Some are furiously galvanized and organizing like mad. Some feel trapped in a surrealist movie, overwhelmed by confusion. Some have subsided into defeat and demoralization. The clash of paradigms is titanic, a tidal wave of protest crashing against the colossal ego of a uniquely unhinged and malevolent executive.
We have not been here before.
Tons of insightful analysis and practical advice are issuing from progressive groups. Every hour brings new petitions, talking points, and strategic propositions to counter the noxious river of cruelty, self-regard, and cynical bloviation gushing out of the White House. I have no doubt that people will be more active and better-organized this year than ever before: desperate to stanch the flow, they are pouring heart, soul, and muscle into the work of defending democracy. No one can know the outcome, but scenarios are flying, from early impeachment to a trumped-up coup d'etat to a terrorist attack from within (or as someone put it, a Reichstag moment).
We have been in some very tough places, but we have not been precisely here before.
Throughout the week since the inauguration, the ideas of Niccolo Machiavelli, an Italian Renaissance politician and writer, have been streaming through my mind. Machiavelli, who lived from 1469 to 1527, is most famous for his 1513 volume of practical advice for rulers, The Prince. His own political and diplomatic career ended in 1512, when the Medici defeated the Florentines, dissolving their republic. They had Machiavelli imprisoned and tortured, but he survived and retired to his estate to write. My quotations here are from the online Gutenberg edition of The Prince.
The Madman of Pennsylvania Avenue must surely be familiar with one of Machiavelli's best-known propositions, put forward in Chapter 17: "[W]hether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with." Why? Because love may be withdrawn with little risk: "[M]en have less scruple," Machiavelli wrote, "in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails."
This week, quite a few people have posted on social media an unattributed text, a litany of the terrible things the evil White House occupant has done in his first days in office, starting here:
Those who study authoritarian regimes suggest keeping a list of abnormal events after a demagogue is elected, as a way to remind yourself that this isn't normal and to keep from being overwhelmed into acceptance by the onslaught of attacks on our rights.Here is a list below. We are 4 days in.
As the author says, "when you see all of this in one list, it is easy to get overwhelmed, at first-- it is also easy to see a pattern and to finally, finally recognize that none of this is normal, nor is it ok.
When I consider this litany of crimes against the vulnerable--from cutting funding to the Department of Justice's Violence Against Women programs and Civil Rights Division to eliminating the Legal Services Corporation; from slashing federal cultural and public-interest communication programs to unleashing the reprehensible bigot Steve Bannon to denounce and threaten press freedom; from cutting half a dozen environmental and energy programs to reinstating the Dakota Access Pipeline, destroying sacred lands so many have stood to protect--I see a Bully-in-Charge, drunk on his own power, dying to be loved, settling for being feared, wallowing in attention, failing to recognize that the more revulsion and loathing he attracts, the sooner he is likely to drown in it. He sees himself as the leading edge of a new world order controlled by the one percent, and that hyperinflated self-understanding will be his downfall.