On Wednesday, January 20th, 2021 Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. with Kamala Harris will be inaugurated as the 46th president and vice-president of the United States of America. If anything emerges from the last four years of American politics it is that one must rely upon one’s own choices in the matter.
From the outset Donald J. Trump has distinguished himself on the public stage as preposterous. Even before his official introduction to political office he was canvassing conspiracy theory and telling lies. The Republican party presidential nomination debates were raucous and raw. After Trump’s squeaky and unanticipated election as president of the United States of America his evident lack of intellectual capacity was best echoed by then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who characterized Trump as a “fucking moron“. In the four years that followed Trump enflamed fear of unsubstantiated threat and constantly provoked division among Americans. The nadir of his perversion was the attack by his supporters on Capitol Hill on January 6th, 2021.
Trump has not been alone in his appearance of incongruity. Whether it was Kellyanne Conway or any number of other front-line lackeys who always seemed strangely distorted, or a succession of alcoholic-looking mobsters who ended in jail for one offence or another, or the comic and screaming performers of FOX NEWS, or latterly the QAnon and mercenary weirdos like Rudy Giuliani, or even Trump’s own family members like cartoon sons Don Jr. and Eric or daughter and fashion model Ivanka Trump and her disturbing husband Jared Kushner with his mottled past, all of them cultivated a seething mess of discordant and nefarious objectives.
By contrast the Democratic contenders are predominantly well-spoken and promote such radical ideas as universal health care, education and infrastructure improvement while at the same time advocating for unity among Americans. Trump defaults constantly and inevitably to disparity and contrast. To the moment of his departure from office tomorrow there persists apprehension about what absurdity is next.
It is almost impossible for Canadians fully to comprehend the persuasion of White Supremacy and minority intolerance without having lived in America’s mid-west or Confederate states. The depth of insinuation far surpasses reason. Yet it is dangerously close to the knee-jerk reaction one has to tattoos or turbans or lisps or bow-ties or Cadillacs or women in pantsuits. As long as we model our thinking upon preconceived notions we’re doomed. Certainly there are some palpable differences between us all but the governor must be another strength not a moderate weakness.
Whether it is the pursuit of relief from the pandemic or return to normal business, all Americans will ultimately have a similar goal. It is no accident that one politician lately condemned the Capitol insurrectionists by telling them to get a job! America’s problems are just that fundamental and it doesn’t require a Marxist or a capitalist to get the point. Americans as a whole are exhausted by four years of moaning and accusation. People no longer have any interest in esoteric differences; leave that for bar room controversy but not kitchen table gabble. We’ll still all have our prejudices but there’s no reason to have them dominate whatever else we have in common. We don’t all need to like the same Broadway show or to vacation in the same spot or to drive the same car or to prefer the same hairstyle. And we can accommodate the differences without defeating the rights of others to do the same. It is this utter absence of high-grounded opinion which has contaminated the Trump era and from which so many are anxious and determined to resile.
Trump administration spinmeisters, Fox News bloviators, and other members of the chattering classes like to blame anti-racism demonstrations and other disruptions on “the left,” usually amplified with adjectives such as “the far left’ and “the radical left.”
They might as well blame unicorns or Sasquatch. The fact is, there is no “left” in this country and there hasn’t been since at least the 1930s.
While progressive ideas like universal health care, higher education for all, and reducing income inequality may seem quite radical in this country, they are decidedly mainstream, and in the political center, in most of the industrialized world.
What we really have in this country is a political spectrum that is heavily skewed to the dishonest right. The left side of the curve is severely truncated close to the center while the right extends out into space.
Does any of this matter? Of course it does. This is part of an on-going campaign by Trump and his Republican enablers to stoke fear of “The Other,” whomever that might be.
Refugees fleeing violence in Central America? “An invasion of our country by drug gangs and rapists.”
People demonstrating against police violence? “Riots organized by radical leftists.”
QAnon, the Deep State, “the-Sandy-Hook-massacre-was-staged-to-take-your-guns” all create alternative realities that too many people actually believe.
Whipping up hysteria against “The Other” worked for Joseph Goebbels in Germany in the 1930s, and it works for Trump and his enablers today. How else to explain the fact that white working-class people have been voting against their own interests for years. The simple GOP strategy is: “Keep ’em distracted with nonsense while we’re picking their pockets.”
Trump has squeezed moderates out of his party. If he wins reelection, the result will be to squeeze moderates out of American politics altogether. I hope that educated conservatives think hard about what will happen if Biden’s moderate-left campaign fails: It is extremely unlikely that its adherents and spokespeople will shrug their shoulders and decide that, yes, Trump is right after all. They are much more likely to move further to the extremes. Americans will witness the radicalization of the Democratic Party, as well as the radicalization of the powerful and influential intellectual, academic, and cultural left, in a manner that we have never before seen. A parallel process will take place on the other side of the political spectrum—one that has started already—as right-wing militias, white supremacists, and QAnon cultists are reenergized by the reelection of someone whom they have long considered to be their defender.
Unfortunately, history offers very few happy endings to that kind of story. In the past, cumulative extremism has usually subsided in one of two ways. It can culminate in a full-scale civil war that one side or the other wins—which is what happened in the U.S. in the 1860s. Alternatively, it can end thanks to the emergence of moderate forces on both sides, often with the aid of outsiders, who take the political momentum away from the extremists.
“Unfortunately, with the rioting that is occurring in many of our cities around the country, the voices of peaceful protests are being hijacked by violent radical elements,” (Attorney General William) Barr said. “In many places it appears the violence is planned, organized, and driven by far-left extremist groups and anarchic groups using Antifa-like tactics.”
Antifa, short for the word “anti-fascist,” is a loose group of radical activists that has emerged over the past several years in order to confront white supremacists, right-wing extremists, and others it deems as fascist. Often dressed in all black and wearing black face masks (so called black bloc tactics), Antifa has been known to use violent tactics, particularly amidst mass protests and other times of heightened tension. Past examples of Antifa protests include taking part in violent anti-capitalist marches, protesting a 2017 speech by alt-right speaker Milo Yiannopoulus in Berkley, California, and protesting the “Unite the Right” rally held at Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
This is a lot more complicated because of our deeply divided political environment. Over the past several years, President Trump has used the term “radical left” to describe almost every single one of his political opponents, ranging from former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ilhan Omer, and others. Just last month, President Trump said in a Tweet that “[t]he Radical Left is in total command & control of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google.” And on Monday morning once again President Trump used the term “radical left” in association with former Vice President and current Presidential candidate, Joe Biden.
In other words, in President Trump’s mind, and the minds of his supporters, the radical left and far left are interchangeable terms for Trump’s political adversaries. Using this term has been a tried-and-true tactic of the President since his election in 2016, and as a result, the terms have become divorced from their more classical political meaning – which includes political views that fall outside of mainstream democratic and liberal perspectives. By increasingly painting all Democratic views as “radical left,” President Trump has negated the real meaning the words.
But anyone who is truly worried by these tendencies should fear the consequences of a second Trump administration even more. Anyone who actually cares about academic freedom, or the future of objective reporting, or the ideas behind the statues built to honor American democrats in the country’s public squares, must hope that Trump loses. If he wins a second term, extremism on the left will not be stopped. It will not grow quieter. Instead, extremism will spread, mutate into new forms, and gradually become entrenched in more areas of American life.