One of the things that happens when you write an opinion column is when you get to the end of the year you write something about what were the most important events of that year, muse about what they meant and what they may mean for the new year. But I believe also when you’re writing in this space what you’re really doing is bearing witness. Webster defines bearing witness as showing that something exists or is true. So what’s the truth about 2020?
The truth is that 2020 revealed what has become and what that possibly portends for 2021 and beyond. Webster defines metaphor as a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable, or a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else.
The Wizard of Oz, a children’s fairy tale that has captured the imagination of adults for 100 years, is an excellent metaphor for America in 2020. Oz is a fantasy land presided over by a great and powerful wizard, where all dreams and wishes are possible if you believe. But when the curtain is pulled back we discover nothing really works in Oz, because nothing in Oz is real, especially the Wizard, who is just an ordinary, old man who reached Oz on a hot air balloon.
In 2020 the curtain was pulled back on America, and if America ever worked, it doesn’t anymore. By the end of 2020 the coronavirus had decimated the United States. More than 19 million infected, over 100,000 hospitalized with over 330,000 deaths.
To contextualize the economic damage to the country, your frame of reference would have to be the Great Depression. To put these numbers in some context, America is 4 percent of the world’s population but suffered 23 percent of the global infections and 18 percent of the world’s fatalities.
But the scale of our suffering is not the unavoidable consequences of the pandemic, but rather is a function of how America chose to respond to the pandemic. America’s Hobbesian capitalism creates a political economy that results in a war of all against all, and is incapable rising above the profit motive.
It’s a country with a culture that also revels in its active ignorance and its governmental incompetence. There are tens of thousands of people unnecessarily infected, dead or their economic lives devastated because of ignorance, incompetence and greed. Donald Trump as president is the perfect caricature of the Wizard of Oz, apologies to the Wizard.
If we’re not in Kansas anymore, then where are we? Webster defines analogy as a comparison between two things, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification.
There are two historic moments you should be conversant with in order to understand what could be in America’s future.
The year is 1932, when Adolf Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany. But it’s really the period leading up to that will give you some insight on how people in a democratic republic can voluntarily and enthusiastically, democratically become a one-party authoritarian state.
Enough economic instability, add cultural change and a healthy appeal to racial solidarity and you’re there before you know it. I would suggest given white America’s ignorance and naïveté about the mendacity of American history, it would be easier than you think.
And for those who say it couldn’t/wouldn’t happen here, I would say it already has once before.
Our future could be deja vous all over again. I’m talking about the presidential election of 1876 and the Compromise of 1877, and unlike this election, it was one of the most contested elections in US history.
That election, in fact, was decided by the Congress and newly emancipated Black people where the human sacrifice that made the Compromise possible. Republican nominee Rutherford B. Hayes faced Democrat Samuel J. Tilden. Southern Democrats ceded the election to Republicans, allowing Hayes to become president in exchange for an end to Reconstruction and the removal of federal troops from the South.
We know what happened next, a hundred years of Jim Crow apartheid and racial terror. If you were Black living in that America, there was not a lot of difference between the United States and Nazi Germany.
I reference 1876 because it reminds us that when white political leaders talk about the need for unifying the country they’re talking about white America, and they’re prepared for Black Americans to pay whatever price is necessary to make that happen.
There is no commitment to democracy in America. Let me restate that, there’s no commitment to a multiracial, multiethnic democratic America.
When you look at the lengths some white Americans have gone to in the last two months, including Republicans in Congress this week, sedition and treason can be justified if that is what it takes to maintain white privilege in America.
But we have been here before.