How and why did the US get to this?
Trump’s talk of seeking “retribution” against foes, including some he’s branded “vermin”, has coincided with plans that Maga loyalists at rightwing thinktanks are assembling to expand the president’s power and curb the DoJ, the FBI and other federal agencies. All of it has fueled critics’ fears that in a second term Trump would govern as an unprecedentedly authoritarian American leader.
‘Openly authoritarian campaign’: Trump’s threats of revenge fuel alarm | The Guardian
The answer is in front of us. For decades we’ve allowed ourselves to be redefined from citizen to consumer. Whatever interest in self governance we may have had in the past has been drained away as we’ve allowed ourselves to be distracted by entertainment, shiny things, comfort, convenience. Our planet burns, people starve or go without medical care, children are shot in their schools. And yet we go about daily life, prioritizing our own happiness. We’ve forgotten how to be active citizens.
There should be no such thing as “activism” or “activists”. Those words are fucking ridiculous. They exist because most citizens don’t want to do the job of citizenship. “We the people” is a fucking farce and has been for a long time. Our “democracy” was broken from the start (designed by the privileged for the maintenance of priviledge) but it’s only gotten worse. And now here we are, divided, frustrated, angry but still unwilling to do the work of participatory, active citizenship.
Look in the mirror if you want to see why we are at the threshold of authoritarianism. What have YOU done to stop it? Oh, me? No, what can I do? Nothing I can do.
Our attitude is always that the problems are caused by others. Corrupt government. Greedy corporations. Welfare recipients that don’t want to work. The list goes on. There’s always someone to blame. But it’s never us and our lack of commitment to citizenship.
The truth is most Americans don’t actually seem to want democracy.
We like to pretend we do. We allow ourselves to think America is the “home of the free, land of the brave” blah, blah, blah. But that’s just nonsense in 2023. It’s arrogance, hubris and lazy patriotism.
The truth is we don’t want to do the work of democracy. And no, not just voting. That’s the most minimal expression of what is a fairly hollow politics. I’m talking about the day-to-day practice of self governance. Of being a part of neighborhoods, communities, towns. Of being connected.
Democracy is going to city council and school board meetings. It’s calling your county commissioner to express concerns because you’re taking an interest in the happenings of your community. It’s noticing a problem on your street or in your neighborhood and taking an interest in fixing it. A broken sidewalk, dangerous intersection, a lack of bike racks, a neighbor in need. It’s being a part of community and caring about it the same as we care about ourselves or our children. Community is home.
Being an active citizen means extending and practicing empathy outside of ourselves and our tiny bubble of family. It’s understanding that our lives and well being are intertwined with those of our neighbors. Our neighbors are next door, down the street, in the next town over, in the next county over and the next country over. Next door or across the planet, we are all connected and this truth is increasingly obvious. What we and our government does impacts the planet and our fellow humans.
Being a citizen means taking personal responsibility. It means making a point of noticing problems and taking charge as though we are the only ones on the scene. In some cases our actions are individual and are not the immediate solution but are symbolic at least, an expression of care and making an effort to do ones part. But our individual actions as citizens can and should be followed with social actions when we ask for help to do the job. Citizenship is collective and cooperative.
We are the problem and cause of authoritarianism because we’ve forgotten what it means to take full responsibility for our freedom.
“Freedom is something you assume.Then you wait for someone to take it away from you. The degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are free.” - Utah Phillips
While I love that quote I would argue that freedom is intertwined with responsibility and we don’t assume it. We practice it, live it in our daily lives. It has to be renewed daily.
The support for Trump and authoritarianism is an expression of our decades of complacency and our lack of attention. It’s the accumulated frustration of people who know the government is broke and even an awareness on some level that capitalism is a fundamental part of the problem. And that frustration, intertwined with a lack of knowledge of our history, of working people being used and turned against one another, it makes for powerful mechanisms for control and manipulation.
Angry, frustrated people who have lost sight of the larger context of their role in the process of creating the collective good. Alone and separated rather than connected in community. That’s what he’s given them. He’s given them a connection, a feeling of empowered. And combined it with people to be angry at. We all know the idea of divide and conquer. He embodies the largely negative, back-stabbing reality tv show culture that put him in people’s homes and helped him got to this point.
He’s given his supporters a mission, something to thrive in. They feel necessary, useful, powerful and connected.
Connected. His movement overlooks his criminality and authoritarianism because they feel like they’re a part of something greater, a collective belonging. The fact that that something is based on authoritarianism goes unnoticed is, in part, due to the lack of historical understanding of authoritarianism.
The counter is a movement that promotes active citizenship in daily life.