Monitor

America: One Nation Under Occupation

The promise of American carnage has arrived

Federal officers operate amid tear gas while clearing the street in front of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on July 21, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Author unknown

Given his latest authoritarian antics, one would think Donald Trump read this quote before he decided to send a cadre of armed men in camouflage to patrol American streets. If you have been paying attention since his inauguration speech, then the actions Trump has taken against the American people in the past few months, while extremely unsettling, are not shocking. On January 20, 2017, Trump, before a pitiful crowd, swore that “this American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” At that moment, no one could understand what he was talking about. At that time, thanks to President Barack Obama, the United States had been pulled from the Great Recession and was beating back climate change, the child obesity epidemic was under control, the housing market was on the upswing, and LGBTQ Americans could marry.

However, if you listened a little more carefully to Trump’s ominous message, you understood that he and his sycophants understood the “carnage” Trump was referring to were not actual bodies in the streets, but instead the decimation of the ideals of White supremacy. The sheer presence of America’s first Black president disrupted the lie White people have been sold — that they are exceptional and everyone else is inferior to their God-given powers of superiority. Consequently, if a Black man could become president and LGBTQ people were beginning to achieve equality and women of all hues were breaking ground in various industries, then the prism of White exceptionalism would come crashing down around them and the carnage of their values and ideology would ensue. So, to preserve their lie, they sought out the White supremacist in chief to upend the leveling of America’s playing field and, in its place, insert a black hole.

As bad as the Black experience in America has been, I felt that we were making progress. But it was clear in Trump’s address that whatever progress we had won was slowing to a halt and now in total rollback. Everything Trump has done to communities of color and our allies has been slow and methodical until Donald Trump and his attorney general decided to trample, literally and figuratively, on the rights of American citizens who protested last month in front of the White House in Lafayette Park.

What we know now, as unnamed federal agents are currently occupying Portland, Oregon — picking up American citizens in unmarked vans without identifying themselves or reading them their Miranda rights — is that the incident in Washington, D.C., was a dress rehearsal. For years now, we have listened to Trump as he hailed dictators and authoritarian leaders with envy and glee. We eased our fear by telling ourselves that he just wanted to “play toy soldier,” except now the laughter has given way to audible gasps of fear and shock. The images coming out of Portland are chilling, and Trump’s announcement that Portland is just the beginning and Chicago will be next is horrifying. It’s as if overnight the streets of American cities have turned into some version of Palestine or Russia, where citizens disappear all the time.

Since the overmilitarized display put on by the police in Ferguson, Missouri, following the murder of Michael Brown in 2014, many wondered where American cops were receiving their training on mass surveillance and use-of-force tactics that mirrored wartime behavior. Well, we needn’t look any further than the country we have wrongfully referred to as the only democracy of the Middle East: Israel. Since around 2002, police chiefs across the United States have made many taxpayer- and privately funded trips to train there. Does it make sense now why Trump has praised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders like him who use abject force to control their dissenters?

The promise of American carnage has arrived. It’s masquerading as patriotism and calling for law and order.

For years now, many of us have been called alarmists for making the very obvious connections between what was transpiring in the United States under Trump and the fascist regimes that have developed around the world. Most notably, following the 2016 presidential election, journalist Masha Gessen wrote an essay for the New York Book Review entitled “Autocracy: Rules for Survival.” In the piece, she listed six rules for survival, with the first one being what Americans continue to dismiss: “Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization.” In a 2019 speech, Madeleine Albright, the first female U.S. secretary of state, discussed the alarming trends toward fascism in the United States and at one point quoted Mussolini: “If you pluck a chicken one feather at a time, nobody notices.” Albright added that “there is a lot of feather-plucking going on right now.”

Indeed, there is a lot of plucking going on in the United States right now, and what’s worse, we still find ourselves stuck in the lie of “American exceptionalism.” Meanwhile, we are deciding not to believe our eyes and ears and instead find comfort in thinking Trump is all bluster. Except he is not. Following his apocalyptic inauguration address, Trump began his administration with a ban on Muslims; he then set his sights on the LGBTQ community, then he turned to the undocumented, then he applauded Nazis, then he referred to predominately Black cities as rat infested and African nations as “shithole” countries. He ripped children away from their parents and built modern-day concentration camps that we still haven’t been let inside of, all while going to court to fight for the right to not supply these asylum seekers with basic sanitary conditions. All of these events happened one pluck at a time, and now we have armed troops occupying U.S. cities. This has been a slow but steady descent into organized chaos, propagated by fear.

In the dystopian novel 1984, George Orwell wrote, “One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.” Nothing that is taking place right now is by accident; it is, instead, by design. How do we safeguard against the rising tide of American fascism? We start by believing our eyes, because what is unfolding right now is only the beginning — and you have to look no further than to the leaders Trump praises to see just how far he is willing to go to hold onto power. It’s hard to tell at this moment whether time has already run out on the American project, but there is one thing for certain: the flag-hugging, Bible-toting, White supremacist in chief isn’t making veiled threats anymore. The promise of American carnage has arrived. It’s masquerading as patriotism and calling for law and order.

is the host of #WokeAF & #PMMood & co-host of the podcast #democracyish. She covers all the news and happenings at the intersection of politics and pop culture.

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