Just gonna be honest. I feel overwhelmed in this moment. I feel like a lot people I love and respect are also overwhelmed. I see a lot of us trying to do the next right thing I think that is really great and hopeful. But I am really worried that people think the next right thing to do is a strategy of “first we elect Biden/Harris then we hold them accountable and go about rebuilding the country.” This strategy terrifies me.
I worry that it will leave us even more under-prepared for what is going to happen in the next few months, let alone years. I am going to leave aside for a moment the big political and ideological questions about if we should vote at all or if the U.S should be “rebuilt” if it collapses. What I want to talk about is the fact that the likely scenarios for the next few month require us to organize now. We are not in period of “normal politics.” It is very likely that it is going to get harder to organize in the next few month regardless of who “wins” the “election.” If we do not get prepared now for what November will likely be like, I am worried that it will break some of us.
I hope I am wrong…
This post is not for people who are organizing right now. This post is for people who are hoping that November will end this nightmare. I need folks to start being prepared now that November will almost certainly make this nightmare much worse at least in the immediate term. Long term, it is unlikely that things will get too much better any time soon no matter what happens. This doesn’t mean there is not hope only that we need start building that better future now.
To be clear, I think Biden being president will be better for most people in the short and medium term. I think this is in large part to due to the political positions within the U.S government that change with every election. But that does not mean that Biden’s election is a step towards a brighter future. It is not. It is a lurching halt; it is stopping moving towards a particular dystopia. It is possible that we could sit right here, is this same level of dysfunction with a Biden Presidency. Anyone who is arguing that Biden’s election is the necessary and sufficient next step to a better future in the long run, is either being deliberately obtuse or lacks an historical imagination.
It is this reality that I fear almost as much as a continued Trump presidency: a prolonged political stagnation where only austerity measures and defense spending is passed in congress that prolongs the social dysfunction in which thousands die and millions more are too drained of energy to collectively fight back. Those of us who do are resisting are constantly besieged by those who tells us to give Biden a chance or defend the indefensible by saying “at least they are not Trump.”
It is the reality in which Biden convinces us that China is the enemy because he used less racist language and U.S imperialism is no longer thwarted by the world community because it feels more “adult.” Where we end up deadly proxy wars with China in which hundreds of thousands die. In which the Neo-liberal agenda reclaims its ideological hegemony off the strength “of at least its not Trump.” This all doesn’t even taught on what Trump’s emerging authoritarian and increasingly fascist base does when it loses. Considering how sore winners they have been, I can only imagine that loss will lead to violence from some. That is another dystopia that should NOT be welcomed or advocated for just because it is less bad.
The only thing that can ensure that we stop going down Trump’s dystopia and ensure Biden does not lead us down another is organizing. In order to organize in this moment we have to consider what the possible outcomes in November are and which of those possible outcomes are probable.
This post will do something I rarely do. It will only focus on the problem. Seeing it clearly. It won’t end with many next steps. This is because I think that some of us are unwilling to look this historic moment in the face. To really see it.
If the though of looking deeply into this moment fills you with anxiety and you don’t have a practice of facing your anxiety to hold it as it dissipates then this post not for you. Rest. Take care of yourself. Please, Please, Please don’t act out of emotions that you cannot process or really face. Rest. Take care of yourself.
To paraphrase James Baldwin: Not Everything that is faced can be overcome but nothing can be overcome that is not first faced clearly.
How Will These Social Crises Transform in November?
So, lets game plan all the things that might happen in November:
0. Black Swan Event Happens
- Trump wins outright, Biden concedes
- Trump wins through massive fraud and some weird vote in the house where each state gets a vote and republicans re-elect him
- The election is contested and there is no clear winner and the process breaks down
- Biden wins outright, Trump concedes
- Biden wins outright, Trump refuses to concede.
- Biden wins in some weird vote in the house where each state gets a vote
Scenario 0: Black Swan Event
According to Wikipedia:
The black swan theory or theory of black swan events is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. The term is based on an ancient saying that presumed black swans did not exist – a saying that became reinterpreted to teach a different lesson after the first European encounter with them.
The theory was developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to explain:
The disproportionate role of high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology.
The non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to the very nature of small probabilities).
The psychological biases that blind people, both individually and collectively, to uncertainty and to a rare event’s massive role in historical affairs.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_swan_theory
This is really just a disclaimer. There is always the possibility of the unpredictable. Maybe Trump delays the election. Maybe aliens decide to contact us now. Maybe a natural disaster happens and election is just practice impossible. I can’t see the future. But the scenarios below I feel like are permutation on the futures we can foresee.
Scenario 1 or 2: Trump Wins
Before we start, if you think that there is no way Trump can “win” this elections please read this article. It is looking increasingly likely that Trump is already well positioned to steal this election.
