Some years ago on a Showtime docuseries called "The Circus," a woman at a town hall meeting in the Midwest stood and said, almost quivering with rage, “If we have to have a dictator, I hope it’s Trump.”
“Happy New Year” doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue this season, does it? 2024 has been looming ominously ever since 2023 began, and if the following sounds like something said about 2022 or 2020 or 2018, that doesn’t make it any less true now than it was then: By any objective assessment this is the most important year in the American experiment since 1864, when Abraham Lincoln—running for reelection on a platform of ending slavery and saving the country—appeared doomed to lose. Moreover, with other democracies around the world feeling no less precarious and war raging from the Middle East to Eastern Europe, 2024 is potentially the most important year in world history since 1968, when western societies rioted in the streets, a ruthless Soviet superpower invaded Czechoslovakia, a befuddled American superpower ran aground in Southeast Asia, and spokesmen for a better world were gunned down so routinely as to make their murders inevitable in retrospect.
The vocabulary for melodrama is nearly too exhausted to sufficiently state what hangs in the balance, but let’s try. Here are 13 New Year’s resolutions for saving democracy:
WE DO NOT HAVE THE LUXURY OF OUR DREAD
Or put more precisely, we do not have the luxury of the paralysis engendered by dread. The moment at hand demands determination over dread, resolve over regression, a clarity of thinking amid the coming chaos.
WE DO NOT HAVE THE LUXURY OF OUR EXHAUSTION
Or put more precisely, we do not have the luxury of the inertia engendered by exhaustion. Those of us outside Trump Nation tire of this turmoil because we’re normal and have lives and we’re not fanatics, something that trumpism is particularly suited to exploit because it’s not an ideology but a pathology.
WE DO NOT HAVE THE LUXURY OF OUR DELUSIONS
A year ago Donald Trump was done, and whatever recent polls indicate, he may yet be unraveling more than we know. Regardless, what’s been true at least eight years remains so, which is that the real adversary isn’t Trump but ourselves. We impart to Trump too much power and control; we’ve convinced ourselves that a third of the country are his puppets when in fact he is theirs. When and if Trump vanishes, the conditions that created this distinctly American fascism — economic alienation, cultural disorientation, and most of all fear of an increasingly nonwhite nation — will continue to roil the country.
WE DO NOT HAVE THE LUXURY OF OUR EUPHEMISMS
Trump and his most devout followers in Congress and the country aren’t “extreme conservatives.” They’re not “autocrats,” they’re not “right-wing.” They’re fascists. I note this as someone coming not from a radical left-wing background but rather raised a Republican, and while I haven’t been that for a while, I still have a certain respect for classic, conscientious conservatism. Trumpism checks off every fascist box: a cult of personality; rootedness in white male Christian supremacy; exaltation of power and strength not just over all other values but in lieu of them; calculated victimization of the powerless; a sense of self-martyrdom; impulses of violence stoked rather than suppressed; and more than anything else a contempt for and hostility to the notion of an empirical fact-based truth that’s valuable by virtue of being true. An American fascism like we’ve never seen before is at hand and somewhere between a quarter and a third of the country is in its thrall. It needs to be engaged for what it is.
WE DO NOT HAVE THE LUXURY OF OVERTHINKING
Abortion is the heat-seeking issue of the 2024 election. To think it’s going to “blow over,” to believe women are going to forget about it, as Republicans seem to, is tantamount to believing women are going to forget they’re women. Democrats should not defuse this not-so-secret weapon by allowing Republicans to overcomplicate it. “Pro-life” and “pro-choice” extremes aside, most Americans have complicated feelings about abortion. They do not, however, have complicated feelings about personal freedom. When Sean Hannity tries to make the issue about abortion rather than freedom and asks whether Democrats support ending a pregnancy in the third trimester, the correct answer is not “Well, that’s not really a thing...” or “But that doesn’t really happen...” or some other muddled liberal prevarication. Barring saving the life of the mother, the correct answer is: “No.” Democrats need to learn how to say it. You put an n sound in front of an o sound.
WE DO NOT HAVE THE LUXURY OF CHOOSING ONE CONFLICTING TRUTH OVER ANOTHER
WE DO NOT HAVE THE LUXURY OF BAD FAITH
The biggest mistake the Democratic Party made in 2022 was to covertly promote trumpist candidates in Republican primaries over rare Republicans of reason, figuring such candidates then would be easier to beat in the general election. Even as such tactics may have been effective in the short term, they are cynical and at the price of Democrats’ moral authority. The third-year Democrat in me — having finally registered as such in 2020 after spending a lifetime as an independent — may root against Chris Christie or Nikki Haley on the assumption they would be harder for President Biden to beat in 2024, but the American in me roots for them to beat Trump anyway, even if Christie is a bully and Haley pretends the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. Trump’s defeat is democracy’s higher priority and I would rather risk a Haley presidency if it means vanquishing a second Trump presidency. (Besides, if Christie or Haley were to beat Trump in the Republican primary, does anyone actually think Trump would concede the nomination and quietly go back to Mar-a-Lago, rather than break from a party he’s never cared about anyway and run as a third candidate, taking his part of the electorate with him?)
