We should all be sad.
We should all be scared.
We should all be fucking furious.
It’s been four full months since my last post – remember the primaries? – and the reasons for the dormancy of GTFUP.org are the same as always: a non-stop news cycle that a part-part-part-time blogger can’t stay ahead of; an authoritarian regime burying us in shit; and a helpless, stunned paralysis that I expect many of us are fighting, as we watch our nation – our society, our world – unravel.
But on the days I am most able to find my footing, when I shake off the paralysis long enough to muster small acts of resistance, and muted murmurs of hope, that simple, stark assessment of our American Crisis has become my mantra, my compass:
We should all be sad. We should all be scared. We should all be so fucking furious.
I find strength there, first and foremost, because it is a reminder – in a moment when we spend most days disoriented and numb – that not only are these feelings “okay” in times like these, they are the only feelings, in times like these, that are remotely appropriate.
Americans have become, over the course of my lifetime, notably uncomfortable with “negative” emotion. Sadness, fear, anger, are things we are increasingly loathe to express – except among our most trusted confidants, and even then, we feel the need to mute ourselves.
We, as a society, have been conditioned to constantly, desperately, project an image of contented positivity to the world, no matter what is boiling in our individual realities, and while we can debate whether that’s a “good” or a “bad” thing in normal times, there is no question that our collective cult of positivity has left America starkly unequipped to grapple with profoundly dark times.
We should be sad, scared, and angry, because there is no other rational emotion in a slow-boil tragedy like this one. Anything else, as the martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, is dangerous, complicit “false composure.”
But my mantra is also a helpful as a directive, a call to arms: we should be sad, scared and angry because of each of those emotions may well be the most powerful, potent tool we have in the face of a state of affairs that has drifted, over the past many months, from an historic American Crisis to an abject American Tragedy.
Allowing ourselves to feel this moment, to let the full, painful gravity of this nightmare marinate and sink in, hurts like hell. But for me at least, it is clarifying. It animates me, activates me, helps me set aside my false composure, and find a place of honest hope, courage and strength for the historic struggle ahead.
We should all be sad.
We should all be scared.
We should all be utterly fucking furious.
And embracing that reality, feeling those things fully, is our best hope for surviving what comes next.
We should all be sad, so devastatingly sad, because we are living through an historic tragedy.
There is the pandemic, and everything that comes with it: the death, the shattered families, the lost jobs and crushed dreams, the fear and uncertainty and mental anguish that comes with the utter upheaval of everyday life, for every goddamn one of us.
There is the unraveling of our institutions, the dismantling of our democracy, the catastrophic failures of our “leadership,” and the splintering of our society.
There is the profoundly sad reality that the divisions in our society are no longer simply “political,” they are deeply moral, and that the other side of the divide, every single day, becomes more and more unrecognizable to us.
And there is the immense pain of knowing – even if we struggle to admit it to one another, or to ourselves – that none of it is going to magically go away any time soon.
Indeed the only thing we know for sure is that all of it – the death, the broken families, the economic devastation, the psychological wreckage – it is only likely to get sadder. And if we truly are a society, if we truly are “in this together,” we owe it to one another, to ourselves, to not lose sight of that profound, collective pain and sadness.
At some point – I hope in my lifetime, I hope relatively soon – we will reach the other side of this madness. When we do, we’re going to face an immense task of rebuilding, and the only way to do that right – the only way to build a better, safer, saner world for the generations to come – is to place the pain and sadness of this moment at the forefront of our thinking.
Meanwhile, we should all be scared – terrified, frankly – about what lies ahead.
If we could wave a magic wand and reinstall Barack Obama as President today, we’d still be facing an out-of-control pandemic; a looming economic depression; international instability unprecedented in recent history; an information warfare crisis; stark and violent societal divisions; and oh yeah, just for good measure, the increasingly painful and dangerous effects of climate change, the most serious existential crisis humanity has ever faced.
Of course, there is no magic wand, and while we can wish with all our might for the Barack Restoration, the frightening reality is increasingly undeniable: America is in the throws of an authoritarian crisis, in all its brutal, mad glory.
I’ve spent a lot of time these past three years reading about societies, like ours, that fell under the yolk of authoritarianism, and the extent to which we have not deviated, even a little, from the historic, tragic trajectory is stunning.
Authoritarian regimes whittle away at norms, one by one, bit by bit, outrage by outrage. They bury us in scandal and corruption so that every assault on who we are becomes a distraction from 15 others, until we give up trying to keep track. They corrode every institution, every lever of government, and attack – ruthlessly, relentlessly, and oftentimes nonsensically – every potential check that might stand in their way. They spend an outsized portion of every day sewing divisions, creating conflict, conditioning their most fervent supporters to gird themselves for war.
The result is a government and politics exactly like we’re seeing now: incompetent and corrupt beyond comprehension, divisive and hateful, utterly foreign to anyone who can still remember the time “before.”
But authoritarians don’t stop there. In virtually every authoritarian regime through history, there comes a point when they seize power, when they bring a sledge hammer to the million tiny cracks that they’ve inflicted on the nation, in order to break us.
Every authoritarian regime worth its salt would see the coming election this November as an opportunity to seize power, and crush resistance, and I promise you, the Trumpists will be no different.
There’s a lot of talk right now about all the different ways they could undermine voting, stoke deadly violence, throw open the floodgates to foreign attacks, even cancel the election itself. The truth is, it may well be all of the above, and then some. The possibilities are endlessly grim.
And scarier still is the fact that, if we do not overcome Trumpism now – if we don’t find a way to overcome the corrupt machinery of the entire U.S. government seeking to install a reckless authoritarian by hook or a thousand crooks – every challenge America is facing will get exponentially worse.
