To do nothing is sometimes a good remedy.
It’s genuinely terrifying to be an American these days. And a baffled world is looking on in horror, shuddering and wondering: “What the? What have Americans let happen to their society? What if that happens here?”
What is “that,” exactly?
America is having is the Mother of All Social Collapses. It’s hard to put into words because it really is something strange, new, unprecedented, shocking, gruesome. It’s like a major earthquake — it’s going to redefine the world’s fault lines for generations to come.
I say that because Trump’s America, I noticed, was trending on Twitter. In response, people had written all kinds of funny, snarky, depressing, angry rejoinders.
But it seemed impossible, maybe, to encapsulate it all. The scale and scope of what America’s become, the bottomless depth and towering height of the failure of a society like this.
Trump’s America is many things. Even I struggle to express the extent of the calamity in words by now. It’s a place where mass death is an everyday affair. Trump’s America is a plague state, wracked by illness and disease. Trump’s America is an economic trainwreck. It’s a society whose social bonds have been blown apart by hate and brutality and selfishness. It’s a budding police state — those “federal agents” are coming to your streets. It’s a collapsing nation — one imploding into authoritarianism, poverty, disease, and death.
Like I said, even I struggle to put it into words.
But the economist in me can express it much more succinctly and precisely.
When I say “The Mother of All Social Collapses,” I mean it. Trump’s America is a society that combines all the strands of social collapse that we know if — and then some. Yes, really.
Economically, Trump’s America is Soviet. Politically and socially, it resembles Nazi Germany. And culturally, it’s Taliban-esque, aggressively retrograde. That’s a lot of ruin for one country, which is why it’s so hard to put into words. It really is breathtaking and staggering when you think about it.
Let me begin with the economy — how Trump’s America is Soviet.
Its intellectual class seems incapable of processing much, or even any, of the above. As long as billionaires are getting richer, and the stock market’s rising — what’s the problem? Like the Soviet Union, America has a strange set of measures for the health and prosperity of a society, which don’t seem to account for anything that actually matters, whether happiness, wealth, stability, safety, or sanity. And like the Soviet Union, only paying attention to those self-created indicators of a kind of ideologically self-defined success has made America incapable of grasping the tiniest shreds of truth, like the fact that American life sucks for most people now.
Like the Soviet Union, Trump’s America is a place that can’t provide the basics for people anymore. Like decent jobs — 50% of Americans now work “low wage service jobs,” which is today’s jargon for: the menial work of servants to the rich. Like the basic good of public health — America has the world’s worst Coronavirus outbreak by a very long way, and it’s probably not going away…ever. Like decent food or water, which, if you’ve lived in Europe or Canada, are of a whole different league. Like public safety — think of how many kids get shot at school, or how many women and minorities get abused at work. Like money — 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Like hope and optimism for the future, which keeps a society confident, buoyant, gentle, working together — Americans now expect life to get steadily worse. They’re probably right. America can’t provide the most basic of basics for people anymore, from medicine to money to jobs to public health to safety. There’s no deeper way in which a society can fail.
Wait, let me correct that. There is one deeper way. The lights can go out. A society can turn dark.
That brings me to the next thing Trump’s America is. It’s also pretty, well, Nazi. Yes, Nazi. Look, before you react angrily to that, sputtering into denial let me say one thing: the entire world thinks this. I’m only sharing with you you what every single person who’s not American says to me every single goddamned day. From my friend Ben the grizzled London copper to my friend Art in Hong Kong to all my friends in Canada, Europe, and Africa. It’s the very first topic of discussion I have with a baffled and horrified world. Americans are the only ones who are still in denial about it.
Trump’s America is pretty Nazi. Come on — it’s not exactly hard to see.Concentration camps, kids in them, kids in cages in them, family separations, raids, bans, purges, hate, dehumanization, and so on. Who else does that? Accountants? Sure, sometimes, but when they do, they’ve become…Nazis.
We’re all taught about Nazism over and over again from the time we’re little kids, over and over again, so that it sinks into us. But while the entire worldis now like “Wow, America turned kind of Nazi, huh?” by and large, withinAmerica, that’s still somehow a controversial proposition. You get the blank look from Americans when you say the word fascism — the one that everyone who’s not American knows, when the mind shuts down, when a truth too dangerous to utter has been spoken. Of course, that’s also fascism.
Trump’s America is a place where the denial of the good people runs rampant. Nazis? What Nazis? Where? Denial is a crucial element is a society turning politically Nazi. When I say “America resembles Nazi Germany politically and socially,” I don’t just mean the Trumpists — I also mean the regular old American who’s the only person left on planet earth who’s still in denial about it, like the good German of the 1930s.
