Schmidt: We must recommit ourselves to an endless war for justice in America
There has been a lot of debate about the dangers of normalizing the Trump victory. (See here, here, and here for examples.) On the one hand, as people rightfully point out, to treat a Trump presidency as though it were not the result of a campaign of hate, and that it doesn’t promise policy shaped by professional misogynists, racists, and xenophobes, would enforce the legitimacy of fascistic politics. And it’s true: we cannot treat the Breitbart variant of Nazism as though it were just any mundane interest group within the Republican coalition.
On the other hand, others have pointed out that white male power politics are very much a part of the norm in American politics.
As a scholar of political theory, I appreciate the comparisons people have made to Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, and to they way that, when the people and occupied government of Denmark insisted on standing with Danish Jews, it helped to create a successful (if limited) movement of non-violent resistance to genocide. But we cannot pretend that we are the Danes in that metaphor. Trump’s politics is native to the United States, not a conquering philosophy. We can’t “normalize” the politics of demonization because they have been normal in our politics since before the Revolution.
Of course, resistance to the politics of demonization is normal to our politics as well.
In other words, we don’t have a standard politics of democratic inclusion, threatened periodically by hate, any more than we have a norm of master race democracy, interrupted on occasion by movements for civil rights and civil liberties. Our politics are a perpetual struggle between the two.
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t frightening and dangerous novelty. Hatred in American politics is enormously adaptable. Racism before the Civil War was fully protected by the power of state and federal law. During Reconstruction, it morphed at first into terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, and then returned with the force of law – if not precisely vis-a-vis slavery – during the Jim Crow era. After the Voting Rights Act all but abolished Jim Crow, racism evolved as grass roots movements (resistance to busing, affirmative action, and a social safety net) and the institutional politics of mass incarceration. And now the Klan is back, endorsing a winning presidential candidate.
Hatred of immigrants, of women, of religious minorities, have also been persistent in their ability to adapt new protective forms. The point is, however, that they have had to. Slavery was opposed; Jim Crow was resisted; and the (sadly) native stock of Trumpism is opposed as well.
A dull feeling of exhaustion and an uncanny horror accompanies the realization that we will never be allowed to stop fighting these battles.
The United States of the Obama Administration may have felt more like home to me, but I can’t deny that Trump’s America is terribly, terribly familiar too. The calls to rob women of their autonomy, to rob African Americans of their votes, to rob American citizens born to immigrants of either their families or their country; we’ve seen and heard all of this before. We’ll probably never stop hearing these things. These nightmarish politics are normal, in America.
But so is the fight against them. And we have to remember, therefore, that there are established institutions, already in place, to fight this endless war. Groups exist that are devoted to the defense of our rights, our liberties, and even the lives of our neighbors; here are some that could use your support and your membership. There are established communities all around us that fight for us, and that need us to fight for them.
With all due respect to the Danish king and queen, we don’t need them to teach us how to fight against the forces of hate; we’ve been doing it for centuries. So Trumpism is “normal” already, like hate or fear or plague; the struggle against Trumpism is normal too. A trip to Washington to protest Trump on the day of his inaugural is an excellent step in that fight, as is contacting your representatives to declare your opposition to Steve Bannon’s appointment in the White House.
Fascists must always be told “NO,” again and again and again. You can’t assume that there is a common sense that will lead them to do the right thing if you stop opposing them. That common sense isn’t there. People who voted for the candidate who attacked the disabled, and women, and veterans, and immigrants, assume that the reason you decry those things is that you are too afraid to do them too, not because you genuinely find them repulsive. So yes, start saying “No” on day one of the incoming administration and then keep going. As I like to tell students at the end of our introductory course: the good news about a Madisonian system of representation is that we can fight to defend ourselves, our neighbors, and our vision of what is best for the nation. The bad news is that we can’t ever stop that fight.
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