If we end up with 1 or 2 we will want to be prepared for it because the first thing Trump will do is consolidate power. To some extent we are already seeing him do that. We should prepare for that eventuality now.
1. Its not immediately clear if a Trump victory emboldens his base or pacifies them. Likely it does a mixture of both. Some members will see the elections as confirmation that they can set back and let God and history continue in its current direction. Others will likely see another four years of Trump as license to do even more violence. Regardless, they will likely call for more violence against the left that will inevitably rise up in anger.
2. It is likely that the violent backlash we are seeing in areas outside of the coastal mega cities will continue to rise at a similar if not greater pace. As the economic insecurity of “Wal-mart America” increases while companies like Apple literally doubles it value will increase resentment in the economic marginalized areas where Trump’s working class white base lives. They will have a right to be angry but they won’t take it out on Apple.
3. It will almost certainly embolden the police. Trump is extending operation Legend into more and more cities. If he is re-elected it likely that the left will take to streets in anger. Any property destruction done these protests will allow Trump to take an even heavier hand in cities. A world in which Trump wins the election might also be a world in which Republics down ticket also make gains.
4. Most importantly all the checks against Trump will have failed. They will be nothing stopping him from doing whatever he wants. No norm he cannot undue. No crisis he cannot fabricate to further narcissistic ends. A Trump re-election or coup would like lead to devastating state sponsored deprivation, imprisonment and violence.
Scenario 3: Failed State America
If 3 happens, and the outcome of the elections is uncertain then things get weird. Its tempting, as an Anarchist, to wish for the failed state option. We can dream of having our very own Chiapas or Rojava situation. But any realistic study of history shows those creative liberatory left wing experiments on democracy from below and to the left only happen after years of terrorism. The Zapatistas arose only after Mexico was basically a narco state and years of austerity had devastated communities. A Rojava was only possible because of ISIS. Anarchy–where there is no ruling class–is very different than chaos of failed state where there are no rules.
There are unfortunately many possible roads to a Failed States of America. The podcast It Could Happen Here does a good job of outlining several scenarios in which the U.S could become a failed state racked by different militias or even a civil war. Some are suggesting that the ship has already sailed and we already are a failed state.
Historically, when people are left outside of state protection suddenly but still surrounded by a state system genocide is the result. Historian Timothy Snyder makes this claim convincingly in his Book Black Earth: The Holocaust As History and Warning. As a reviewer puts it:
If the killing fields of eastern Europe could be the site of mass extermination by virtue of the abolition of the state – the Polish state, the Soviet state (in the areas conquered by the Nazis), the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian states – then the impact of Nazi exterminism in other countries depended largely on how far the state and its institutions had managed to survive. Thus most Jews escaped being murdered in Belgium and Denmark, where the institutions of the state, headed by the monarchy, remained largely in place, while in the Netherlands, where the monarch and the leading politicians had fled, they did not. Similarly, despite the antisemitism of the Vichy regime, most French Jews managed to survive the war.https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/sep/10/black-earth-holocaust-as-history-timothy-snyder-review
The history of the United States also testifies to this fact. Most of the genocide of Indigenous people happened on state-less frontiers that were created between the boarders of settler colonial states. It was only when the indigenous nations of the Americas were devastated by diseases and European nations rising off the plunder of fallen Empires in Mezo America and Africa that the conquest of the Americas was even possible. Many enslaved Africans were from tribes, empires and nations that had recently lost a war.
THIS IS NOT TO ARGUE THAT STATES STOP GENOCIDE. Rather, that states must first destroy other states before what Snyder calls “entrepreneurial violence” typical of genocides occur. This is a major reason why Hitler and Steve Bannon both want to “destroy the administrative state.” They are not nationalist in the sense that they want a strong national community. They are racist who want to incite a racial war to revitalize white societies. In Hitler’s case it was against an anti-semitic phantom of “Jewish Bolshevism” [which is not a thing] for Bannon and his ilk its against China and Islamic Civilization which are cast as “an existential threat” to western civilization [but only if you define it like he does as the domination of white men over everyone else].
In a situation where the election is in doubt it becomes a mad dash for power and both sides will declare victory. In such a situation Trump would be in power unchallenged until the inauguration date. This means that all federal agencies and the US military would be constitutionally bound to follow any lawful order. Once Trump starts giving crazy orders to the military we are in terrible situation. It means that every decision they make has political consequences. Action and non-action could both equally change the course of history. This means, regardless of their political persuasion, you get into a place where the military is deciding who the leader is and that is a very dangerous road.