What Americans didn’t seem to understand is that these Nazi institutions would soon be used against them, too, if they didn’t speak up against them. And now here we are — where the shock troops who once hunted hated immigrants are now beating and abducting American Moms off the streets, and gassing Mayors of Cities. That’s what denial does: it enables.
What happened in Nazi Germany was what political scientists politely call a “silent majority.” Today, America has one. And for some baffling reason, Americans seem to think a silent majority is a good thing. That a polite majority who say nothing is proof of some kind of civilized nature. Nothing could be more wrong. “Silent majority” is not a compliment. It’s an insult! It’s a disappointment, a condemnation. You don’t want a silent majority in a society. A silent majority paves the way for every kind of authoritarian implosion under the sun, from fascist to theocratic to kleptocratic to all of them put together.
In the Islamic World, the silent majority is what let the fundamentalists and fanatics take over, and wreck societies that were once democracies. In Nazi Germany, the silent majority is what let the Nazis seize power, and then abuse it. In the Soviet Union, the silent majority is what let the communist machine wreck everyday life and society.
Let me say it again, because I think it’s important. Americans seem to have been taught that a silent majority is a wonderful and noble thing, like some kind of sleeping dragon, who’ll suddenly awaken, and defend the land from the barbarians. It’s not. A silent majority is not a good thing for a society to have. It’s a terrible one. It’s a patient on life support having a stroke.
It’s what we call that part of a society who is too scared, frightened, weary, or willfully ignorant to live up to their responsibilities as citizens of a democracy.
A silent majority is a bad thing, not a good one. It’s a negative. It’s not a sleeping dragon, it’s more like one that’s passed out, drunk, while the barbarians set fire to the citadel. It’s a sign that a society has one of the final elements necessary to implode, which is…acquiescence, cowardice, or indifference, or maybe all three.
That brings me to the next thing Trump’s America is. Fanatical. While the good people are a silent majority — and again, that’s not a good thing — the American Idiot apparently wants to make America look, ironically, a lot like the Islamic world he purportedly hates. The American Idiot has flourished into a kind of weird Taliban of its own, demanding everything from control over women’s bodies to refusing vaccinations to not teaching kids science.
Nowhere else in the civilized world can you go and find the kinds of bizarre “debates” you do in America — over things for which there really is no debate. Should people wear masks? Does evolution exist? Should women not be objects and possessions? Are minorities human beings? Is it OK for a society to be a place of constant abuse, cruelty, aggression, and violence? Should people have no healthcare? How about kids — should we teach them superstition, not science, and then arm their teachers, in case a mass murderer shows up?
Americans don’t quite get it, but nowhere else in the world is like this. The closest analogue I have is the Islamic world, where people also tend to debate poppycock and superstition intensely and seriously, as though teaching a kid that human beings evolved was somehow going to seal their fate in the afterlife. But even in the Islamic world, America’s levels of everyday cruelty and aggression are hard to find — kids there aren’t getting shot at schools, they’re just getting turned into idiots.
The American Idiot has turned America into a society where idiocy of every kind flourishes. That’s how the Islamic World imploded, too, by the way. It wasn’t always like this — despite what you’ve heard. It used to be a literate, civilized, artistic, learned place. Then the mullahs arrived, the majorities fell silent — and the rest is history.
The American Idiot’s story is much the same. He’s pushed a kind of line of incredible cultural idiocy that rotted and broke the American Mind. Science was replaced with superstition, human decency with aggression, thoughtfulness with unthinking cruelty, knowledge with the ignorances of racism, misogyny, hate, and greed. Trump’s election was the triumph of the American Idiot, and since then, stunning leaps in idiocy have been made.
Because the American Idiot has successfully made every kind of superstition and regression into a “debate,” the result is that American can’t…go anywhere. It’s so busy trying to debate the American Idiot that it doesn’t have time or energy left to learn. From a world that is now far more successful. Why is it that Europeans enjoy such vastly higher standards of living? Why don’t they have to choose between their lives and their life savings? Why is it that Canadians have good healthcare and decent pensions? But when you’re busy “debating” whether, say, teachers should be armed or whether that secret police abducting moms and gassing mayors really is one…where can you go? Not forwards — only less backwards.
It feels frightening and surreal to live in Trump’s America these days for a good reason. Because it is. America is having the Mother of All Social Collapses.
Call it the MASC if you want an (unintentionally ironic) acronym.
The social collapse Trump’s America is having is a supercollapse. It combines the worst elements of all the social collapses that we know of. Hence, the Mother of All Social Collapses.
Economically, America is a weird mirror image of the Soviet Union — a society that’s unable to provide basics for its citizens anymore, leaving them to battle each other for whatever morsels of a decent life they can, in a perpetual, daily, desperate, bitter battle for survival. Just like in the Soviet Union, negligence and irresponsibility has led to economic stagnation, the implosion of the middle and working classes into mass poverty and mass hopelessness…and now, finally, to mass death.
