our neighbors” and “sanctuary cities”, their good intentions changed nothing. ICE reported in August nearly a 40 percent increase in immigration arrests during Trump’s first one hundred days.
* * *
Scenes from a Roundtable, Never Completed (August 2017):
Zzyzx: For all the shortcomings of opposition to the president, the recent white supremacist uprising and murder in Charlottesville, and Donald Trump’s inability to call out a murderous and racist part of his base, have put the need for resistance in stark relief. There’s something terribly wrong happening, so it behooves us to ask: what’s happening with The Resistance and what have they accomplished so far?
LadyFabulous: I haven’t seen a lot of uniformity, at least not recently, and I think that’s impeding the resistance. One thing you can say about the conservative movement is those guys know how to put aside pretty differences and join forces. Liberals won’t do that.
Zzyzx: Liberals and leftists both. The tensions there are understandable, because (though this is a gross oversimplification) liberals place their belief in the state and think corrective reforms are the solution, whereas leftists are agitating for full-scale revolution. But I’m seeing a lot of penny ante skirmishes over ideology when we need to be uniting against the white walkers of fascism.
The wall isn’t what it used to be.
LadyFabulous: Oh god yes. That analogy is perfect and beautiful and hilarious.
Whiteside: The problem we still have is the disparity between the reporting on the “violent left” vs. the actual violent right. The left has to figure out how to win the PR war while we are giving credibility to all the things the right has been accusing the left of.
I will say that this stuff in Charlottesville is the first time I’ve really seen the left riled up the way the right gets. And it has cause behind it, so that’s refreshing.
Zzyzx: The last week or so has solidified my view of something that I have long argued: Trump isn’t concerned with fulfilling the basic functions of what a modern president is expected to do. His interest goes only as far as maintaining his power. Given that he’s alienating to all but the most resentful and racist parts of the electorate, he’s playing to that base. And this is a base, by the way, that recently indicated they’d support a decision by Trump to suspend the 2020 election because of phantom “vote fraud”.
LadyFabulous: What the hell kind of a country are we living in? Is that even a thing?! When was that a thing?!
Zzyzx: If he’s relying on a base that has fascist tendencies, and writes off 2/3s of Americans, how is resistance supposed to operate? Legislatively parts of his agenda may be stalled, but he doesn’t need a cooperative Congress if, for example, he takes advantage of a 9/11-style attack to consolidate power. If we’re expecting him to be taken down through legal means, he’s already floated the idea that a president can’t be charged with criminal behavior and hey, maybe he’ll just pardon himself. Additionally, he’s been quietly getting federal judges appointed, and if you know how much he values loyalty, a Trump-leaning judiciary is an unnerving proposition. The 25th amendment can’t be relied upon because it would require his cabinet (a cabinet he could replace at will) to essentially give a vote of no confidence. We may be attending protests marches with a hellish fury but he’s ignoring them, just like George W. Bush ignored the unprecedented protests in the lead-up to the second Iraq war. The Democratic Party as a whole is still resistant to impeachment – though the latest polling now shows a full 40 percent of Americans view that option favorably, a 10 percent jump from February. Democratic politicians are currently content to obstruct and fundraise for their Summer Resistance Jam.
So how do we have an effective resistance?
For starters, I would contend that the opposition from grassroots to lifetime Senators start acting like they’re running out of time instead of playing the one-term and/or crackup waiting game. And after a few weeks of escalating tension with North Korea and Trump’s more open displays of support for white supremacy, thinking in terms of a clock ticking down seems appropriate.
LadyFabulous: Well now I’m terrified. What can we do? Call our congresspeople? Our Senators?
Zzyzx: The things is people have been calling them, especially since the inauguration. Until 2018 – maaaaybe – Democrats are at a numerical disadvantage in Congress.
But I don’t say any of this to despirit anyone. The opposite, actually. We need a sense of urgency. And I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. Someone convince me I’m wrong!
Whiteside: I’m a little more optimistic than you. There have been signs that not everything is as bleak as it seems. There are things that were true before that appear to be true now and it gives me hope that rule of law will be maintained and we won’t have any Executive Fuckery. Like I would expect conservatives, love them or hate them, to be repulsed by white supremacists. At least outwardly. And for the most part that’s been the case. Maybe they aren’t completely compromised? I don’t know. That’s how it seems to me at least.
ThePiedSpicer: At the very least, they are spineless and that worries me. But I lean more Whiteside’s way. It’s not a hopeless situation, just an exceptionally dismal one.
* * *
No one wants to feel like a failure. Many suspect there’s an A to Z plan to fix things, and if only we knew what it is everything would be better. The people united can never be divided, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
The distance between what we think we can do and the material reality of attempting to dismantle systemically entrenched wrongs is vast.
When we talk about the Democratic Party these days, we’re never really talking about Democrats. We’re talking about the void they’re incapable of filling and the consequences of their failure.
When we talk about The Resistance, we’re talking about what we’d like to think we’re doing, not what’s really happening.
They’re all failures. We’re all failures. For now.
* * *
The arc of the moral universe does not bend towards justice, because there is no universal morality. There are numerous and often conflicting moral schemas, which depending on the circumstances can lead to transcendental breakthroughs or justify reprehensible acts.
The arc of the universe is towards expansion before violent collapse, countless eons after humanity has ceased to be a problem to itself and the planet it occupies. There is no order beyond prescribed physical laws, and even those get a little wonky.
Terrible things don’t make sense because they don’t have to. They exist regardless of our ability to comprehend them. It is in this way the leader of the United States can impudently shrug about a starling humanitarian crisis in a territory he is responsible for, that people can die of treatable illnesses on the streets, that the peaceful citizens of America commit a truly mind-bending number of mass shootings per annum, that we allow the threat of nuclear winter to hover like a miasma over daily life.
It’s enough to make one give up. Or kick against the pricks. I prefer the latter.
I kick against the pricks not in spite of an uncaring universe, but because of it. If there is no harmonious universal plan, we’ll make the best of what we’ve got. There is no predestination, there are no Fates, there is only us. If we don’t fight for a better world, no one will.
(Year Zero/Day Two Hundred and Sixty-Five)