What a spectacle! There has probably been nothing like it in the American Republic since the antebellum era in the 1850s. The pent-up fears, hatreds and bigotries–across racial, ethnic and gender lines–have been bared and are approaching a tipping point that leaves even a jaundiced reporter’s eye such as mine amazed and uncertain as to the outcome.
The old political and social order seems to be splitting at the seams, and what would replace it seems equally fraught.
Until a week ago, I had spent the last two months far away from the homeland, and I was only periodically in touch with the daily unfolding chaos in the Republican presidential race. It seemed not only far away to me, but also a partisan and pedestrian matter on the periphery of reality–something that would be cleared up by the time I returned home.
I should have known better. Yes, it was obvious even from afar that the cynical politics of division that has been played by the Republican Party for decades had amply fertalized the ground that was now sprouting the current insane crop of presidential contenders. But there surely would be certain boundaries of sanity that limited and channeled the hysteria, right?
Wrong! As I looked today at the image of a woman supporter of Donald Trump giving the Nazi salute (her post-facto explanation totally unconvincing), I realized just how much deranged hatred has underpinned the Republican Party’s political strategy. That that strategy, which not so long ago seemed carefully calibrated, has now overwhelmed the party itself is of little consolation. The Republicans have cynically played the Jacobins’ game for decades by deftly using the coded language of division and bigotry (that Nazi salute clearly was not “politically correct,” was it?), and they now are trying to deal with the result, their very own Robspierre (or two).
The alarmed reaction from the political left (and apparently even the center-right) of the American political spectrum has been mounting as fears of a catasrophic electoral result have risen. And the very real battle lines between those who are America’s collateral damage of globalization (that would be mostly undereducated white males still living in an hallucinatory and lost past) and the rest of the society that experiences the world as it really exists has been clearly drawn.
It seems like a last stand for the bigots and those who mistakenly assume that their skin color, gender and place of birth amount to an irrevocable gift; but we’re about to find out how many of them are actually out there.
Whatever the outcome, this is a breathtaking moment in American history, and potentially a revolutionary one.