Politically, America resembles Nazi Germany — right down to the silent majority, not just the concentration camps and secret police. The silence of that majority baffles the world — while Americans seem to think a silent majority is a good thing.
Culturally, America is a cousin of the Islamic World, where crackpots and theocrats want to organize a nation as a crusade for salvation, not as a modern, functioning society, where an Army of Idiots that’s an overly powerful minority has rendered any kind of social progress flatly impossible.
America’s collapse is a real one, and a special one. It isn’t just a Nazi collapse. It isn’t just an authoritarian collapse. It isn’t just an economic collapse. It isn’t even just a cultural collapse into hate and backwardness and superstition. It’s all those things put together.
The world hasn’t really seen all that put together before. The Soviet Union didn’t want to be a theocracy, and neither did the Nazis. The mullahs of the Islamic World wanted to provide basics for all — they weren’t capitalists — mistaken as they were as to how go about it. And so on. America combines all the strands of social collapse that we know of, and then adds some of its own — like the idiocy of the non-mask-wearer or the anti-vaxxer or the Fox News addict.
It’s honestly terrifying to be American these days. The world is closing its doors to us. The bodies are piling up. You can’t have a decent life, it seems, no matter how hard you work — you’ll never pay off those “debts.”There’s an Army of Idiots, led by a Psychopath-in-Chief, who think being able to carry a gun to Starbucks is a basic human right — but healthcare isn’t. Where will you go? What will you do?
Welcome to Trump’s America.
After ecstasy, the laundry.
PARIS — No people has found the American lurch toward authoritarianism under President Trump more alarming than the Germans. For postwar Germany, the United States was savior, protector and liberal democratic model. Now, Germans, in shock, speak of the “American catastrophe.”
A recent cover of the weekly magazine Der Spiegel portrays Trump in the Oval Office holding a lighted match, with a country ablaze visible through his window. The headline: “Der Feuerteufel,” or, literally, “the Fire Devil.”
Germans have a particular relationship to fire. The Reichstag fire of 1933 enabled Hitler and the Nazis to scrap the fragile Weimar democracy that had brought them to power. Hitler’s murderous fantasies could now become reality. War, Auschwitz and the German catastrophe followed.
Michael Steinberg, a professor of history at Brown University and the former president of the American Academy in Berlin, wrote to me this week:
“The American catastrophe seems to get worse every day, but the events in Portland have particularly alarmed me as a kind of strategic experiment for fascism. The playbook from the German fall of democracy in 1933 seems well in place, including rogue military factions, the destabilization of cities, etc.”
Steinberg continued, “The basic comparison involves racism as a political strategy: a racist imaginary of a pure homeland, with cities demonized as places of decadence.”
Trump provokes outrage in a cascade designed to blunt alarm. He deadens reactions through volume and repetition. But something about the recent use of unmarked cars and camouflage-clad federal agents without clear identifying insignia detaining protesters shattered any inclination to shrug.
From the deployment of those federal units in Portland, Oregon’s largest city, where protesters have been demanding racial justice and police accountability, it’s not a huge leap to the use of paramilitaries (like the German Freikorps in the 1920s) to buttress a “Law and Order” campaign. The Freikorps battled communists. Today, Trump claims to battle “anarchists,” “terrorists” and violent leftists. It’s the leitmotif of his quest for a second term.
Perhaps the years I spent covering Argentina in the 1980s, in the aftermath of the military junta, made me particularly sensitive to the use of unmarked cars — in the Argentine case, Ford Falcons — to grab left-wing political opponents off the street. They were “disappeared,” a word whose lingering psychological devastation I measured in countless tear-filled rooms. Later I went to Berlin, where there was only one story: totalitarian tragedy and the labors of democratic salvation.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection confirmed this week that it has deployed officers from three paramilitary-style units to join the federal crackdown in Portland. The Trump administration, facing lawsuits, has cited post-9/11 legislation establishing the department to justify its action. Chicago is now among several cities being targeted as Trump seeks to foment confrontation.
As Tom Ridge, a Republican who was the first head of the Department of Homeland Security, noted in an interview with the Sirius XM host Michael Smerconish, the department was “not established to be the president’s personal militia.”
In wartime, the Third Geneva Convention, to which the United States is a party, requires even irregular forces to wear “a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance.” This is critical not only to protecting civilians but also to ensuring accountability for misconduct.
When paramilitary-style units have no identifying insignia, there is no transparency, no accountability — and that means impunity. Democracy dies. Think of all this as setting the scene for Trump’s own “state of emergency” if he does not like the November election result. Social media is combustible enough for a physical fire to be unnecessary.
The president says he wants to protect law-abiding citizens. In 1933, after the Reichstag burned, Hitler issued the “Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State” as his means to seize power.