WE DO NOT HAVE THE LUXURY OF OUTDATED ENMITIES
If you’re one of those so-called progressives who regards askance the conservative likes of former congresswoman Liz Cheney or commentator David Frum or Judge Michael Luttig as untrustworthy in their opposition to trumpism, then you understand the situation no better than Trump supporters do. You’re still thinking in horizontal right-left terms about a newly vertical up-or-down paradigm. Yes she supported Trump’s policies and voted for him twice, but exactly what diabolical strategy do you see that the rest of us don’t in Cheney’s willing sacrifice of her political career, when clearly had she been as complicit as the rest of her fellow House Republicans there is at least an even chance she would now be Speaker of the House and the most powerful elected Republican official in the country? I’ve quoted so many times as to make people’s eyes roll back in their heads the line from William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: “The cardinal error of those opposing Nazism was their failure to unite against it.”
WE DO NOT HAVE THE LUXURY OF OUTDATED CIVILITIES
Having spent virtually all my life with most of my family to the right of me and most of my friends to the left, I’m disinclined to demonization. But this election is not Bush v Kerry or Obama v Romney, to choose two particularly heated pre-Trump examples; however fierce feelings ran in those races, they were still contested along common coordinates of life, liberty, opportunity, equality, security, justice. While you may be stuck with family members who went down the Foxhole a quarter century ago, hardhearted as it sounds it’s time to question “friendships” with those whose values are so profoundly different as to embrace Trump for the third time. Difficult economic circumstances after eight years of a slow Obama recovery might have explained a hail-mary vote the first time, and some might have been blind the second time to Trump promptly running that recovery into the ground with a tax break for
billionaires and his mishandling of the pandemic. But those who still support Trump after the events of January 06, 2021, are either defiant in their ignorance or malevolent in their obliviousness.
WE DO NOT HAVE THE LUXURY OF MORAL VANITY
If you vote for Cornel West or Robert Kennedy Jr this year, you are — shall we not put too fine a point on it? — a moron. You’re making a meaningless choice in the most meaningful election in modern American history so as to indulge your narcissistic sense of self-righteousness. While indeed there’s a parallel thread of the multiverse in which neither of the two nominees is named Trump or Biden, as of this writing in this particular universe the next president is going to be one of those two people. Which brings us to the next resolution....
WE DO NOT HAVE THE LUXURY OF CONFUSING AN IMPERFECT CHOICE FOR AN UNCLEAR ONE
Any dispassionate observer can reasonably conclude Biden should drop out of the campaign. It’s not ageist to suggest that though he’s not too old for the job at the moment, he will be sometime in the next four years, and from a political standpoint his age now so permeates the collective perception of him that nobody can see him straight; his poll numbers are almost perversely at odds with everything about his job performance. But presently every indication is that Biden is going to be the Democratic nominee, and sometime soon it will be time for the rest of us to just shut up about it. Whatever one thinks of his age or Israel policy or Afghanistan withdrawal or anything else, he’s still the only one of the two prospective nominees who will defend your right to call him unfit for the job. Now and then a choice can be at once profoundly imperfect and manifestly clear anyway.
WE DO NOT HAVE THE LUXURY OF DEUS EX MACHINA
While wishing Trump to be accountable before the law, we must accept that any trial or decision by a higher court is unlikely to spare the country what it karmically doesn’t deserve to be spared: a national political referendum on who we are as a people. Otherwise Trump will evermore in the eyes of history — not to mention his supporters, who will find a way to believe it in any case — be martyr to a systemic technicality. Trump needs to be rejected electorally by every single patriot who can drag her- or himself to the polls to do so. Which brings us to the final resolution....
WE DO NOT HAVE THE LUXURY OF BEING TOO COOL FOR PATRIOTISM
The culture war was lost more than half a century ago when some kid, on the right side of a policy dispute over America’s Vietnam conflagration, put himself and the rest of us on the wrong side of everything else the moment he lit an American flag on fire. We should be wrapping ourselves in the flag every chance we have. We should make clear in our own minds and in the public mind that we are the true Americans in this civil war, we are the Americans of the Bill of Rights and constitutional preamble, of Gettysburg and Normandy, the Americans of happiness’ eternal pursuit and memory’s mystic chord and our natures’ better angels. Between now and November we should insist on this again and again on a daily if not hourly basis: that on the other side of whatever twisted nation Trump and Fox News might choose to forge is the true America which is to say our America, which is to say the America of limitless and regenerative possibility.
Steve Erickson is the author of Shadowbahn, Zeroville, American Stutter and 10 other books published in more than a dozen languages. Currently he is Chair of the Creative Writing Department at the University of California, Riverside.
Photo from Robert Longo's exhibit at the Palm Springs Art Museum "Storm of Hope: Law and Disorder."
American Tune :::Paul Simon
This Land Is Your Land ::: Bob Dylan
Are You Glad To Be In America ::: James Blood Ulmer
Patria ::: Ruben Blades
What’s Going’ On (Live) ::: Marvin Gaye
Rally Round The Flag ::: Ry Cooder
My True Country ::: Paul Bachanan
I Am A Patriot ::: Jackson Browne