The New Abnormal

More than four years ago, not long after my father’s death, I wrote a tribute to my partner entitled, “Beautiful People, the Whites“; it remains the most widely shared piece I’ve written, but I was surprised to find it still online, as I’d been under the impression that my Medium posts had come down (at least outside the Wayback Machine) with the closure of my account as I transitioned to my own WordPress-hosted blog. That’s surveillance capitalism for you.

My father’s death and the emergence of our current President as a viable political force in this country launched me into what felt at the time like an explosive period of productivity, and my first round of writing that was properly public (if modestly so). I worked a lot more then, and was not as fully awake to my own conscience as I am today, and that period of production pales in comparison to the bought in the midst of which I remain. Still, I’m gratified that those pieces have aged relatively well, and pleased, for my own narrow purposes this afternoon, that they remain up for me to reference here.

During 2016, in writing about fascism, white supremacy, and other obvious or emergent features of US life, I received a great deal of pushback from friends and relatives. Some felt personally targeted. Some felt I was being histrionic. Some accused me of being sloppy with my words. A handful of those encounters became quite heated, though I’m thankful that love, generosity, and a constructive urge won out in all instances in the end.

I write this less to vindicate my past self (as I was obviously nowhere near the leading edge of political critique), and more to point to how radically our politics have shifted in four years. Today, it’s become quite routine – in casual conversation and across much of the mainstream media – to characterize our President as a white supremacist, and, by extension, at least in some cases, to acknowledge the long history of structural racism and white supremacy in this country; that is, good liberal people in the United States no longer simply think of hooded KKK members when the term white supremacy is employed. Now, they think of the President of the United States.

Last night, my partner looked up in shock from her phone and asked: “Have you seen these images from Pittsburgh?”

I had not. I’d just been writing about Pittsburgh’s response to the flu pandemic in 1918, but – having seen images from Michigan, Minnesota, and elsewhere – gathered that this was about the protests, and what shocked my partner also shocked Juan González, the co-host of Democracy Now! Here’s what he had to say on this morning’s episode:

And what troubles me most about this is how right-wing extremists are brandishing automatic weapons, and they’ve become regular features of these protests, and with the man in the White House saying nothing to condemn this form of intimidation. And obviously, most of them are Trump supporters.

And I’d like our viewers and listeners to ask themselves a question: If hundreds of African Americans or Latinos showed up in cities around the country brandishing automatic weapons, what would be the response of the country to this? Why is this being almost accepted and normalized now as a method of protest? And my fear is that this will become normalized over the next few months as we head toward a bitter national election. And we should make no mistake, that this country is edging closer and closer to neo-fascist authoritarianism.

He’s so damn right. Fascism doesn’t show up one day and declare: “Hi. I’m fascism, and I’m here to overthrow your government.” In Germany – even in the extraordinary historical pressure cooker of the Weimar years – more than a decade passed between the formation of the Nazi party and Hitler’s rise to power. In India, the Hindutva project of the RSS has been slowing gaining strength for nearly a century, and almost 20 years have passed since the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat that – despicably – established Narendra Modi as a force in Indian politics. Sadly, frighteningly, other examples abound around the world today, but coming immediately to the point that González already made, we are now trembling on the precipice of actual fascism.

Wall Street continues to get what it wants from this Administration. From Silicon Valley, Marc Andreessen pretends to carve out a neutral politics of “the building of things” while not so quietly becoming closely aligned with Charles Koch. The US media can’t even stop promoting ISIS propaganda, let alone the re-election campaign of this vicious ignoramus in the White House.

Meanwhile, Amazon-owned Whole Foods can’t give its workers paid sick-leave, but it can surveil them to preempt unionization. New York nurses can’t get adequate PPE and are dying of COVID-19, but are nonetheless pressured to work even when sick, including in capacities for which they’re not qualified. Documented cases of the spread of COVID-19 owing to in-person voting in Wisconsin are showing up. The New York Times reports on ~30,000 “Missing Deaths” globally (after examining excess death rates for only 11 countries) – deaths, alone, which would increase the global death toll by nearly 20%. And in a mixed piece of news, as-yet-un-peer-reviewed studies from the Bay Area and LA County suggest – based on potentially unreliable serological tests – infection rates may be as much as 50x higher in California than official numbers suggest. We can dig into the ramifications of that unsurprising finding another time.

For now, I have a Zoom call, so I’ll close with the words of Anand Teltumbde, to whose “Letter to the People of India,” I’ve linked previously, and who is now in jail in India under a draconian and much-abused law:

An individual like me obviously cannot counter the spirited propaganda of the government and its subservient media. The details of the case are strewn across the internet and are enough for any person to see that it is a clumsy and criminal fabrication.

As I see my India being ruined, it is with a feeble hope that I write to you at such a grim moment. Well, I am off to National Investigative Agency custody and do not know when I shall be able to talk to you again. However, I earnestly hope that you will speak out before your turn comes.

Will you?

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