German horror at Trump has many components. He’s the fear-mongering showman wielding nationalism, racism and violence as if the 20th century held no lessons. He’s the would-be destroyer of the multilateral institutions that brought European peace and made it possible for Germans to raise their bowed heads again. He is a fascist in the making.
“We are not condemned to accept the spread of this virus as an inevitable fact of life,” she said. “We thrive not because we are forced to do something, but because we share knowledge and encourage active participation.” She went on to say that success largely depends “on each and every one of us.”
It worked. Merkel was addressing all democratic citizens, Americans included. No wonder Trump cannot stand her, a woman trained as a scientist whose life lesson has been the sacred value of freedom.
President Trump is oh so proud of having mastered the ability to intone, “Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.”
But the more pressing issue is whether he is a person who can master talking to women through a TV camera without sounding like a cave man.
We continually debate whether Trump is a madman, but there’s no doubt he’s a Mad Man. He’s a ring-a-ding-ding guy, stuck in a time warp redolent of Vegas with the Rat Pack in 1959, talking about how “broads” and “skirts” rate. He was in his element bro-ing out with Dave Portnoy in an interview for “Barstool Sports” that aired Friday.
Trump’s idea of wooing the women’s vote, which is decisive in this election, was to tweet out a New York Post story headlined “Joe Biden’s disastrous plans for America’s suburbs” with the directive: “The Suburban Housewives of America must read this article.”
Trump believes that the coveted electoral cohort that used to be known as soccer moms are actually sucker moms, naïve enough to fall for his schtick that the unleashed forces of urban America are marching toward their manicured lawns.
How perfect that the pussy-grabbing president — whose personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, got in trouble over his boss’s porn-star payout — wants to protect the desperate housewives of America.
In a speech on drug prices on Friday, Trump took his strange brand of feminism for a spin, pausing while he talked about middlemen profiting in the Big Pharma arena, to say “and women, I guess.”
On the Bulwark, a conservative website, Sarah Longwell wrote about her three-years-worth of focus groups with women who voted for Trump in 2016.
She found that they chose Trump over Hillary Clinton because they did not like Clinton and because they felt that Bill Clinton’s bad behavior with women canceled out Trump’s bad behavior with women.
But the relationship with women voters has soured, not only because of his pugnacity and bullying, but because of his lack of compassion and competence dealing with the coronavirus and painful issues about race.
“They don’t see Trump as someone who can protect them from the chaos,’’ Longwell wrote. “They think he’s the source of it.”
And his party is on board with the antediluvian vibe. R-Misogyny. Even on the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote, Republicans can’t help themselves.
It feels strange to be typing something positive in a sentence with the word Cheney in it, but it was disturbing to see a bunch of MAGA bros in Congress beat up on Liz Cheney because, among other offenses to the cult of Trump, she defended Dr. Anthony Fauci and shaded Trump on his denial on the virus by tweeting a picture of her father in a mask with the hashtag, “realmenwearmasks.”
One Trump disciple in the House, Rep. Matt Gaetz, tweeted that “Liz Cheney has worked behind the scenes (and now in public) against @realDonald Trump and his agenda.” He added, “Liz Cheney should step down or be removed.”
Donald Jr. chimed in on Twitter, “We already have one Mitt Romney, we don’t need another.”
(Of course, while it feels strange to be typing something positive in a sentence with the word Trump in it, Don Jr. was right in his second point, “We also don’t need the endless wars she advocates for.” That point was echoed by the president on Twitter. I would never agree with a Cheney’s mindless hawkishness.)
As Republicans sniped, one Democrat soared.
Ted Yoho, a Florida Republican, tried to slap down Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A reporter overheard him muttering that the congresswoman was “a fucking bitch” as Yoho walked away after having an argument with her about crime and policing on the steps of the Capitol. (Yoho denies he said it.)
The youngest woman to ever serve in Congress is so full of natural political talent, burning so bright, that the 2020 field seems dull next to her luster. It was a remarkable moment on Capitol Hill, where for years super-achieving women have let such sexist remarks slide.
She went to the House floor Thursday and schooled Yoho the Yahoo and the retrograde crowd.
“Mr. Yoho mentioned that he has a wife and two daughters,” she said. “I am two years younger than Mr. Yoho’s youngest daughter. I am someone’s daughter, too.” She added, “I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter, and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.”
Showing her skill in a generational dimension foreign to Congress until now, A.O.C. posted a video of herself on Instagram Stories strutting to the rap tune “Boss Bitch” by Doja Cat, her long hair whipping to the music, with the Capitol in the background. “I’m a bitch and a boss, Im’a shine like gloss.” She captioned it: “Shine on, fight for others, and let the haters stay mad.”
And that’s the way you make Paleolithic men understand that they are history.