The rise of Donald Trump has put a real scare into me. I realize now that I’ve been living in a fool’s paradise.
My whole adult life until very recently, I assumed that we were deeply embedded in civilization. We have culture and law, some standards. I thought barbarism was something far away, something from the past.
Donald Trump stands on stage and brags that he’s going to torture people. He says that he wants to use waterboarding, and “things much worse than waterboarding,” on bad guys because they deserve it. This is someone who has never gotten his hands dirty in his life, and he goes on stage and play-acts as a tough guy by promising to torture people. Bush and Cheney never even did that. They made oblique references to doing necessary things in secret that people were better off not thinking about, in order to keep them safe. Despicable, yes, but somehow also protective, as if they realized they were doing something too dangerous and awful to safely let out into the sunlight. Donald Trump makes a show of flaunting it in our faces, flashes around his eagerness for cruelty as a campaign pander – and his crowds eat it up. People like the ones who are around me every day.
Bernie Sanders spoke about growing up in Brooklyn in the post-war period, and seeing concentration camp survivors with numbers on their wrists. What that taught him, he said, is that politics is serious business. Politics has always been a preference and a pastime for me. It has been about thinking it would be good if my side and my preferences and my ideas won, and the other team’s lost. The stakes seemed high, but not all that high, at least not for me and mine. The rise of Donald Trump has opened my eyes about that.
We have to choose civilization. We have to choose it over and over again if we want to keep it. It is not our birthright, not something ordained for us. It is something we can lose if we don’t make sure to protect it. What I have come to realize is that right now, at this moment in history, if we choose wrong just one time, we will go right back to Rome.
I didn’t understand that until now, and it scares the hell out of me.