As I mentioned last week, while we were having our apartment repainted we went on a big road trip. One of our stops was Philadelphia, where we’d planned to see the museums and historical sights like Independence Hall. It so happened we arrived the day after election day. To our surprise, our hotel, which was close to the Convention Center, was around the corner from the nationally televised political protests about the Pennsylvania vote count.
We kept back a bit from the protests out of coronavirus concerns, and also out of some concern for possible violent conflicts. There was a big group that supported counting all the votes and another than supported four more years of Trump. The protesters, a diverse group, were peaceful while we were there, but loud, with lots of drumming, chanting, and dancing. There were hovering helicopters and a lot of police, but they rode bicycles, rather than military vehicles, and looked relaxed.
The next day, we’d planned to visit the Barnes Foundation museum, but it was closed. Instead, we spent the morning in the Mutter Museum, a collection of medical specimens and oddities, including numerous skulls and other body parts. As a former surgical technologist, Sally was keen to take all this in, while for me it was intriguing but trying. Confronting death can wear you out. After the Mutter, we walked to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has a world class collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting, among other attractions — art comfort food.
As we walked back from the PMA toward the protests the next afternoon, a young Black man approached from the other direction, and said as he walked by, “White people are angry about Trump.” I thought at first he was looking for solidarity, and I said something like, “They have good reason to be.”
What I was thinking was, Yes, Trump supporters are unhappy about losing, and that’s just fine. But I realized almost instantly that my comment was ambiguous, and I probably sounded to him like a Trump supporter. He most likely had assumed that I, as a white person and no spring chicken, was a MAGA type, and was hoping to rile me a little. Since, unfortunately, the majority of people who looked more or less like me voted for Trump, this would not be an unreasonable assumption. But still, it felt a bit unfair. It isn’t nice to be stereotyped! As any Black American could tell you.
One day, race may be a matter of only historical interest in America, but right now that day doesn’t seem anywhere close to happening. Race is still a significant driver in our political alignments and has all sorts of subtle influences in our personal lives.
I’ve been genuinely puzzled that many mostly sane white people characterized the Black Lives Matter protests as mainly violent and scary, rather than mainly peaceful and hopeful. Part of the reason may be Fox News and similar media that focused obsessively on rare violent episodes and generally ignored the much more prevalent non-violent expressions.
But here’s another possible explanation: in the American caste system, protests relating to race will always be viewed as violent, or at least, as threatening violence. Indeed, a serious challenge to oppression of the subordinate caste is by definition a threat to the existing order. Loud, rhythmic chants to end police killings of Blacks will sound to some like violent attacks against civilization.
For those with comfortable positions in the caste system and unquestioning commitment to it, it’s hard to conceive of protests by Black people that are peaceful. Thus such peaceful protests are redefined as violent invasions. Which are likely coming to the suburbs! Our minds do some strange things.
As of this writing, Trump has still not conceded that he lost the election, and has an army of unprincipled lawyers and hacks making evidence-free arguments and threats to get judges, election officials, or legislators to change the result. One upon a time, this would have been considered scandalous, borderline criminal, or just criminal.
For lots of us now, it’s just Trump being Trump, that crazy old uncle, at it again with the stories. But amazingly, about half of Republicans now believe that he won. That is, many, many Republicans are buying his whole cloth lie that the election was a fraud and our entire system is not to be trusted.
This is fascinating from a social-psychological point of view, but fairly alarming from every other point of view. I keep thinking we’ve finally hit bottom in terms of Americans’ gullibility and capacity for destructive self delusion, and keep discovering, no, it just got worse.
The good news, or at least, the less appalling news, is that he’s also starting to talk about possibly running for President in 2024. Presumably he understands that he could not do this if he had won in 2020. So it’s looking unlikely that he’ll stage an actual coup at this time, but he might be back to promote Act II of Trumpworld before we’ve fully recovered from Act I.
In the meantime, he’ll likely continue his B grade showmanship for his grotesque and deplorable enthusiasms. His ratings will likely slip. But the dark forces that animate him, including racism and xenophobia, have been with us since long before he hit the scene, and whatever he does, they are not about to suddenly vanish.
One good thing Trump accomplished was to pull back the covers on some deep American problems. While whipping up our traditional fears of those who are different, he’s also exposed the close relationships among racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, speciesism and other forms of othering. We’ve been schooled in these closely related systems of dominance and hierarchy for so long that they feel natural. But they’re human creations, and we’re capable of undoing them and doing better.
So for those who are wondering, what are we going to do now that we’re almost done with the daily possibility that there’s about to be yet another Trump moral disaster, not to worry. First, we’ll catch up on our sleep. Then, for those who are interested in working on building a more just, equitable, and peaceful world, there’s almost no risk of running out of interesting projects.
As to these pictures: Sally and I went to the Carolina Raptor Center near Charlotte last week and saw some beautiful birds that were either being rehabilitated or were unable to live in the wild. It was inspiring to spend some time with these remarkable creatures.