On election night I posted a statement on facebook that said “I now know what January 30, 1933 was like.” This was a reference to the date when Adolf Hitler first came to power in Germany. Some people questioned my reasons for making the statement. This blog post gives more of the reasoning behind my concerns and feelings.
Are the implications of the recent election as bad as many are saying? I think the answer is that the implications are worse than most Americans have ever imagined. We are facing a social, political, and economic perfect storm that I truly believe has the potential to bring genocide to the United States.
While Donald Trump has certainly fanned and exploited the flames of discontent among rural white voters, he is hardly the cause of their distress. For more than a generation the American middle class, especially those who worked in manufacturing and are not college educated, have been losing ground and in the process losing hope and purpose. Meanwhile, there has also arisen a fetishistic gun culture that no longer sees firearms as hunting tools, but as symbols of power and security with a special focus on near military grade weaponry. This gun fetish has been reinforced and made more dangerous by those who claim a nonexistent constitutional right to resist governmental authority through armed rebellion shrouded in claims of patriotism.
This false idea of a right to armed resistance against our own government has permeated conservative culture and given rise to militia groups who are actively training for war against their fellow Americans. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Since 2008 antigovernment militias have grown rapidly in the United States and now number nearly 1,000 different groups that are armed, actively training, and just waiting for an excuse to start shooting people. It is only a matter of time until these groups find their cause for violence. Just days before the election we saw the jury trial and acquittal of armed members of the Bundy miliita who occupied federal lands at gun-point, and who had previously engaged in an armed show-down with federal agents who were trying to execute a judicial order. Thus, it appears that armed resistance to the rule of law in the United States has become acceptable.
For decades, the conservative call has been that America cannot reach it’s true potential due to liberals, democrats, immigrants and those who refuse to work, but want to rely upon government handouts. This message has morphed into an increasingly intolerant message of bigotry, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia that captures all but the conservative white Christian community.
It was these emotions, insecurities, and prejudices that Donald Trump tapped into during a campaign that resembled more of a reality television show than a competition of ideas envisioned by the founding fathers. By insulting and humiliating the established politicians, by ignoring truth for the sake of maintaining a narrative, he mobilized the forgotten and angry in our nation.
To understand the full implications of this election, it is important to look beyond the presidency (Executive branch) and it impact upon the legislative and judicial branches. It is my impression that people often view the president as all powerful, while ignoring the greater power and authority given to the legislative branch. After all, it is the legislative branch that passes laws, determines the budget, raises and lowers taxes. The current election has delivered a government where the Presidency and the legislative branch (House and Senate) are Republican controlled. There is no Democratic majority anywhere in government to force compromise. Furthermore, with one vacant Supreme Court seat, and more expected, there is an expectation that the Supreme Court will be packed with young highly conservative Judges who will impact American jurisprudence for decades to come.
This is where the danger lies. No political party can deliver nirvana no matter how unrestrained it can operate. This is one reason dictatorships so easily slide into genocide, they need a scapegoat. Additionally, Donald Trump cannot possibly remedy the distress of the disappearing middle class and make good on his promise to return jobs to America. Granted, he might persuade some manufacturing operations to return to the United States, especially if he removes environmental protections and gives them a free tax ride, but that’s not going to create jobs because manufacturing, which is increasingly robotized, no longer creates many jobs.
This gets to the actual crisis that we’re facing and why things can go so badly. The threat to the American middle class is not foreign labor, it’s technology which is automating jobs out of existence at an ever-accelerating rate. We can see this in just about every industry: the website airline check-in that displaces the airline counter employee; the self-checkout at the store that
displaces the cashier; the device on the restaurant table that lets you order food that displaces wait staff; intelligent farm equipment that displaces agricultural workers; the ATM and bank websites that displace bank employees; and e-readers that displace printers and bookstores. The future for employment looks even more bleak as we watch the development of self-driving vehicles which will displace truck and taxi drivers. Technology is even being developed that will eventually lead to robotic surgery.
Understand, when jobs go the impact is much greater than loss of a paycheck. For working-class Americans jobs are identity, they give meaning and purpose to our lives. Employment provides opportunities for social engagement and create a sense of being valued. We often hear the phrase that we should be “a contributing member of society”, which means, securing employment. The identity of middle class American is that of a worker.
So, what happens when Trump is unable to deliver the nirvana that he has repeatedly promised in his campaign rhetoric? What happens when not only doesn’t he deliver, but things continue to get worse for the middle class? What then?
I think we saw the answer in the campaign, Trump will find a scapegoat to vilify. There will be a group, or number of groups who will be blamed for the unsolved problems. There will be no “the buck stops here”, instead it will be tried and true conservative refrain of “Everything will be great except for those people”, and the vilification will begin. We saw Trump go to this time and time again during the campaign as he vilified groups such as calling Mexicans rapists, denouncing a respected Federal Judge of Mexican heritage, he spoke of banning Muslim immigration, he mocked the disabled, he bragged about sexually assaulting women, and he ended his campaign with a profoundly antisemitic advertisement. Short of a Willie Horton ad, he left no stone of bigotry unturned. I have no reason to believe that he won’t repeat his xenophobic scapegoating when the going gets tough during his presidency, which will inevitably happen.
The increasing economic inequality, along with the vilification of whatever group is chosen by Trump and other Republican leaders, the proliferation of militias and military style weaponry, and the decline in the rule of law are setting the stage for a genocide that could be both massive in size and scope while also destroying the fabric and integrity of the nation for generations to come. It is only a matter of time before hateful rhetoric, anger, ineffective government, and access to weapons designed for killing people results in mass violence and social chaos. Moreover, there will be little government incentive to stop it because the excess population of displaced workers will have no economic value to the nation and the victims are likely to be political opponents of the oligarchy power structure.
I’m sure there are those who read this who will write me off as simply a disgruntled liberal. Maybe history will prove them right. I hope so. However, I would remind you that so many who died during the Holocaust did so believing such a thing was impossible in Germany, a nation with a strong history of rule of law, education, and philosophy. Like the United States today, Germany was faced with massive economic disruption and an ineffective government that was defined by strife rather than action. The German middle class was disappearing and the people chose a political outsider who appealed to prejudice and nationalistic patriotism. In the United States today, the stage has been set for a repeat of history and we can only hope it takes a different course. Of course, the future remains unwritten, but there are storm clouds brewing in our nation and the problem is, if we follow the path of history, there may not be time and opportunity to find a safe haven.