F-Word: Taking a Breath from the Political Moment

Take a breath. Are you breathing? I noticed the other day I hadn’t taken a real breath in weeks. There just doesn’t seem to be time, under the onslaught of executive orders. If the number one goal of the incoming administration was to stress civil society they need to dig out Bush’s banner and stand in front of it on an aircraft carrier somewhere: Mission Accomplished. And that, I suspect, is exactly the point.

If Naomi Klein was writing Shock Doctrine today I bet she’d call the Trump term so far one great big shock event. Shocks are intended to throw society into chaos…

And that’s exactly what’s happened where I am: protests every evening, new panics every morning. President Trump is pushing every available panic button and seeing which ones work. Try it: Bald face lie to the press about factual events and see if they can stay focussed; ban immigrants from certain countries and faiths — just try it out; fire all the senior State Department staff that have relations with foreign leaders, fire the Attorney General, shake up the National Security Council.

Create an executive team that’s packed with unaccountable political propagandists and almost no one with government experience. If the goal was to stress civil society: cities, the courts, the press, the diplomatic corps and the military? Check Check Check Check. Trump’s first weeks in office have done all that brilliantly.

So what next? As Historian Heather Richardson has pointed out shock events can work in two ways - Confederate leaders used shock to railroad early Southern States into leaving the union. Lincoln used the same shock to pull together a brand new coalition that rededicated itself to government, “a government of the People, by the people and for the people.”

Which way are we going to go?

As Anna Julia Cooper told us over a century ago, a bridge is only as strong as its weakest link. The Trump-Bannon mob know just where our weakest link is. It’s the one we feel to each other. That prophetically American, always bitterly contested definition of "The People." As the Movement For Black Lives forced us to answer: Who’s in “We the People” and who’s out? If we can breathe into that, and breathe a little, we’ll make it through this.

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