I’ve said before that I take after George Orwell. Disinformation scares me more than bombs. As bad as they are, bombs don’t lie. They don’t make it impossible to tell truth from falsehood. They are trying to kill you.
But there’s one thing that scares me even more than that. It’s indifference. As bad as things are right now, as unpopular as this president is, I don’t think enough Americans are scared enough, or enraged enough. As bad as things are, I fear that most people, but especially middle-class white liberals, are not inspired nearly enough to care.
White and relatively affluent people, even when they think of themselves as liberals, have the power to turn the whole thing off, as if it were just another tasteless reality TV show. They can go to work with other white and affluent people, maybe even a majority of whom think of themselves as liberal and not think much about it.
A major consequence of this being the world as it is: caring is a choice. Fascism is about punching down, but it’s not punching down on white people (not yet). To be sure, many white people do care about the damage Trump is doing to our communities and institutions, our discourse and democracy. That, however, is still a choice.
Another major consequence of this being the world as it is: even if white people care, do they care enough? I’m dubious. It’s natural to focus on the 2020 presidential election. My fear is most white liberals will celebrate if Donald Trump is defeated and then stop. They won’t go farther. They will pat themselves on the back, just as they did after Barack Obama’s victory, while ignoring, as they did after 2008, the fascist politics that would quickly take over the Republican Party within a mere two years.
The Republican Party no longer recognizes the validity and hence the legitimacy of Democratic control of any branch of state and federal government. Republican allies, especially white evangelical leaders, are whipping their followers into a frenzy, warning that impeaching the president is tantamount to defying God. Trump has already called rivals “enemies of the people” and “human scum.” Political violence is their one and only answer.
White liberals, I suspect, don’t care enough. But it’s not only because their skin color shields them from the worst of fascist politics (so far). Liberals, but especially white liberals, don’t truly understand why anyone would vote for a troglodyte like Trump. And they don’t understand, I suspect, because they have not experienced the depth of authoritarianism that animates him.
The right side of history might prevail. But even then, there’s no guarantee. Imagine, for instance, the president’s reaction to losing in 2020. Will he concede to the will of the people? Will he respect the peaceable transfer of power? No. He will no doubt blame defeat on an international conspiracy to bring him down, thus fueling and justifying any reaction, including political violence, to a new Democratic president.
JOHN STOEHR is the editor and publisher of The Editorial Board.