For the past year or so I have been exercising what I have thought of as principled quietism regarding the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Until today I have not written his name in any public forum, or even mentioned him anywhere other than in the most personal conversations with friends and family. I reasoned that if this quietism had been widely practiced, most importantly by the mass media, we never would have arrived at this disgraceful point. The feigned shock acted out daily on TV and in newspapers at Trump's scandalizing statements has itself been a crucial part of the normalization process. The negative coverage has still been coverage, and Trump understood this, and rode on a wave of craven media complicity to where he is now. But I am not Rupert Murdoch or Les Moonves, and my quiet now has a different meaning than theirs could have had earlier on. Speaking seems futile, and a sort of caving to the idiocy and barbarism of the present moment; silence weighs heavier and heavier as the months go by, and starts to feel like cowardice. So eventually one gives in, and speaks, and joins the present, without omniscience about unintended effects, without any real wisdom, but with massive reserves, stored up during the silent months, of pure moral outrage.
It is too late for the media to rewind and to undue the damage of their profit-driven legitimation of the impostor. We are now left with the fact of Trump as someone who will not go away if we simply conduct our lives as if it were beneath our dignity to mention him, but might yet be driven away if we succeed in driving home to our fellow Americans how extremely dangerous he is. I do not want to find myself a member of the Free American Resistance in exile a few years from now, fighting to bring down a despotic regime that has supplanted American democracy. The emergence of such group is not such an unlikely scenario, should Trump become president. He presents, as Andrew Sullivan has rightly said, an extinction-level threat to American democracy.
He represents not the least prospect of making America great again, but rather the prospect of making America part of the same global order of post-democratic authoritarianism that already includes many of the United States' traditional geopolitical adversaries. The result of a power-grab in the United States by a Eurasian-style despot, with bodyguards playing the role of boyars, could be an ignominious peace forged with these regimes with which Trump's America would indeed have a fundamental kinship; or it could be total war, triggered by what Freud called the narcissism of minor differences: when two parties are so alike that they can't stand the existence of the other. But either way it is a capitulation, and a definitive end to the role that the United States has sought to play in the world.
I know many of my friends on the left will say: "Fine then, good riddance to that order that has brought so much pain to the world," and it is this sentiment that has many of them asking, at present, whether, once Sanders is out of the picture, Trump might in fact be preferable to Hillary Clinton. I am witnessing in real time, and finally understanding, the historical process by which, for example, the French National Front has won crossover voters from the Communist Party when the former makes a few promises about improved material well-being and also promises, like the latter, to make those at the center of power --the Establishment-- pay for their greed and indifference. In France, as earlier in Germany, and as in the United States now, what the crossovers from the left are leaving out, or preferring to overlook, is that when these promises of improved well-being are made by the far right they come at the expense of, and with the express intention of hurting, not only representatives of the Establishment, but also anyone who is not a member of our 'nation': a loose category that can be defined not only in terms of citizenship, but in terms of race, ethnicity, or religion. So overt fascism is not just a 'more honest' version of the neoliberal oligarchist politics of the Establishment. Hillary Clinton will not place Muslim-American in camps. She will not 'close the borders'. She will not dismantle the free press or seek to radically change the powers of the executive office. She will continue American foreign policy as usual, which includes the deaths of a lot of innocent people, but she will not needlessly provoke new wars simply as a consequence of a slighted ego or as a distraction from failed domestic policies. It is a profoundly flippant and en-bubbled gesture on the part of members of the American intellectual left to say that Trump could not be worse than Clinton. It is a betrayal of all of those people who, in addition to the innocent targets of American drones, would be directly made to suffer as a result of a Trump presidency, often simply in virtue of the contingencies of their birth.
I think two things must be done in the coming months. First, just like in the defeat of fascism seven decades ago, socialists, communists, and anarchists need to recognize in this case that they do have common cause with the Establishment, including with the Establishment right. I have been extremely impressed with the clarity of vision, and the understanding of the seriousness of the present moment, expressed by the editorial staff of the National Review. I find that I can appreciate these virtues, without falling into doubt and worry about the entirety of my political commitments, most of which do not overlap with theirs. What overlaps is the sheer horror at the thought of the rise to power of a fascist usurper in the United States. I think it is important for Americans, whatever their political commitments, to find this common ground and to stay on it and fight from it into November.
Second, I think it is crucial to engage with Trump supporters and with those who might cross over to Trump (some from among Sanders's disaffected followers) without condescension and by patiently highlighting the multiple respects in which Trump in fact does not represent their interests, the multiple respects in which he is a betrayer, and, if it helps, the multiple respects in which he is not, at all, what might be called a patriot. As to the last of these, I think it is important to emphasize --and I think Trump supporters are certainly intelligent enough to follow this line of reasoning-- that what Trump represents is not anything distinctly American, but rather is only the local variation on a political ideology that is currently recrudescing throughout the world, that this ideology is incompatible with American patriotism, and that it is now and in the past most closely associated with regimes that are hostile to the United States. Again, a Trump presidency would amount to a capitulation to these regimes.
We must fight Trump and everything he stands for. We will fight him until November, so that we do not have to fight him afterwards. He is already a blight on American history, and this is what he will be no matter what his legacy is from here on. But to minimize suffering, both in the US and beyond, he needs to be defeated early and decisively.
I will support Bernie Sanders' campaign for as long as it useful in pushing the Democratic party towards important progressive goals; and I will support Hillary Clinton when the time comes, faute de mieux, in order to prevent the rise of a fascist regime and the end not so much of democracy in America --for there is plenty of argument as to whether true democracy has ever been achieved-- but even of the ideal of democracy. However much we've failed to realize it, this ideal has at least helped us to prevent far worse forms of government from moving in. Anyone who does not see this, who thinks that the existing order is really the worst thing there is, simply does not know enough history, or does not take seriously enough the lives of Muslim and Latin American immigrants, to understand just how bad things can really get.