The unimaginable has happened. The Nightmare Scenario, that thing that seemed impossible, has come to pass. The United States has played Russian roulette with itself and lost. It is difficult to find the words to capture just how profoundly awful this outcome is. Trump ran on a promise of deporting 11 million people and banning Muslims from entering the country. The immediate safety of those groups is very much in question.
Donald Trump has won the office of the President of the United States. After a 19-month campaign that encompassed the worst tendencies of the United States, it seemed possible that the worst outcome would not happen. Not so. This country now has a white supremacist as its president. Although Trump may have temporarily disavowed David Duke, make no mistake: The David Dukes of the world have won the day. There is no question who Trump is, and there never has been. To his accidental credit, Trump was incapable of hiding his sexist, racist, xenophobic impulses. He showed them to America, and the country said “yes.”
What Donald Trump has shown us is that the majority of American voters want a white supremacist in the Oval Office. He ran on an ethno-chauvinist platform that always intentionally excluded people of color from the basic promises of society, by definition. That is the terrible conclusion compelled by Occam’s razor: A vast number of the people who populate the United States want to be led by a white supremacist.
Americans are confronted now with the real issue of resistance. We have to resist.
What we all must understand is that there is no longer a worst-case scenario. The nuclear technicians who endorsed Clinton mean nothing now. Whistleblowers, under Trump: Good luck. And good luck to all the media outlets Trump’s good friend Peter Thiel wants to take an axe to as well.
We are in uncharted waters. Many critics have compared Trump to Hitler, but most have missed the mark. It’s been 92 years since Hitler’s failed beer hall putsch, also on November 8 and 9, 1923. That attempt to oust the national government failed, but it showed Hitler’s prowess and ultimately established him on the national stage in Bavaria. The failed coup landed Hitler in jail, but a sympathetic judge offered a lenient sentence, and by the mid 1920s Hitler was again agitating for the power on a platform that centered the annihilation of the Jews. Not enough Germans disrupted that project. The United States may well skip the stage of the 1920s and go right to the more mechanized stage of destruction.
With Trump at the helm, who knows.
The man has promised to deport 11 million undocumented people. He has promised to impose a ban on entering the country for Muslims. Let no one forget that he bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy.” What the lessons of early 20th-century fascism tell us, though, is that a dictator can be down but not out. Regardless of Trump’s terrifying rise, liberalism hasn’t had enough to say about the appeal of right-wing fanaticism. And still, when a human tells you of their plan to carry out a project of white supremacy through deportation, as Trump has promised for the United States, we would do well to listen to him.
Grotesque fascism has won the day. Years from now, a younger candidate may well be able to generate even more support among white women, a group Trump won, and still retain Trump’s devoted base and have a shot at continuing Trump’s administration.
Donald Trump is a fanatic, and his fanaticism takes the form of extreme narcissism most prominently. It’s true that his misogyny and racism go back decades, but even as late as 2012 he was pushing for immigration reform, contrary to his central animating campaign promise. He is terrifying as an executive, but he is not a true believer, at his core. However, his victory will pave the way for the rise of fascist leaders who are more tied to their “principles” than he is.
In fact, it turned out the US was susceptible to two distinct threats, both of which Trump embodied to a certain extent. One is the threat of the shrewd fascist, and the other is that of the true believer. Ezra Klein at Vox argued that the world produces all kinds of talented fascists, and that a more skilled politician could’ve won on Trump’s promises but with toned-down rhetoric. Well, apparently the United States didn’t require a shrewd fascist to win, just a simple demagogue. Perhaps a more skilled Republican could have also won the popular vote, or won by a greater margin, but that wasn’t necessary. Trump was shrewd enough.
Trump is a true believer, too: a believer in his own entitlement and also in the correctness of patriarchy and white dominance. Whether he will pursue his campaign promises with the dedication of a fanatic remains to be seen, but we know he sees the world as one in which rich white men should rule, and the rest should follow.
The country is at risk of falling prey not only to the skilled authoritarian, but also to the true believer fanatic: someone with Trump’s thirst for vengeance and totalitarian leanings, who also believes in the messianic righteousness of their platform, as opposed to just believing in themselves (as Trump does). The true believer is someone for whom the alt-right message boards are the unchanging gospel.
And these two types, of course, aren’t mutually exclusive. The alt-right may not be yet capable of producing slick politicians, but it has no problem producing fanatics. And whether a true believer rises through its ranks or a skilled operator rides the wave of alt-right enthusiasm, the threat is the same. Stephen Bannon — the man at the helm of Trump’s campaign and the force behind the conservative site Breitbart — is a true believer. Whether Trump carries out a true-believer program of maximal pain upon The Other remains to be seen, but if I were betting I’d say he does it.
To see the harm a true fanatic can do, one need look no further than the George W. Bush administration. Torture and any number of other cruelties were carried out in the name of protecting freedom. That the population at large never reckoned with these policies was just a side benefit. Trump, for his part, has promised to bring back waterboarding and worse. He has also pledged to kill the families of suspected terrorists.
The great unanticipated threat in this election was the latent authoritarianism of the United States citizenry. Early polls showed that the best indicator for Trump support was authoritarianism. The one thing that Trump did well was combine his branding with his politics, to make essentially a brand out of a political party.
The Republican establishment spent most of the primary waiting for the Trump bubble to burst. That never happened, and now the country has to deal with President Trump. The establishment has lost control but the party will unite, begrudgingly, and the very serious party operatives will have their way. Paul Ryan’s program of austerity will likely find a friend in President Trump, regardless of his early promises to protect the social safety net.
When I went up to Manchester, New Hampshire, on October 28, I spoke with a woman who, unprompted, explained her fondness for Trump to me. “He’ll fix the inner cities,” she told me. “He’ll teach them how to help themselves.” This condescending attitude is at the heart of so much white supremacy. Racism always presents itself as rational and reasonable, not as hate but as an expression of the “natural” order of things.
Trump has said some critical things about the invasion of Iraq. So what? Does anyone think that Trump will act restrained in the face of even the most manageable of national security challenges? His entire worldview is one of maximalist dominance. That’s why he admires Vladimir Putin so much. That’s why he has no problem being associated with “interesting quotes” from Benito Mussolini. He has already repeatedly promised to take ISIS’s oil, itself a simplification of liberal criticisms of Bush and Cheney’s Iraq catastrophe. He will likely meet with conservative thought leaders — who, it turns out, don’t much determine public thought — and promise them that yes, foreigners will respect America again. Just like when Gov. Chris Christie, Trump’s first establishment endorsement, said the sheer force of his personality would have stopped Putin from annexing Crimea, Trump will likely promise what the foreign policy establishment loves most: an amplification of US military dominance abroad.
The country has laid its claim. The rich white men will die before they share prosperity. Trump has won, and at best, the republic is not lost. But maybe it is. Maybe it was already destroyed years ago.