I'm surprised by how little of my fear has to do with the same old partisan fights. What you are about to read is not a partisan article. It is not an attack on you, or on Conservatism, or on Republicans, but a recognition of something larger than that which I hope will concern you as a citizen.
We are used to the pendulum of authority swinging between factions. Millions of well-intentioned Americans thought they were voting for that. They saw the label "Republican" and thought it still referred to a stable party structure and its policy agenda.
Instead, something else is happening in American society, with parallels to the autocratic regimes of weak democracies such as Russia and Turkey.
The winning campaign was based on unprecedented insults. And unprecedented threats. The threat of jailing a political opponent. The threat of suing journalists. The threat of refusing to accept the election as legitimate if the nation had not put them in power. And yet our society rewarded that.
There is nothing intrinsically conservative or Republican about the fringe faction now coming to power. They center around, not ideology, and not pragmatism, but taking for themselves as much as they can seize by force from our bank accounts and our bodies, and allowing you and me, the "losers", to have as little as possible in a zero-sum game. The principle of working together to solve a shared problem is being replaced by enemy-creation.
We now see our incumbents continuing the peaceful transfer of power which is the envy of the world. What if it is our last free election? We have our work cut out for us to counteract gerrymandering, unlimited political spending by corporations, and the threat of violence or imprisonment against journalists, dissidents, or any citizen who declares a willingness to vote against those in power.
The disrespect for peaceful political resolutions, with checks and balances on power, is irresponsible. During the campaign, we already saw the willingness to use nuclear war as a bargaining chip.
A President can be elected without releasing tax returns. How many corrupt Americans will now run for office, realizing they no longer need fear exposing their conflicts of interest?
Possibly the most frightening quote of the campaign was that the candidate claimed he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any voters. We are exhausted by wondering whether bluster is a threat or just a joke. Especially when the global economy must also suffer this uncertainty, and our livelihoods are inextricably tied to it. Especially when nuclear-armed global powers must wonder what is a threat and what is a joke.
The Democrats lost the 2016 Presidential election on November 8, but in an important sense, the Republicans lost on May 4, to a demagogue with no party loyalty. Party elders lacked the organization to stop it at their convention. Their own Speaker resigned last year because the party's five-way electoral coalition between the 1. Establishment, 2. Tea Party, 3. Moderate, 4. Evangelical, and 5. Libertarian wings of the party could not hold together to get anything done. Anything goes. Don't tell me this transition is business as usual.
For those readers who are confused by why someone you know is freaking out about the election:
Please do not conflate these points about institutions and norms with an attack on specific conservative policy goals you may have.
Bush, McCain, or Romney bore very little resemblance to any of the above.
There is nothing calming about "anything goes".
There is almost certainly someone in your life who needs a conversation in which their emotions are acknowledged as a problem they are experiencing, regardless of the legitimacy of their factual conclusions. They do not necessarily need you and I to agree with their conclusions, but a response of mockery or outrage does not make emotions go away.
When interacting with a scared person, consider that a year ago, everything about our current President-elect was a joke. When the news told us about famine, genocice, and insurgencies in far-away autocracies, we reassured ourselves it could not happen in America. Almost everyone I knew was prepared for election night to result in a boring Democratic candidate perpetuating the status-quo. Suddenly, we found ourselves far closer to collapse than we thought was possible. Now we are wondering how much worse it can get.
So, when you reassure us that we are not living the plot to an outlandish James Bond movie, if you can only do so with insults, please do not bother. No one will listen to you until they trust you. Why double down on a Presidential campaign like this one, with further escalation of insults?
You could scoff at someone you know, who is wondering if the next four years presage food riots or World War 3. We are not there yet. Again, for emphasis: We are not there yet. But it's scary that your friend who you are scoffing at had to wonder about it at all.
We were just proven wrong about what we do not need to worry about.
All the factors listed above used to be disqualifying. Those factors are no longer a barrier to becoming the most powerful person in the world. And you can't blame someone for spending some time thinking about where the bottom is. It's not like you liked the ugliness of this election either. The prospect that this campaign style is the future of every election is troubling, regardless of which side of the aisle you are on. Reach out with compassion.
For those readers who have been freaking out about the election:
First, do not allow this to be normalized. I'm posting this because it is not normal. Someday the normal practice in politics may become the complete lack of a filter between the mouth and the lowest impulses. Then we are lost. Speak up every time you hear that this is a normal shift of power, and tell them both parties lost this election to a demagogue.
When looking for empathy, stop scooping the bottom of a dry well. Always remember the words "family" and "friend" cease to have any meaning in relationships involving shame and intimidation. Do not waste your time counter-attacking the insults and threats. Set limits on those interactions to whatever degree possible. Try to build other relationships which start their disagreements from a place of empathy first.
Let's get to work. No one can afford to be politically inactive.
Every day for about a year, for stress relief, I looked at infographics on Fivethirtyeight.com. Sometimes it gave our current outcome a one-in-four chance. Sometimes a one-in-three. That meant my work was desperately needed. But I was complacent.
In my imagination, I now see that same infographic, but it looks like this.
What will America look like in 2020 compared to 2016?
Status quo; Physical and economic safety comparable to 2016: 10%
Recession; Two or more quarters of negative GDP growth: 50%
Depression; American GDP declines equal or more than Great Depression: 25%
Militia insurgency uses IEDs on food trucks, attempting to starve out an American metro area: 10%
Conflicts occurred on earth using nuclear explosives: 5%
Do not despair. America is far from "over". Physical danger and economic destitution is not a certainty in our future. We have another chance. And this time, we can not fail. Our work is cut out for us. For one thing, I want to contribute my software development skills to BrandNewCongress.com. Give some thought to how you can contribute.