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Saturday, December 03, 2016


This ain't your mama's transition

by Tom Sullivan

It's Saturday, so you have some time to dig into two pieces that you may need to weather the storm. Historian Rick Perlstein compares two museums to explain how unprepared America is to confront what lies ahead:

There is a museum at the former site of the GESTAPO headquarters in Berlin. It is searing and frank: a history of the relationship of the Nazi party and the people of Berlin, telling a story of the way ordinary Germans made Hitler’s rise possible. Berliners flock to it. When I visited, the line of people shuffling past the informational panels was three or four deep, everyone meditating on this awful indictment of their grandparents’ generation.

There may be such museums in the United States, but I’ve never seen one. I’m more familiar with museums like the one memorializing the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, where two domestic terrorists who despised the U.S. federal government killed 168 people, including 19 children in daycare. Unlike the museum in Berlin, the Oklahoma City museum is meant to be uplifting: Heroic first responders rush toward the explosion. A doctor performs makeshift surgery with a pocket knife. Around one corner, an authentic pile of rubble betokening the awesome power of the blast. Around the next, a miracle—the Bible that emerged unscathed.

Other sections narrate a thrilling police procedural: the truck axle thrown three blocks clear of the blast, whose miniscule identification number allowed intrepid investigators to uncover where Timothy McVeigh had rented the truck he turned into a bomb. The officer who, in an extraordinary coincidence, pulled over the getaway car because of its missing license plate and apprehended the sullen young man in the “Sic Semper Tyrannis” T-shirt. The arrest, the trial—justice.

Of course, the museum also tells the story of how Oklahoma “came together.” It almost frames bombing as a blessing. “Caring Communities Provide Safe Havens,” one panel read, above a picture of a church.

I saw the word “terrorism” only once, in a self-congratulatory text about how initial suspicions of “Muslim terrorists” were overcome, fair-minded Americans turning their rage on a corn-fed American boy instead: another blessing, this opportunity to prove that America was not racist. There was no mention of right-wing talk-radio host G. Gordon Liddy advising his listeners the previous year to confront agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Fireams: “Go for a head shot; they’re going to be wearing bulletproof vests.” Or Newt Gingrich’s Republican revolutionaries taking over Congress via rhetoric depicting the federal government as an alien occupying army. Or Jesse Helms informing President Bill Clinton that if he visited North Carolina, he should bring bodyguards.

A political cartoon on display depicted someone asking, “How many hurt?” The answer: “260 million Americans”—the entire U.S. population at the time. The implication, of course, is that no one except four people—one duly executed by lethal injection, another in jail for the rest of his life, a third sentenced to 12 years and a fourth granted immunity—had anything to do with creating the political context of antigovernment rage that made the bombing possible.

This denial is how a childlike nation gets past trauma. It demonstrates how unprepared our nation is for the trauma about to be visited upon it.
Perlstein's point, backed up by election night coverage, is that the natural inclination for Americans and the press is to look for silver linings, to treat things as though nothing out of the ordinary took place, for how we can "come together," and not to confront the dark side. When Trump's promises prove hollow, should his policies lead to "global financial panic and geostrategic chaos," Trump's followers have been primed for whom to blame. It won't be Trump. It will be the national and international consortioum of "quislings in the media. The (Jewish) financiers. The immigrants. The Muslims. The liberals. The 'Republican establishment.' Nasty women."

In her concession speech, Perlstein writes, Hillary Clinton took the Oklahoma City route. Typical boilerplate, nothing to indicate that what is coming will be a "test of our institutions," that what had just happened represents a coming breach of contract with the U.S. Constitution. She attempted instead to calm the waters, to wish her opponent God speed, to keep the markets from tumbling. Perlstein reminds readers, "Traders at the New York Stock Exchange chanted, 'Lock her up.'” This ain't your mama's transition.

Before we start resisting, we had best come to terms with how we got here, something for which Perlstein is not sure we as a people have the constitution. For those who recognize the danger, however, there will be a tendency towards a Ready-Fire-Aim approach.

Right after the election, I took calls from a lot of new volunteers (several registered independent) anxious to do something, anything. When are the protests? (Protesting what was unclear.) One got angry last Saturday after a regular meeting he considered a waste of time. We need to do something NOW, he insisted. We need white boards and strategy meetings and a game plan, etc. (For what was unclear.) Yet there's a party election on Monday fill a seat vacated by a local Democrat who won higher office on November 8. We still have a governor's race unresolved here. Vote counts are still underway and data is incomplete. State Republicans are still scheming for a way Pat McCrory can pull out a win with fewer popular votes the way Trump has. Our county chair responded, "I need to analyze before I can strategize."

To that point, Tina DuPuy has some surprisingly upbeat recommendations for those about to take on the incoming administration. Trump is "a formulaic dictator. There are formulas for getting rid of those." DuPuy, who covered Occupy for The Atlantic, suggests it might be best to start by looking outside the U.S. for people who actually have taken on autocrats and won. (Please, no Occupy, she advises.) Branding is important: "don’t use resistance when you mean rejection," DuPuy writes:
There are tons of protest movements that have won. Everyone who’s terrified of these democratically elected white nationalists being in charge of the largest military in the history of humanity, should get to know the late-90’s Serbian group, Otpor (Serbian for Resistance). When I was at Occupy LA, interviewing an activist, an Otpor handbook fell out of her backpack. For a moment, I thought Occupy was going to be successful because they had a strategy and a blueprint they just weren’t telling us about it yet. I was wrong. Otpor, through non-violent struggle ousted the tyrant Slobodan Milošević, who died in jail while on trial in The Hague for war crimes. They know how to take down monsters. They wrote a handbook. Read it.

We’ve also had incredibly successful social movements in this country. The first one that comes to mind is the Civil Rights Movement. Civil Rights icon John Lewis will still be serving in Congress in Trump’s America. Lewis survived the last time America was “great” and has since made it fairer for all peoples. He’s written what are essentially guidebooks on non-violent struggle. Read them.

The Equal Rights Movement had huge wins for gay marriage, open military service for LGBT Americans and greater legal protections. They’ve won countless battles. How’d they do that? I could write up a report of all the elements that they had and how they won. But you can ask the leaders — many are still with us. Talk to them. Listen to them.
But she offers one way of making "coming together" work:
Most Americans didn’t vote for Trump. We need all of them. We need fair-minded Republicans. We need Establishment Democrats. We need those who’ve pledged to defend the Constitution against all enemies both foreign and domestic. We need activists and community leaders. Trump wants to build walls and tear families apart. We have to build bridges. Mend fences. We, The People, cannot be divided. This means working with people with whom we disagree — even those who vowed to obstruct Obama — even those who enthusiastically bought into right-wing propaganda about Hillary — even those who still lament that Bernie lost — religious leaders — educators — we need them. This is a new world. We’ll never have Monday, November 7th back. People of conscience will have to have their long game in mind or we’ll lose every battle to a septuagenarian with a man crush on Russia’s autocrat Vladimir Putin because Putin once said something nice about him.
That may be a tall order for people still processing their anger and pain. But there is more than an election or a majority to lose here. I'm still looking for where the next few years will take me, us, lest future generations file past informational panels indicting this one.