As my grief about last week’s election settles into something resembling normalcy, I find myself of two minds. You’ve seen a lot of my first reaction: fight. I continue try to understand how this happened, although my appetite for “understanding Trump voters” is limited. As far as I’m concerned, the values of inclusion and empathy far outweigh the personal interests that seem to have motivated many of his voters (or at least the ones willing to admit it publicly). In other words, I think upholding the ideals of freedom of the press, equal treatment under the law and respect for all people, regardless of color or creed, is much more important than worrying about my own personal circumstances. It’s been depressing to learn that’s not the same way for everyone.
I’ve also read with some trepidation what some historians say that this nationalistic and isolationist trend tells us about the potential path we may be on. I’ve wondered most of my life: if all empire falls, and we’re the biggest empire humanity has ever seen, where are we in that cycle? What does it mean in terms of technological advance? In other words, no empire has fallen with so much in the way of communication and record-keeping as ours… what would the world look like post-American supremacy?
Call me sentimental, but I hope to never see it.
Growing up in this vast and seemingly well-oiled machine, it has been easy to look at the upheavals of history and be glad that those are behind us. Revolutions, famines, and even wars that impact daily life seem like things that happened in other places and times. I lulled myself into thinking that we were safe from all that.
This cataclysmic loss, and some of the early signs of the appointments and policy decisions that will be made have highlighted for me just how fragile the seemingly rock-solid institutions really may be. When faced with someone with a “strong man” mentality, one who believes in the cult of one instead of the collective rule of law enshrined over two and a half centuries, what horrors are possible? How much do our institutions hold up, resist, fight back? Does the press stay independent or does it succumb to state control, like in Russia? Do we fight for civil rights, or do we tell each other that anything goes because we’re scared of terrorism? The early signs are troubling, and the tendency of a vocal part of the populace to be done with things like protection of all religions are upsetting.
I am, for the most part, optimistic. But I do think it’s critical to listen to students of history to understand how this fits into a larger narrative. Brexit, the rise of extreme right, white supremacist groups, and, of course, the results of the U.S. presidential election point to something. But to what? The last throes of a resistance to globalization, so inevitable in a world of fast transport and instantaneous communication? Or a concerted effort to push back civilization to a time when the dominant group found it more manageable? Hard to know. But worth watching and speaking out about.
People on the cusp of the destruction of their society never see it coming. In fact, they tend to laugh off the warnings, and label those seeing the gathering storm clouds as paranoid and pessimistic. People didn’t see World War I coming, although the signs were there. People discounted the lengths to which Hitler would go, appeasing him and ignoring him until it was much too late. And those are just two examples from just the last century.
Click here for one historian’s prediction.
And click here to read a piece about the disturbing similarities between 1913 and 2013, still prescient today.
And then send me links to the cheerier interpretations of things, because I want more than anything to feel hope.