The year was 1933. The man was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
By Anatole d’Ecotopia
We are, at this writing, a week away from what increasingly looks like the most significant U.S. election in modern history… perhaps ever.
The stakes have only grown higher. The GOP’s predicted shotgun marriage of an under-qualified extreme right ideologue to the Supreme Court has been consummated as planned, precisely in time for Amy Coney Barrett to demonstrate her appreciation for that appointment, should Donald Trump succeed in his intention to turn the outcome of next week’s momentous election into a contested shitshow requiring a ruling from the most compromised high court in U.S. history.
At the same time, the equally predicted calamity of what can either be looked upon as a second wave of U.S. COVID-19 infections or proof that the first wave never peaked… is very much upon us. And the response to this is entirely in keeping with the current president’s predilection for claiming credit for the accomplishments of others while denying responsibility for his own failures. The official U.S. response to the greatest daily increase in reported cases since this nightmare began… is that the U.S. has given up on even trying to contain COVID-19.
In other (and damning) words: ‘it is what it is’.
There is perhaps some hope to be had in this final stretch that early voting is at all-time American highs. While there is certainly no way to determine whether voters are standing in long lines in the midst of a pandemic to vote out the worst president in U.S. history or display their cultic devotion to him, it seems unlikely that people who’s selfishness and self-absorption preludes so simple a display of civic responsibility as wearing a mask in public… have the commitment and self-discipline to stand in those lines.
No one wants to tempt fate by predicting a massive electoral repudiation of Trumpism and the Republican Party (they are, at present, one and the same), but it is at least possible. In the event this happens, the man sworn into office in January will be a middle of the road Democrat with a near total lack of demonstrated progressive tendencies and a political biography more noteworthy for its length than its accomplishments.
We have, however, been there before. The year was 1933. The man was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Just as Roosevelt’s biography was no predictor of his presidency, it is unfair to assume than any less might be true of Biden. Not only did FDR rise to the occasion of the existential challenges of worldwide war and depression, his administration responded to the vocal and continued demands of an engaged activist community. FDR was able to look past his own privilege and his own biography and set into motion profoundly transformative changes that made this country a better place for decades, setting into motion the postwar prosperity that enabled the middle-class stability so few of us can now expect — thanks to more recent decades of endless parasitic predation by corporatists, capitalists, and crooks.
Biden’s age, though frequently mocked by adversaries and critics, is perhaps equally a predictor. Joe Biden has years, not decades. He doesn’t have time to spare, he has exactly one chance to get any of this right. He has also shown an ability to admit mistakes, as well as learn from them. Very much, there remains the possibility that a Biden Presidency could transcend a mere course correction to the ship of state — that Biden himself could transcend the limits of his biography, could provide leadership toward actual, transformative change.
Then there’s the other possible outcome.
No one at this point has any expectation of Donald Trump admitting mistakes, much less learning from them. His “base” more or less adores him as the godlike personification of their own veniality, cruelty, and hatred — seeing neither mistake nor need of change. The only thing that can be expected to be any different if Trump is able to retain power past the end of the year (the likelihood that he would have actually “won” anything remains very doubtful), is that he will feel even more free to pursue vendettas against his opponents, stifle dissent, and manage the country’s governance to the benefit of himself, his family, and what might be considered his “friends”.
He will take whatever opportunities he can to further stack the high court with compliant hacks like Barrett, continue to place federal agencies in the hands of the very people those agencies are intended to regulate, continue to militarize police into an unaccountable private domestic army, and continue to refine the armed white supremacists who answer his dog-whistle tweets like the dogs they are into paramilitary insurgents.
There could easily come a point when writing words such as these could place the author at risk. When protesting police brutality or demonstrating against racial inequality results in even greater risk– as the rubber bullets are changed out for live rounds, the tear gas changed out for more lethal munitions. With the help of compliant technology companies, a surveillance state apparatus, and the occasional Russian hacker or two, Trump could achieve what Richard Nixon only dreamt of: an “enemies list” in the thousands.
But make no mistake: This too leads to transformative change.
Once this country has embarked on the misadventure of legitimizing the presidency of Donald Trump with a second term, there is really no turning back. At that point, by the standards of its own foundational documents, the country has delegitimized itself. As the country further descends into disease, bankruptcy, and madness, voices currently calling for reform will cease to do so.
They will instead call for revolution.
This will be a dangerous thing to do. Trump has already demonstrated an absolute proclivity for emulating the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. The dissident gulags of the Soviets will not be far behind — for all that you may be sure they will be wholesomely American and thoroughly capitalist gulags, ones that the burgeoning private prison industry will happily accept contracts for building.
But there comes a point at which the perils of taking action and the perils of doing nothing become more or less the same. There comes a point at which the only options are resistance and complicity. Then comes a point at which the rewards for complicity are so slighting and so tainted that only a fool or a coward would deign to take them.
When that point is reached, there will still be hope for the possibility of transformative change. But there will no longer be hope for America… merely hope for what succeeds it.