Past the Inflection Point

Dispatches from Dystopia

On Wednesday, January 6, Congress was set to count the electoral votes for the 2020 presidential election. It was supposed to be uneventful, largely ceremonial, the final step in acknowledging Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States. But nothing is uneventful anymore. Since he lost the election in early November, Donald Trump has refused to concede or acknowledge reality. Instead, he has encouraged his millions of followers to believe the fiction that he won, when in reality Trump lost by a significant margin. The media, which has been grossly ill-equipped to cover Trump during his tenure as president, was not up to the task of covering this latest debacle, either.

And it’s hard to make sense of any of this because the president of the United States has created an alternate reality and is supported in doing so by his staff, his family, his supporters and a shocking number of politicians more interested in their ambitions than their responsibilities to their communities, or their country.

Trump has destroyed most every cultural norm we used to take for granted. This cannot be said enough. Under his regime, truth is largely meaningless. What I mean is that we know things to be true, incontrovertibly true. But then Trump says truth is fake and replaces it with lies and behaves as if his lies are the truth. He has little reason to believe otherwise. There is nothing that stops him. There is no firewall. There is no reaching his supporters who either know he is lying but don’t care or who believe he is infallible, prophetic, and don’t care to consider alternative points of view.

For millions of Americans, Trump won the election but the “Democrats” stole the election from him even though he is supposed to be all powerful. His second term was stolen but all the down ballot victories and losses were legitimate. He is the “Law and Order” president, but does nothing to enforce law or order.

Contradictions mean nothing to these people. Contradictions are mere inconveniences. They wrap themselves in the elaborate fictions. Trump won and their precious votes were stolen and so when a group of MAGA acolytes gathered in Washington D.C. at a Save America rally and Trump regaled them with more ridiculous lies, stoking their anger further, they were primed to do exactly as he instructed. At his behest, they went to the Capitol. They stormed the building while Congress was counting the electoral votes. And for hours, they vandalized the Capitol and took pictures of the havoc they wreaked and livestreamed the festive mayhem because they were proud of what they were doing. They wanted to be seen. While some of the seditionists were clearly there to have fun, others moved through the building with military precision, wearing tactical gear, carrying a bundle of flex cuffs. They knew where they were going and what they were doing and it is horrifying to consider what might have happened.

What happened on January 6th was terrible. It was disgraceful and an international embarrassment. It was and still is terrifying. As we learn more about what happened, it’s clear that the seditionists had help from Capitol law enforcement and, maybe, even some politicians. These people did not travel to D.C. under assumed names. They did not hide their faces. They presumed that they had broad public support and that there would be no consequence for their treasonous actions. They had no reason to presume otherwise when the president of the entire country gave them permission.

On January 20th, Joe Biden will be inaugurated but between now and then, anything could happen. A great many of us are holding our breath, waiting for the next terrible thing. There are rumblings of coordinated attacks on all fifty state capitals. There are protests planned in D.C. And we have no idea how far these people will go. Or, we do know exactly how far they will go and we also know there may be no way to stop them. They are organized, and well-financed. They are people with disposable time and entitlement and a desperate need to preserve white supremacy. They abide by a scarcity doctrine and are willing to hoard resources at any cost.

The January 6th coup attempt revealed something many of us have known since Trump won the 2016 election—that there are two Americas and these countries may not be able to co-exist for much longer. We are so far past political division and differences of opinion and ideology. What we are seeing is the complete erosion of the fundamentals of both democracy and civility.

On Instagram, Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez shared that during the insurrection, she was in grave danger. She could not share the details but it was clear she is traumatized. She feared not only the seditionists, but also some of her Republican colleagues. And her fear is entirely justifiable. The panic buttons in Representative Ayanna Pressley’s office were torn out before the coup attempt began. If things had gone differently, she would have had no way of calling for help. There are reports that a representative gave some of the rioters a tour of the Capitol on January 5th, so they could reconnoiter the building. The danger came from both within and beyond Congress.

It feels dystopian to share these details. It is dystopian. Things are so fraught that AirBnB cancelled and blocked all stays in Washington D.C. during inauguration week. The Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote a letter re-iterating that the military serves the country and the Constitution which means they were worried enough to state the obvious. The National Guard is ensconced within the Capitol and are deployed around D.C. Everything is tinged with a sense of dread. If January 6th was the first shoe, what will happen when the other one drops?

In the wake of the coup attempt, metal detectors were installed in the Capitol, through which members of congress must pass. Some Republican members are not willing to comply with the most basic of security protocols. They say it’s “unconstitutional” or they simply walk around the machines or they pitch a fit until they get their way. They do this because they are probably armed and weapons aren’t allowed in the congressional chamber. They do this because petty defiance is a feature, not a bug. .

Anyone under the age of 30 has probably passed through a metal detector for more than half their life because the detectors are fairly standard in American public schools. They are a generation prepared for insurrection because our elected leaders refuse to do anything about gun control. And then those same leaders are unwilling to tolerate the very circumstances they created. Like I said, this is dystopia.

On January 13th, Donald Trump was impeached for a second time—a twinpeachment, if you will. Only ten Republican representatives voted for impeachment. Ten. Those who didn’t pontificated about country and duty and politics and mostly they were peacocking for the president and potential voters. They don’t care about the United States. They care about power and position and preserving their corrupt ideals. They are willing to disavow a fair and free election and surrender to fascism to do so.

I cannot believe that this is where we are as a country. I cannot believe the precarity we are facing. And for more than four years, black people and people of color more broadly have been talking about the danger we and our families are in. We have talked about the Grand Old Party’s willingness to destroy anything that stands in their way. We have talked about how dangerous and venal Donald Trump is. And we were told we were exaggerating. Or being paranoid and hysterical. We were not.

This is not about “economic anxiety,” or “culture wars” or “identity politics,” though, certainly white supremacy is the purest expression of identity politics. There is no seeking to understand people willing to commit acts of sedition because we already know everything about them we could possibly need to know. We are at an inflection point, one where white people need to deal with the problem of other white people. They need to figure out how to divest themselves of white supremacy. They need to disavow the people who won’t do so. They need to stop trying to minimize the severity of what happened on January 6th. They need to stop trying to empathize with or humanize people who gleefully defecated in the halls of Congress and destroyed public property and beat a police officer to death and were responsible for the deaths of four others. These people need to be shut out of public life until they deal with their racism which may well mean they need to be shut out of public life indefinitely. They do not deserve nice things. They will not be missed.

Every day I wake up. I kiss my wife. I work out. I hang out with our new puppy. I procrastinate and I work. I run errands. We have dinner with my parents who we are now in a bubble with, watch a movie after. I live my little life and if I don’t turn on the news or surf the internet, I can pretend everything is fine. And then I start reading the news and the weight of it all could nearly break me—so much violence, so much loss, so much that defies credulity. I know how we got here but I do not know how we move past this moment. I am disgusted. I am furious. I am exhausted.

Between 1791 and 1804, Haitians fought for their liberation and were victorious. They created a blueprint for the liberation of black people in other countries. And for the past 216 years, the world has made Haiti pay for freedom. How many years, I wonder, will the United States make black people pay for a black president?