I’ve been trying to figure out why this election has affected me so deeply. It’s had me feeling at once angry, despondent, frustrated, unable to write and, most of all, with a huge sense of loss.
I try to tell myself, it’s just a new politician. I’ve seen many politicians come and go,—some of whom I supported and some of whom I despised—and yet most of them didn’t have a direct impact on my day-to-day life.
Who knows, maybe this will be the same thing. Leave it alone, let it be, one side of my brain tells me. We do need a healthy dose of reform and shaking up in many areas, including food. Just keep doing what you’ve been doing, writing about farmers who are being pushed around by our oligarchic food system, and hope that possibly the system becomes more tolerant of our smallest producers of good quality food.
While I try to go about my business, the other side of my brain is in a panic. I know, I should keep an open mind until Donald Trump takes office. I’ve tried, believe me. I’ve tried to find signs that he will do things to help real people, for example, help small farms escape corruption-induced regulation designed to help Big Food corporations that make the biggest campaign contributions.
But wherever I look, I see a monster, who will make the corruption of the last 40 years look like penny ante. The billionaires Trump has brought in to run the government are expert at one thing—doing deals that will enrich a few, at the expense of the many. Trump’s refusal to separate himself meaningfully from his worldwide business interests nearly guarantees conflicts of interest, in which it’s difficult to imagine Trump or his people putting America’s interests before his own private financial interests. Some of it is very clear and direct, like the flocking of foreign dignitaries to Trump’s Washington, DC, hotel—much of it at the Trump family’s urging.
Newsweek provides an excellent primer on some of the more complex and thorny conflicts of interest around the world, expressing fears that Trump’s refusal to make the separation from his businesses potentially subjects him to bribery and blackmail; it is very informative reading.
I can’t help but conclude that America’s 240-year run as a democratic beacon to the world is drawing to a close. That going forward, we’ll have experiences much more like nearly every other once-great country the world over has had during our 240 years of democratic governance. Russia ruled by czars and communist tyrants. Germany ruled by a maniacal genocidal ruler. Italy and Spain ruled by fascist dictators. France, Greece, Denmark, Poland, Austria, Hungary and Holland ruled for years by conquering Germans. Much of South America ruled by military juntas. Japan ruled by dynasties and eventually a military dictatorship that dragged the U.S. and Asia into World War II. China ruled by dynasties and tough communist tyrants. South Africa ruled by a system of racial apartheid. Venezuela, Cuba, Burma, Turkey…..the list goes on and on, and it’s only an off-the-top-of-the-head listing.
Few of these tyrannical situations ended peacefully and easily, and without terrible recriminations. Indeed, some haven’t resolved themselves at all. But when they end, they invariably end as a result of war or massive corruption or civil conflict or coups. Why should we be different?
Those thoughts keep me mired in the muck. But what truly saddens me, even shames me, is the clear sense that a good chunk of my countrymen haven’t the least sense of trepidation about what lies ahead. Indeed, many seem to lust for a strongman, based on polls showing substantial support for Vladimir Putin and Russia—much like new army recruits often lust for the first battles of warfare….until death and maiming and destruction bring them to their senses, and the survivors return home mentally dazed and disturbed. Some of the political stuff I see bandied about on Facebook by people who have been involved in working on behalf of food rights is truly frightening in its ignorance and hatefulness.
Just as in all these other countries I listed, my countrymen are certain that our tyrant will be different from those chewed up and spit out by the turbulence of history. Why? I suppose because we’ve had 240 years of stable democratic rule (with the exception of the Civil War of 1861-65, whose terrible destruction helped wring the naivete out of those times).
All I can conclude is that so many years of stability have made many Americans so politically fat and happy that they’ve lost their sense of appreciation and gratitude, and their sense of danger. It makes them oblivious to the unfortunate reality that once you lose human rights to a tyrant, it’s very very difficult to get them back. In fact, sometimes you don’t get them back, as some of the countries I listed earlier have discovered.
If there’s one lesson I’ve learned from studying history, it is that it’s foolhardy to sit back and hope for the best, to think that the tyrant won’t try to accomplish much of what he promised. It’s crazy to think that I can continue to focus on exposing problems with food rights, even while other civil liberties and human rights are being abridged and demeaned, as they almost certainly will be. That’s what strongmen and tyrants inevitably do—they imagine more and more enemies at every turn, and try to shut them down via harsher and harsher methods.
When Trump says he admires the leadership qualities of Russia’s strongman, Vladimir Putin, Trump can only be referring to his tyrannical ways—his murder of journalists, his murder of political opponents, his murder of Syrians, his intimidation of the Ukraine—because Putin has no other leadership accomplishments, except perhaps leading his country to the brink of bankruptcy, while enriching himself. He descends directly from a long line of strongmen, most notably Josef Stalin; one of whose major accomplishments came in the food arena—starving millions of Ukrainian farmers and peasants in the early 1930s, in the process of forcing collectivized farming on his nation’s most productive farming areas.
Going forward in the immediate future, it’s essential to keep the heat and spotlight on Trump’s coming crackdown. It’s important for journalists to investigate Trump-related corruption in advance of him likely seeking expanded libel laws. It’s up to cities and religious institutions and other organizations to declare themselves “sanctuaries” for immigrants, in advance of widespread raids and deportations. It’s up to women to organize together with doctors to ensure continuation of choice over their bodies, even if this human right is declared illegal.
Absent a clear message from lots of Americans that they won’t roll over, you can rest assured the new administration will seek to do all that Trump promised to do, and then some. Indeed, we are likely one terrorist incident removed from a state of emergency declared by the commander in chief that will initiate us to the abridging of basic rights, like those affecting search and seizure, the prohibition against self incrimination, and free speech.
If there is anything encouraging in this situation, it is that some organizations are standing up and being counted. A number of religious organizations are committing to offer sanctuary to immigrants facing separation from their families. I plan to ask several religious organizations I am involved with to consider doing the same.
Finally, I’m not sure where this blog is headed. There have been some good discussions here over the last few weeks, while I’ve been dealing with my writer’s block. Yet a number of readers certainly won’t care for my new direction, and I respect that. One thing is certain: Politics has never in my lifetime, with the possible exception of the conflict over the war in Vietnam, been as front and center as it has become in our lives. Difficult times lie ahead.