This is a theme we’re going to have to come back to time and time again. We have a media bent on covering the inauguration of Donald Trump as just another day on the Capitol lawn. And if you’ve had the same social-media experience as The Laughing Chimps, we also have a large segment of the population under some kind of spell. (The psychological term for it is, we think, having one’s head up one’s ass.) Donald Trump has so far made a rabid anti-Semite his right hand man, an Islamophobe and conspiracy theorist his national security advisor, and an unapologetic racist his attorney general. But don’t worry, we are told – it’s not as bad as it seems.
We’re pretty sure we get the psychology behind it; in our lifelong flirtation with an evasive little tease called “peace of mind,” we become prone to certain bad habits like confirmation bias, denial, and delusion. Most people don’t believe what they believe based on facts and evidence; they believe what they want to believe.
We are also, of course, beset by a genetic impulse with roughly the sway over us that a squirrel has over a dog: it’s called the survival instinct, and we’ll indulge it as surely as Fido will chase that little bushy-tailed vermin to the ends of his world. There is no limit to the human capacity for believing – because we want to – that we will survive this.
Now, The Laughing Chimps are not doom-and-gloom enough to say that the election of Donald Trump means the oceans will soon turn to blood. But the constant refrains of “We will survive this” and “It’s not as bad as it seems” are ill-founded. The United States is just a country – that’s all it is. It is no more entitled to survive the erosive forces of authoritarianism and ignorance than any other country – or any fallen empire that’s already been shuttered and sunk to serve out its remaining days as a stinking barrier reef. If that’s the future we earn for our posterity, then that shall be our future: an old rust-bucket with no purpose more profound than feeding coral.
There is nothing “exceptional” about any country or empire: not Ancient Greece, not Rome, not the Brits, and certainly not us. We’re just like all the rest – just mere humans existing under a fragile construct called a nation-state. Or as Ben Franklin put it two centuries ago, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Donald Trump is the personification of authoritarianism and ignorance, and those are the ingredients for national collapse. It won’t be the gays and the abortionists who bring down America; it will be the rubes and the bigots.
If the rubes and the bigots are to be stopped, then we must be vigilant in knowing what drives them, in redirecting their energy and their anger, and, failing that, in marginalizing their impact on our nation’s policies and ethos. It will not do for us to collectively stick our heads up our ass and say that somewhere in there, we see sunshine. History teaches that it is always as bad as it seems. This is no time for happy talk.