Equally terrifying you would get Trump’s hand picked white chauvinist agents from the DEA, ICE and Homeland Security coordinating with militias like border patrol is already doing in Arizona and Texas. The agents rolling up in unmarked vans could become Trumps SS. The border patrol is further along this path than you might realize.
There is also the international situation to consider. Russia would likely back Trump while the rest of the world either backs Biden or does nothing. We could see sanctions leveled against the U.S if Trump refuses to step down. We might see something similar to Venezuela where different sides sanction each other internationally and mass protests happen on both sides. Unlike Venezuela, the progressive social forces in the United States are not going to win a street battle with the forces of regression, at least not through numbers alone.
If this is solved in the streets the other side has more guns and will have the backing of the police. We will have to rely on progressive and formally neutral but not fascist forces to win a street mobilization and we will –again–want to prepare for that. Getting training in direct action, preparing action networks etc. No one really “wins” in this scenario regardless.
Scenario 4: Trump Goes Quietly: The Happy Ending that is Never Going to Happen
I don’t think 4 is going to happen. Trump is going to go to jail after he leaves office. Nancy Pelosi has said it. A few local jurisdictions are already saying they are going to sue. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, jails are basically covid death traps. The choice between civil war and death is not really a hard one for a narcissist. But if it did happen, the trial of Trump or his eventual pardoning and being able to tweet his defense with likely be bloody. His base will not all accept it. He will likely be very dangerous out of office. I know that this is what some of you are hoping for but it is the least likely option and still means that Trump’s base will be riled up.
Even then, we will be dealing with a party in power that is indistinguishable from Reagan’s. Many of us were too young to remember Reagan year but they were pretty terrible for all the groups that many of you say you are voting for Biden to protect. Biden is gearing up for Neo-liberal “opportunity” agenda not an FDR like approach. It will not work.
Scenarios 5 and 6: Biden Wins: Consolidation of the Elites
5 and 6 are still very dangerous futures. Particularly 6. If six happens it will likely be because the elite rally around Biden. This will be all the confirmation that the QAnon folks need that Trump was fighting a war against the elites. Every mainstream media (expect fox) will back Biden and it will be the elites that put Biden in office. Biden will be facing some right wing militia insurgency that will likely push him further to right that he has.
They are already embracing Kasich in order to try and move the Republicans to their side. They have shown that they will not meet the right by mobilizing their base. At best they will try to mobilize the police and FBI against them. Will the police comply? eh….I wouldn’t count on it. But if they did, the history of the militia movement shows that government force only confirms their belief and they will turn to terrorism.
Under such a regime it is very unlikely that we could push Biden to the left. There is no historical precedent for right wing violence creating a ricochet affect and moving people to the left. All who push for taxes on billionaires and universal healthcare will be seen as “fueling the militias.”
I really think we need to prepare ourselves for it to get a lot worse before its gets better. The months before the election are crucial and, in my humble opinion, should not be spent pushing for the least likely outcome (4).
As I said in the beginning we need to accept the real depth of this moment. We need to full accept what the real possibilities of the next few months entail. When we accept the possible we can start to better understand the probably. Once we have some sense of what is likely to happen we can plan for what we want to happen.
The kind of re-organizing of life worlds is not something we should call for from above. That is, we should not ask the national [or even local] government to instill a re-organization of our life-worlds. This is recipe for the death and destruction. We have to take responsibility for re-organizing our own life worlds.
Death Contemplation for America
In some traditions of Buddhism, there is a practice of death contemplation that can be, for some, a useful way to deal with anxiety. It actually entails contemplating your own death. As counter intuitive as is sounds, death contemplation reminds us that death in inevitable, not something to hasten or fear. It is coming and thus we can release our grasping of our fear of IF it will happen.
Death contemplation reminds us that death is part of the natural cycles of life. Without death their could be no new life. The birth of new life is scary. Like a seed transforming into a flower, the breaking of the shell is violent process. Death contemplation invites to see the whole process, including the beautiful flower that makes cling onto life in the first place.
America as a myth about the settler-colonial states built on Turtle Island [i.e. North America] is going to die some day. The United States is going to die at some point, some day. The death of these two things does not have to be a devastating process even if it will be a violent one. Recognizing this frees us to mourn the death of the things we loved about whatever it is we are holding on to.
We are invited to see grief as the clearing ground for praise. By actually grieving the myths that we held onto about America and maybe even U.S exceptionalism we can praise the values of liberty, justice and never ending journey of building a better society that we thought our country stood for [even if it never really did]. We are now free to envision something else. Something better. Some based not only in our actual lived experience but in how best sense of what is possible.
By contemplating the death of the American Myth and an old form of the U.S State we are free to write a new story and build a new system to embody its values.
**I have already written how things being dark could actually open up wondrous possibilities in my alternative history of Trump-ism if you need a pick me up.****