Today, a gaggle of armed fascists and white supremacists managed to break through four fences and a line of armed police to swarm into the Capitol Building. At the time of writing they are still occupying Congress. There is, in my view, little likelihood of them changing the results of the election, of Joe Biden being confirmed as the next president. But that is not the main takeaway.
We have become numb. Safe little phrases like “pandemic fatigue” don’t begin to cover it. Headlines about spiking death tolls and overwhelmed hospitals, new strains and nations cut off from the world interchange in our minds with news of friends and family sick or dead. The pain of intimate loss and the horror of the grand tragic-historical fill in for one another.
If the headlines are to be believed then a new relief bill is going to be passed any day now. Millions of people who have been tossed into poverty since the expiration of the CARES Act five goddamned months ago are going to finally be tossed a paltry lifeline. Whether it’s enough to lift them back out of poverty is an open question, given that the direct relief for working people – $600 stimulus checks, and an added $300 in weekly unemployment benefit supplement payments – is about half what it was back in the spring and summer.
Entering Donald Trump’s world felt like entering into a bad fiction. For me the feeling was amplified given that news of the elections reached me, in real time, high above the planet’s surface. Months before the 2016 elections I had booked a flight from Chicago (where I lived at the time) to London (where I was speaking at a conference) on election day. Like most people I was under the foolish impression that this puffed up billionaire reality star didn’t stand a chance.
Santa Claus is a fascist. He always has been and always will be. I can hear your shock and outrage at my writing that from here, but I have the facts on my side. Not only does this man run a sweatshop whose workers are basically treated like slaves, his whole reason for being is that he can bring gifts only to Christian kids. We’ve seen this type of selective charity before, but most of the time the groups that do it have been named things like “National Socialist People’s Welfare.”
From now on every autumn / will burn / The only question / will be whether the flames / are set by figments / or by nature.
In the vast warehouse of insufferable chestnuts that comprises popular American political wisdom, few are more cloying and useless than “democracy is not a spectator sport.” Not just for its thick-headed, football coach motivation-speech optimism, but because, by point of fact, American democracy has always been a spectator sport. It has always feared the mob, always relied on passivity to get its business done, and – if you’ll indulge another stupid sports metaphor – has always viewed the voting public as an inert crowd watching while the real action happens on the field.
EP Thompson saw Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the beginning of a new phase in world history. By itself this is not exceptional. Most historians, politicians and commentators, from across the political spectrum, saw the end of the Second World War and the dramatic shift in the geopolitical axis as the dawning of a new era. What set Thompson apart was the name he picked for the logic undergirding this new world: “exterminism.”
Already the air is febrile, anxious, begging to move. It is easy to find the demonstration, with so many walking in the direction of the park. Everyone wears masks. Most wear black, many carry signs: “George Floyd did not deserve to die,” “ACAB,” “Fuck12,” “Defund police,” and, of course, “Black Lives Matter.” A police helicopter hums overhead, the first of at least five we will see over the next few hours.
For the past month we’ve come to grips with this strange yet somehow familiar feeling: history happening without our permission. Of course that’s always been how it is. How many of us have ever truly felt we’ve had definitive control over events? Damn few of us, that’s who. But still, in our schedules, our social engagements, our celebrations and obligations and deadlines, we we’ve always been able to cobble together some sense that things move along. That something called a future is, despite everything, still in store. And with that, something called hope.