A sense of the tragic pervaded events in Washington, D.C. Friday as Donald Trump was inaugurated to the presidency. I am not using the word tragic in the clichéd way it is often used to describe anything from a rejection letter from a prestigious private elementary school to a racist massacre in a Charleston black church.
I mean tragic in the way it was embodied in the work of the great Greek tragedians, specifically Euripides. In his plays, as the drama unfolds, the players on the stage are blind to what the spectators already sense. Controlled not by human will and intention but by the Fates, the events set in motion can only have one outcome, a terrible one.
Who, watching the campaign, the election, and the aftermath with a discerning eye, could be surprised by the events of inauguration day: the large anti-Trump demonstrations on the streets of DC and around the country; the poor attendance at the inaugural parade; the destructive, violent rage by a small but determined subset of Trump opponents; the new president turning the traditionally conciliatory inaugural speech into one more display of his lack of grace and dignity; his first executive orders against regulation of business, Obamacare and voting rights?
The hostile rhetoric Trump spewed over the course of months produced an opposite and equally furious reaction on the streets of the nation’s capital on January 20. Extremism breeds extremism.
The fights that broke out between black-clad anarchists and Trump supporters were a very faint but still unsettling echo of the pitched battles between Communists and Nazis in 1930’s Germany. And that was just the first half day.
Even Euripides could not have scripted what happened next, on January 21. Massive, peaceful demonstrations many times the size even the organizers had dreamed of took over the streets of Washington, DC. And Chicago. And Los Angeles. And Boston. And Boise. And Anchorage. And Austin. And San Francisco. And, and, and. There were protests in all 50 states. In Miami, a crowd of marchers took over parts of downtown and I-95.
More people went to the streets on this day than ever before in American history. The numbers on the street accurately reflect the poll numbers. No one has ever become commander-in-chief with such a low approval rating.
And the rejection of Trump was not just national but global. Demonstrations took place in Madrid, London, Paris, Rome, and other world cities. But also in places like Nairobi. In all, there were anti-Trump demonstrations in 70 countries.
Obama’s election in 2009 had been met with global rejoicing and approbation, Trump’s in 2017, with rejection on the same scale. If Star Wars were an allegory for the United States, the world saw Obama as the light side of the force and sees Trump as its dark side.
Trump’s destruction of what FDR, LBJ, Obama, and so many others have built over generations began on Day 1, as did the resistance to Trump and his demolition crew. That resistance needs to be strong, smart, brave, swift, defiant, resilient and, especially, enduring.
It can be all that. Let’s not forget that we are the majority. Hillary Clinton beat Trump by 2.8 million votes.
None of this should lull us into the false hope that with Darth Vader in the White House and reactionary Republicans leading both houses of Congress we can avoid major destruction, pain, suffering, even death for those who lose their health care. But we have the troops to first resist (2017-2020); then prevail (2020); and finally reconstruct (2021-.)
In order to succeed, we need to understand how we got here and from where we are starting. No single factor explains Trump’s support better than ethnocentrism — an obscure word in everyday talk, but a very useful term of art in the social sciences. It means to evaluate other peoples and cultures by the standards of one’s own. In retrospect, we will come to see Donald J. Trump’s successful campaign as the last desperate stand of the ethnocentric, older, male Euro-Americans before they are overrun by a tide of younger, better educated, more open-minded versions of themselves; by women; and by minorities.
I have taken off the symbolic mourning clothes I have worn since November 8 and donned my fighting gloves. For, as Barack Obama said recently, this (Trump) is not a period; it’s a comma. The future is still ours.
[Photo at top: hundreds of thousands, the majority women, marched on Washington, one day after President Trump took the oath of office. Crowds of protestors were in the millions from many around the globe who see Trump as a destabilizing force in an already unstable world.]