The Fatalism (and Hope) of the Doomed

Noah Millman over at The American Conservative laments what politics in America has become:

The sorts of people who show up for a Mitt Romney fundraiser want to hear that 47% of the country should be written off because they are not financially self-supporting for whatever reason. They can’t be reached, but simply have to be defeated and kept away from power.

The sorts of people who show up for a Hillary Clinton fundraiser want to hear that 50% of their opponent’s supporters belong in a “basket of deplorables” because they are racist, sexist, xenophobic, etc. They can’t be reached, but simply have to be defeated and kept away from power.

He goes on to note the alt-right supporters on Donald Trump see civilization at stake — in a way coup plotters like those in Salvador Allende’s Chile did in 1973 — and thus there is no room for conversation or even compromise.

We are no longer a nation of fellow citizens engaged in a common endeavor, even as we differ. We have become a nation of enemies and strangers, living side-by-side. Politics is about conquest and subjugation. About preventing those enemies next door from ruling.

By any means possible.

My fear is, soon, we will actually mean that.

Politics is always about winners and losing, excluding and including, competing visions for the polity, even lording it over those you have defeated. But I have long been afraid, ever since I was in graduate school at Georgetown, that the rhetoric (of the late 1990s!) was such that at some point, someone would be so unwilling to lose that they would consider drastic action. Extra legal, extra-constitutional action.

Violent action.

We are headed there. Anyone who thinks Donald Trump is the antidote to what ails America shares the same deluded line of thinking that prompted Soviet generals to arrest Mikhail Gorbachev in August, 1991, and a handful of confused Turkish military leaders to ineptly try and overthrow Recep Tayyep Erdogan earlier this year. Doomed attempts to save dying states, to preserve collapsing orders. The attempt to impose order simply accelerates the rot, and it will further collapse sclerotic institutions that only marginally function anyway.

I admit, I’m a fatalist. For several decades now, I’ve become convinced that dictatorship and violence are an inevitable outcome of our politics. We invest too many of our hopes, dreams, and identities in political acts, in state power, at a time when the state sprawls so widely that it cannot act quickly, effectively, or all that efficiently. At a time when the state itself is increasingly all we share in common — the only thing that links us to each other.

And we too easily constructs our identities ideologically, writing people out of the common, national story who do not believe what we believe.

It doesn’t help that we still seek an earthly paradise, and we still believe politics can and should give it to us. Such is the curse of modernity in an age when Democratic politics has begun to fail and elites can no longer think straight or govern with much wisdom.

This is what happens when you delude yourself into thinking you have abolished history merely because the notion of history you’ve lived with for nearly (and yet only) two centuries — ideological struggle — has gasped its last breath. It lets you forget history is not so much a struggle of ideas as it is of men and their competing and conflicting desires, their aspirations, their appetites, and their successes and failures. History is still happening, because sinful men still breathe, still want, still struggle, still yearn, and still fail.

The metaphor of a Flight 93 election is an interesting one, because once the hijackers took the cockpit of that plane, there was no saving it. The passengers of that plane only got to choose what purpose they died for, the reason they died, and the meaning of their deaths — they didn’t have any choice about death itself.

They were doomed.

And yet, even as polities rise and decline, as order and civilizations come and go, there are always people. Sinful, blessed, striving, caring, brutal, lost, noble, people. However this election ends, and whatever it brings (I’m not betting on renewal, but I never have), we — humanity — will still be here, still breathing, still begetting, still working and loving and praying and fighting and wondering.

So there is hope. There is always hope. Even among the doomed.

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