During the question and answer part, people wanted to find explanations and excuses for Where We Are. One audience member offered that she felt like there was too much extremism on both sides and that these extremes were pushing things to a crisis. I interjected, "Well, let's be clear about what's considered extreme. On the right, you've got actual Nazis and white supremacists who are committing violence. On the left, what they call 'extreme' are politicians who want the same programs that most of the countries in the world have, like health care and free college."
Another audience member argued with me, saying that I was demonizing the right and contributing to the deep divisions in this country. "Let me clarify," I told this older professor. "I'm saying that on the right there are actual terrorists. People who murder for their beliefs. We readily call them 'extreme.' But the media and conservatives portray people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as extremists, as if that's the balance. There are left-wing extremists, violent revolutionaries, ecoterrorists, and more. That's who should be the counter-balance with right-wing extremists, not Bernie Sanders." I might have also said something like "And 'Antifa' is short for 'anti-fascist.'"
I was not very good at moderating.
One of the things the right has always excelled at is portraying anyone even slightly left of center, hell, slightly left of hard right, as an extremist. Wanna see that in action? Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat, had an A- rating from the National Rifle Association (motto: "Shoot first and don't ask questions later"), one of only four Democrats in the Senate given such a glowing, pro-gun grade. But Tester decided to vote against Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court. He had already voted against Neil Gorsuch but still maintained his A-. Tester was very clear that he was opposing Kavanaugh for various reasons that had nothing to do with guns. But the NRA decided today to drop him to a D grade because "Contrary to what Jon Tester says in Montana, he has supported the gun control agenda of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer by voting in favor of gun control in Washington, DC," according to some numbnuts.
That happened yesterday. Up until then, Jon Tester was seen as a 2nd Amendment-supporting Democrat. He even voted against closing the background check loophole. With one vote, though, not unlike another vote on a Supreme Court nominee, he became what is now defined as radical.
I've been complaining about this false equivalence for years now. "Oh, Republicans are putting children into concentration camps but Democrats want people to have health care" is basically the range of our political discussion. However, Donald Trump has picked up on a post-Tea Party rage at any hint of liberalism and has turned it into an attack that is very Roy Cohn (and Joe McCarthy) in making Democrats into an actual enemy of the nation.
Here he is last night at one of his Nuremberg rallies, this time for the poor suckers in Iowa: "They want to destroy everything...in their lust for power, the Democrats have become totally unhinged. They've done, they've gone, crazy, They've gone crazy...the Democrats have become too extreme and they've become frankly too dangerous to govern. They've gone wacko...you don't give matches to an arsonist and you don't give power to an angry left-wing mob and that's what the Democrats are...if Democrats take control, they will try to reverse our amazing progress and plunge our country into gridlock. Frankly, into poverty. Ultimately, into chaos...They want to turn America, these Democrats and that's what they want, into a giant sanctuary for criminal aliens and the MS 13 killers...Democrat immigration policies aren't just wrong. They're lethal." It should be pointed out here that most of Trump's attacks on Democrats are racist dog whistles, but the dogs respond. They respond.
That's dangerous stuff. The president of the United States is saying that large number of Americans are a threat to his supporters. "Democrats are the party of crime," he repeats. Now you can say that that's off-the-cuff, playing-to-the-crowd, or whatever you want to call Trump's free association of words and phrases that we politely call a "speech."
But in USA Today, well, today, whether he wrote it or not (and he didn't write it), Trump has an op-ed, decidedly not improvised, where he lies outright about a Democratic-supported Medicare-for-all plan. And then he goes off, "The truth is that the centrist Democratic Party is dead. The new Democrats are radical socialists who want to model America’s economy after Venezuela. If Democrats win control of Congress this November, we will come dangerously closer to socialism in America."
It should be pointed out here that Fred Trump made his fortune by taking advantage of government-backed loans with artificially low interest rates. But we don't call that "socialism" for some reason.
Then he launched into an attack on his fantasy version of the Democratic policies: "Today’s Democratic Party is for open-borders socialism. This radical agenda would destroy American prosperity. Under its vision, costs will spiral out of control. Taxes will skyrocket. And Democrats will seek to slash budgets for seniors’ Medicare, Social Security and defense."
For the record, "open-borders socialism" is a nonsense phrase. The Democratic approach to immigration better described as "Be a little less dickish." As for Medicare and Social Security, Republican budgets put forth by Paul Ryan and others specifically cut... you know what? It doesn't matter. Because we're not dealing with reality. We are dealing with the description of moderate to center-left policies as "radical."
If the person who you believe has been anointed by God to lead the country (and the MAGA hordes do think this of Trump) tells you that a bunch of radicals are going to destroy the country, steal your money, and kill your Mama, then that person is saying that the radicals must be stopped by any means necessary.
Trump is talking a good game by saying that people should vote. But what happens if Democrats take over the House and, long shot, sure, the Senate? Then voting failed and the radicals got into office, the ones who are going to let in the Hottentots to spear Granny.
The transformation of Donald Trump from illegitimate president to full-on authoritarian is frighteningly organic at this point. It is the direction he's been heading, the power he craves. He dictates what is acceptable. If any minor deviation from Trump-approved beliefs is a radical threat, then that threat must be stopped by his followers. If they can't do it through the ballot box, they will want to do it in other ways.
They will want to kill us. Whether or not they will make the leap from desire to action, I don't know. But the very idea that I don't know is scary because while I always assumed the right held hateful thoughts about the left, I never entertained the possibility of them going full Serbia on us. That's not true now. And I just don't see it in Trump and his quislings in Congress and the administration to calm the hordes.
If they don't win, they have been told we will harm them. We're just the extremists trying to stop their march to a wealthy, white future. They will want to kill us. Trump and the politicians who support him have fanned that little ember of hatred into a flame. As we go through these next truly dangerous months, I don't know if it will become an inferno. But I fear it will.