Because the other constant when it comes to authoritarians is that they exploit crisis; they are, at best, indifferent to the suffering of the people; the more power they seize, the more they use that power to inflict carnage and pain.
COVID-19 and the looming economic depression are a problem for the Trumpists now, when it comes to consolidating power. But once their power is secure, our pain will be their opportunity – to get rich on our suffering, to advance their ugliest, most violent impulses, to hasten America’s already rapid descent.
I’ve heard it said from certain segments of the Resistance that fear is somehow an unacceptable, impure, motivator in the fight ahead, but I just can’t wrap my head around that. America is on a razor’s edge, and the danger of unthinkable calamity – devastation that burns every single one of us – is far too real to ignore or downplay.
If a family of angry rattlesnakes moves in underneath your back porch, you don’t say “I refuse to be governed by fear!” and ignore it. You take care of it, you call the damn exterminator, because it’s scary as hell, and an existential threat to your life.
That’s where America finds herself right now. Fear has never been more rational, more sane, or more necessary to chart the way forward.
Of course, that’s where the anger comes in. Fear alone is crippling. Fear coupled with righteous anger is a powerful, potent tool. And given our terrifying present state of affairs – a trajectory towards more mass death, economic ruin, virulent racism in the White House, horrific violence in the streets, and the destruction of America as we know it – we should all be fucking furious.
We’ve been conditioned to think of politics as an argument, a give-and-take of ideas, the age old push and pull between two clear sides – liberalism and conservatism – of what is fundamentally the same coin. I long to return to those days as much as anyone, but that is simply not how politics works in times like these.
There is no driving philosophy behind Trumpism, no “conservative” vision for America. Your Republican neighbor is as likely to believe, with religious fervor, that Donald Trump is secretly waging a war against a pedophilia ring – led by Nancy Pelosi and Tom Hanks – as he is to believe in “free market economic principles.”
Under Trumpism, politics is about blunt force; it’s about beet-red screaming faces, heavily-armed vigilantes and tear gas, and the immense, insidious power of the big lie.
We cannot match their crazy. We should not try to match their dishonesty and indecency. But we can, and must, match their anger. Indeed, the best weapon we have in a political environment like this one is righteous, intensely moral and patriotic anger, and we can’t afford to keep that under wraps.
If you look at the recent swell of right-wing nationalist movements worldwide, one constant is the way that the intense, wholly irrational anger of the movements’ rank and file tends to dominate the national mood. The brownshirts scream nonsense, at the top of their lungs, and when the rational majority tries to reason with them, to find common ground, they cackle at what they perceive as our indecision and weakness, and they scream louder.
The effect this has on the national climate is palpable. While the regime inflicts violence and pain on the population, any dissent is treated as petty political squabbling, two sides of the same coin. And even though the bulk of the population is repulsed by the brownshirts’ behavior, the national narrative is that all of the energy, all of the passion, is with the authoritarian regime, that their domination is somehow inevitable.
This is how authoritarians seize control: they’re not trying to win an argument, or to win hearts and minds; their only goal is to create a climate of chaos, fear and dark inevitability that allows them to do whatever they damn well please.
In this regard, our very human desire to turn down the temperature – conceding anger to the far-right, tempering ourselves in the false hope that a rational conversation is still possible – creates precisely the type of environment the Trump regime needs to successfully shatter American democracy.
I’m not saying we should try to engage Trumpists in a screaming match. But we can boldly, loudly, and without equivocation, tell them and anyone else who will listen just how goddamn angry we are.
We can’t know what madness is coming in the next few months, but I believe our best hope of defeating it – our best hope of removing the Trump regime from power by January 21, 2021 – is to fundamentally shift the national mood. We need to build up a narrative of righteous, patriotic anger, a narrative of a People fed up, ready to crawl through broken glass to look the most disastrous and hateful President in American history in the eye, and send him packing.
And all of us can play a role in that, starting today, by allowing ourselves to get fighting mad.
Our anger may not change the Trumpists’ minds, but it will give them pause, and maybe even rattle their absurdist certitude.
Meanwhile, our anger will absolutely help shape the perceptions of the helplessly mushy middle, help them understand that the threat could not be more real, that this is anything but politics as usual.
But most importantly, by allowing ourselves to express our boiling anger – anger that is righteous, and moral, and good – we’re giving everyone around us, who is quietly boiling in the same way, permission to do the same.
That’s how movements grow; that’s how the national mood shifts; that’s how we win.
I know it’s scary; I know it feels foreign, and risky, and impolite to express ourselves, to get fighting mad. But if this isn’t an occasion for righteous anger – they are tearing America apart – then what the fuck is?
We should all be sad. We should all be scared. We should all be fucking furious.
It’s become my mantra, and as we sink deeper and deeper into the darkness ahead, I hope it might become yours too – or at least a variation on that theme.
The sadness grounds us, reminds us that we are in this together, that we are a society, and that when our society fails some of us, our society has failed.
The fear, tragically, is our best motivator in times like these. A pandemic, a depression, an emboldened authoritarian: that is a recipe for disaster on an historic scale – a den of angry rattlesnakes underneath your kitchen sink – and it is insane to not act accordingly.
And the anger is how we win. Our anger is potent, it is powerful, and it is righteous, and expressing our outrage, day after day, at the violence Trumpism is inflicting on America is how we build a movement around stopping that violence.
We should all be sad.
We should all be scared.
We should all be fucking furious.
And if we can all find the strength to be all those things – boldly, without equivocation, patriotically – then for all my pessimism, I still think we’ve got a puncher’s chance of beating these motherfuckers, and saving ourselves and our country in the process.
(Sorry for the language, Mom).