This Perilous Moment

Yes, in this perilous moment there is chaos and danger. Trump is causing a lot of it. I am not going to say he’s causing all of it, as the root causes of the chaos and danger are older than his administration. Indeed, many of the root causes are older than he is. And just as there is fear and anger across the political spectrum, there are hotheads across the political spectrum throwing fuel on the fire.

Today we’re learning that a man under investigation for the shooting of a Trump operative in Portland Saturday night is known to be aligned with antifa. He is a white man, which doesn’t surprise me. I was sorry to hear this, because until now there were no deaths that could be associated specifically with antifa, compared to multiple deaths caused by right-wing violence in recent years. But now that there’s one, Trump and his goons will make the most of it and want every leftie in the country rounded up.

Charles Pierce, after noting that police departments are on the side of Trump’s thugs:

I honestly don’t know where this all leads. The president* is all but encouraging this behavior. (His planned trip to Kenosha on Tuesday already is grotesque.) It’s becoming more clear by the day that many law enforcement officials have chosen sides. It’s come to guns already and who’s to say we won’t have armed and rowdy caravans turning up at polling places on election day? Will the cops block intersections to let them pass through? I certainly wouldn’t bet against it. And what would the reaction to this be from the other side? I hope nobody’s counting on the Feds to maintain order the way they did in Mississippi in 1962, because the teams have switched jerseys. The only short-term answer I can see is de-escalation and, unfortunately and unfairly, that may have to come from the side with legitimate grievances. I have been fairly nauseated over the past few days as white pundits instructed black people on proper civil disobedience etiquette. But I have no problem telling the Caucasian auxiliaries/hangers-on/vandals to back the hell off.

De-escalation doesn’t mean surrender. It doesn’t mean you abandon the field. It means discipline and intelligence and a willingness to sublimate your emotions to both. A former Black Panther once told me that “Spontaneity is the art of fools.” That still holds. It is incumbent upon all of us not to help the president* wreck what’s left of the country.

Why doesn’t it surprise me that the alleged Portland shooter is a white man? Because the white guys as a rule never learned to be disciplined, never learned when to back off, never had to be careful. In all my years of going to demonstrations and protests it was always white guys who were the biggest assholes in the crowd.

But now it’s clear that Trump’s plan going forward is to foment as much chaos and destruction as possible and blame it on the Left. Let’s not help him.

Here’s your reading assignment:

Paul Waldman, Trump’s strategy: If you feel uneasy enough, you’ll turn to the strongman.

Greg Sargent, Trump’s vile tweetstorm reveals the ugly core of his ‘law and order’ campaign

David Atkins, White Supremacists Are Invading American Cities To Incite a Civil War

Charles Blow, Trump, Vicar of Fear and Violence

Nicholas Kristof, The Lawbreakers Trump Loves

Franklin Foer, How Donald Trump Is Killing Politics

Yoni Appelbaum, How America Ends

That last one was first published in December 2019, but it’s very much worth reading. It argues that the U.S. Right is facing an existential threat from changing demographics, and it isn’t likely to go down without a fight.

Instead of reaching out and inviting new allies into its coalition, the political right hardens, turning against the democratic processes it fears will subsume it. A conservatism defined by ideas can hold its own against progressivism, winning converts to its principles and evolving with each generation. A conservatism defined by identity reduces the complex calculus of politics to a simple arithmetic question—and at some point, the numbers no longer add up.

Trump has led his party to this dead end, and it may well cost him his chance for reelection, presuming he is not removed through impeachment. But the president’s defeat would likely only deepen the despair that fueled his rise, confirming his supporters’ fear that the demographic tide has turned against them. That fear is the single greatest threat facing American democracy, the force that is already battering down precedents, leveling norms, and demolishing guardrails. When a group that has traditionally exercised power comes to believe that its eclipse is inevitable, and that the destruction of all it holds dear will follow, it will fight to preserve what it has—whatever the cost.

See also Joe Biden smacks down Trump in Pittsburgh.