Unbearable Knowing

Two years ago, almost exactly, I wrote a piece expressing a sort of resigned panic about the state of the republic, and essentially asking the reader — but really, I suppose, asking the gods — to tell me how I was wrong. At the time, I was afraid that I was being melodramatic and overstating the problem.

But I wasn’t. Not even a little.

“If we’ve learned nothing else from the past decade,” I wrote, “it’s that if Republicans can’t win through persuasion, they’ll simply rewrite the rules. They are eternally controlling Boardwalk and Park Place. It’s written right on the inside of the box, that they shall eternally passeth Go, over and over, forever and ever, amen.”

What I didn’t foresee — and really should have — was how overt the repeal of democracy would be. I think I imagined that most of the foul dealings would happen behind the scenes, in ways that politicos understood, but didn’t penetrate the national consciousness. Even the hypocrisy of the Republican Senate’s position on appointing a successor to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, while obvious, I suspect remains below the radar, and outside the realm of interest, to most Americans. I assume they see it as just another example of politicians being politicians.

But the President of the United States now says that any election that he doesn’t win is invalid. The election itself is moot, and he will use what influence he wields to ensure it. If he needs to use the Department of Justice to challenge the validity of mail-in ballots, he’ll do that. If he needs to disappear voters through the use of secret police, he’ll do it. If he needs to dispatch his cult of gun-toting fanatical ignoramuses to literally block the entrances to polling places, he’ll do it. If he needs to strongarm Republican governors and state legislators into disqualifying unfavorable slates of electors, he’ll do it. For each one of these actions, he has either already announced his intention to carry them out, or his minions have informed the press of the plan. Some of it already has happened.

It’s not a secret conspiracy. It’s out in the open. He intends no transfer of power, of any kind, at any time. Not in January of 2021, and almost certainly not in January of 2025 either.

In that same 2018 piece, I wrote that those who are really paying attention could sense what felt like an emergency. “It is an emergency. I do believe that people are waking up to that simple fact. Many millions of people have come to realize that things have not only gone wrong, but horribly, existentially wrong. The republic is in mortal danger, and the blight will not be contained within our borders. It’s soaking into the Earth’s crust. It’s riding the oceans’ currents. It’s attached to the very molecules we breathe.”

I said that I feared that our better angels are simply no match for our worst demons. But there, I might have been wrong. Not because I have any illusions that Republicans will discover a dormant conscience and put a stop to this madness. Rather, I suspect that our topple into fascism hinges not on the winner in the battle of angels versus demons, but because of the inaction of everyone in between.

Career civil servants will, by and large, do what they’re told. Mainstream news outlets will say and print what is necessary to keep from being shut down. Corporations will require the favor of the regime in order to continue operating and remain neutral. Some in positions of power will make noises about norms and democracy, but it will be just that, noise. You’ve heard it before; it’s the sound of senators tweeting about their “concern” about a grievous outrage and then doing nothing about it.

“Point me to the light at the end of the tunnel, and prove to me that the tunnel hasn’t already caved in,” I wrote then. “Because I can’t see it, and it’s getting harder to breathe.”

I could still be wrong. So I renew my plea from two years ago: If I’m wrong, tell me how.

Otherwise, I don’t know what to do with this, this knowing. I don’t know what happens next. I don’t know what to do now, nor what to do when what’s happened becomes obvious to everyone.