America is on a war path
A few days ago, a car drove through a Black Lives Matter protest in Times Square. Maybe it hit home because I had been considering going, or maybe it was following the story online and scrolling though the endless comments. It was clearly an intentional act meant to physically harm protesters. That’s attempted murder. Yet, many internet comments defended the driver and attacked the protest — ‘That’s what you get for blocking the street, lol.’ The ramming took place in a crosswalk while the driver had a red light in an area that is mostly a massive pedestrian plaza with only limited car access. But it wasn’t about details or facts, it was about politics. The real comment was that many people supported violence against the protesters. By police, citizens, it didn’t matter.
In 2017 Heather Heyer was killed at a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia when a right-wing zealot intentionally drove through the crowd. It was a huge deal — that just didn’t happen in this country. Protesters almost never get killed. They get arrested by the busload, but they don’t get killed.
That’s changed this summer; and I fear that trend will only accelerate.
A disclaimer: this year has been wildly unpredictable and civil unrest always is, so while anything can happen it does seem all the ingredients are present for a bloody climax to 2020. I’ve spent much of my adult life living in politically unstable nations in the developing world and have witnessed large scale civil unrest before. How exactly it manifests is always different and often surprising but the lead up is similar: tribalism, apathy or antagonism toward the state and a desensitization of escalating violence.
Democratic institutions and social mores that have existed for generations are rapidly losing relevance and that power void will be exploited and filled.
The nightmare scenario of a disputed election doesn’t seem like an edge case, it seems like a realistic outcome, even probable. There will be lots of voting by mail this year — because we are also in a global pandemic which is a real wild card here — and those votes will almost certainly favor Biden. It’s not far-fetched to imagine Trump being ahead or close on election night then falling behind but not accepting the results. He has been conditioning his base for just such a scenario for months already and that’s important, that he maintains that base. And that base is not just extremely loyal but also seemingly supportive of political violence. We are at the point where his supporters will cheer a car driving through a protest in New York City and hold up a murdering militia member in Kenosha, Wisconsin as a Patriot. How much violence will that base support in November? Likely a lot more than they do now and it’s already quite a lot.
I imagine an opposition to Trump will coalesce that is willing to fight back, though that resistance will be severely fractured with many condemning those on their side who use more aggressive tactics. I don’t think Trump supporters will be divided nearly as much.
One of the problems in this nation is that might equals right. It always has. There is so much blind tribalism these days that it almost won’t matter who actually won in a contested election. Lots of Democrats will preach about ‘following the process’ while Trump supporters run over people.
Without a clear majority that cannot be questioned by any reasonable observer, I fear whoever brings the most guns will win. This isn’t a climax to 2020 though, it’s the climax to this empire. Trump is not some outlier; he is the product of a system that has been broken for a long time.
There is a place for optimism though. Great change is almost always born of disaster. And real change will come from the bottom up. There’s something else in the air besides impending doom, it’s hard to quantify and counterintuitive at times but it seems there is also a trend toward critical thought, openness to new ideas and solidarity. So, while all the ingredients of our demise are present, so too are those of something better.
Will a bloody Fall be a turning point, a bottom from which a better system and culture emerges? Or will we just double down, awaiting an even bigger collapse?