Let’s Call It What It Is

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It’s been months since I’ve written here. I think I’ve been drowning, as so many of us have, in the constant storm of news that each day brings some new horror. School shootings. Voter suppression. Natural disasters caused by climate change. A synagogue massacre. A yoga studio massacre. Bombs sent to Obama, CNN and other Trump critics. It’s all overwhelming, disorienting, terrifying.

And yet apparently many American citizens look at these things and see them as acceptable losses in a political war they are determined to win no matter the cost. Some are no doubt cynical and greedy opportunists who know exactly what is happening but don’t care because they think it doesn’t affect them, or they don’t care because in the short-term there are seeming benefits and it is easy to find rationales for looking the other way; some are openly racist and sexist, ecstatic to see their views embraced by elected leaders, some are tribalists who secretly hanker for fascism though they would never call it that; and then are those who find these terrible daily events as upsetting as the rest of us but because they believe what they see and hear on Fox News have fallen prey to a form of willful blindness. All of them, whether cynical or warped or in denial, seem only too happy to pin the blame for our troubles on a caravan of refugees a thousand miles away, or more distressingly on the victims of the shootings and mail bombs themselves. They cry “False Flag!” as if this string of horrors has been staged by “crisis actors,” part of a leftwing plot to take away their guns, take away their Congress, take away the preening conman they mistakenly think is one of their own.

Here, on the eve of the election, an election the outcome of which I consider more crucial to our future than any event to in my lifetime (with the possible exception of the Cuban Missile Crisis), it is abundantly clear to me that the real terrorism that we have been warned about and constantly reminded of, is in fact already happening here in America, perpetrated by American citizens, right-wing extremist crazies wound up and given license by the inflammatory nationalistic rhetoric of our president and his enablers, by their corporate sponsors, by the gun manufacturers and the NRA who have armed them to the teeth, by the propaganda spreaders who work in near lock-step and include Vladimir Putin, Trump, Robert Mercer, Rupert Murdoch and a host of other vicious greedy monsters who fully understand the violence and horror their lies and demagoguery provoke, but don’t care, considering the casualties to be acceptable losses, useful in the way that terrorist acts are always useful to those who rely on fear as a form of manipulation. And it is working, oh yes, it is working! We are terrified and terrorized, close to despair. Most of us still can’t quite believing that this is happening, can happen, here, in our America.

Creeping fascism is here and no longer creeping. Freedom is precarious. I can’t get over how many smart friends of mine refuse to allow the possibility that fascism could happen here, much less admit that we are already in the throes of it. Do we need more proof than the fact that a minority of the country currently holds power over a majority? That criticism isn’t tolerated or seen as healthy even within the ruling party? Tuesday may be our last chance to stave off full-blown autocracy, at which point the only recourse for those of us who see and understand the scary truth may involve measures we don’t want to contemplate, like leaving. I ran into a friend of mine the other day, whose grandparents had escaped Germany before the war but not until after their passports had been confiscated. His wife has dual citizenship in Europe, and they have already bought property abroad (lucky in that they can afford to) and have planned their escape if things go badly in the election. “I don’t want to wait until they take away my passport,” he says.

Is he overreacting? Alice and I haven’t allowed ourselves to think or plan that far ahead yet, but maybe we should. I’m sure there were many Jews in Germany in the Thirties who wish they had.

In these last hours before the election, I would like to say to my conservative friends that even if this president and administration are enacting policies that you like, even if you are profiting financially, understand that one-party rule, consolidated by voter suppression and gerrymandering, is not, and cannot ever be, a good recipe for a healthy democracy. We need checks and balances to protect us from the worst tendencies of unbridled power. When the truth is destroyed in the interest of gaining or maintaining power, when no criticism is allowed or tolerated, when “alternative facts” are used to undermine the notion of an agreed-upon reality, we have entered the world of Orwell and the Thought Police and “War is Peace” and “Freedom is Slavery” and “Ignorance is Strength,” a world where we are told to reject the evidence of our own eyes and ears, to accept as gospel what our leaders tell us.

Leading up to November 6th, in an effort to foment fear and mobilize their base, this president and his rightwing media propaganda machine are claiming that a caravan of hungry, bedraggled, desperate refugees 900 miles away is the greatest threat to our national safety. Meanwhile, people are being mass murdered in yoga studios and in temples. Children are being murdered in schools! Bombs are being sent to members of the opposition who have dared to speak out.

So I ask you, beg of you, my conservative friends, if you can’t bring yourself to vote for sanity and balance in this election, then please please please just sit this one out. Because if we keep going down the path we are on, if we deny the reality of climate change, fail to recognize the damage caused by injustice and income inequality, dehumanize those who are not exactly like us, we all will lose. Every single one of us. And to my Democratic friends, just vote! Vote like your life depends on it–because it does.

By Peter Alson

Peter Alson is a writer and editor. Among his published books are the memoirs Confessions of an Ivy League Bookie and Take Me to the River. He's also co-authored (with Nolan Dalla) One of a Kind, a biography of poker champion Stuey Ungar, and Atlas, the autobiography of boxing trainer and commentator Teddy Atlas. His articles have appeared in many national magazines, including Esquire, Playboy and The New York Times. He has worked as a writer for People magazine, and as an editor for Playboy and for Hachette Publications. He has written screenplays for Paramount and various independent producers, and his TV pilot, Nicky’s Game, starring John Ventimiglia and Burt Young, appeared in the New York Television Festival and the Vail Film Festival. As a poker player he has finished in the money numerous times in the World Series of Poker and other events. He lives in New York with his wife, Alice, and their daughter, Eden.

4 replies on “Let’s Call It What It Is”

Pete, I am reminded of a Spanish general during the Spanish Civil War whose battle cry was “Death to intelligence. Long live Death.” I am convinced that these midterm elections are a referendum on what America stands for. I also believe that our way of government is on the edge of an abyss, and we need to bring it back to the middle. Having lived in Chile for 10 of the 17 year of Pinochet rule, I have first hand experience of what it feels like when you see your rights stripped away day by day. When murder, disappearance and torture are the “new normal”, and when part of the population is a silent or not so silent accomplice of the horrors that go on in the country. What is happening in the US reminds me so much of what I lived in Chile: insecurity, violence, right wing supremacy, fake news and an ominous sensation that you are no longer safe.
I voted early, donated to several candidates and causes and wrote postcards. And I will be hopefully watching the results tomorrow.


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