5 – The elephant in the room

By Jesse D. Palmer

We need to talk about the elephant in the room — millions of people are being mobilized by fear and hate to support clown-like authoritarians who want more police, taller walls, stricter conformity and less freedom. It’s not just talking heads on Fox news and a few politicians — right-wingers are talking about starting a civil war and it’s no joke because these folks collect guns as a hobby. 

How did we get to the point where I’m looking up the dictionary definition of fascism: “a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”

When I talk to other radicals one-on-one, they’re worried about a near-term descent into fascism — that MAGA types will seize power through another coup, armed conflict, or most likely by winning the next few elections and then rigging the system once they take it over to stay in power indefinitely. If that happens, it is not alarmist to think that a lot of us are going to end up in jail, disappeared, or dead — and that it will be impossible to continue any counter-culture or alternative projects, live free lives, or make any progress on social justice or environmental sustanability.

But so far as I can tell, the radical scene doesn’t want to talk about it — perhaps because it puts us in the awkward position of supporting the mainstream American electoral machine, which we all know is fundamentally unfair. How can we support a system responsible for genocide, slavery, Jim Crow, endless wars, corporate control? A lot of radicals I know would like to have their own insurrection — to smash the state, to seize power for workers, to make revolution. Engaging with MAGA means getting involved in the mainstream game, indirectly supporting democrats — too fucking impure. 

I don’t want to be the turd in the punchbowl, but sometimes history puts us in a situation where we only have bad choices and not choosing is itself a dangerous choice. In the 1930s, US radicals who opposed the US government and capitalism nonetheless joined WWII against fascism. Now is another time to do what we can to avoid fascism, because the present system with all its warts gives us room to oppose capitalism that fascism won’t. 

What does this mean? The liberals and the democrats are losing a popularity contest against MAGA because they represent the mainstream capitalist economic monster that is incapable of making things better for the vast majority of the population who work for a living vs. the 1% who make their money owning property, stock, and money itself.

We should not be in a situation in which regular folks in red states are whipped into a frenzy against regular people in blue states and vice versa — nor is this about rural vs. urban, white vs. multi-cultural, guns vs. tofu.

Everyone agrees that the economic and political systems aren’t working — we’re living through a period of unprecedented and disorienting change and its undeniable that life is getting harder each year for most people. Housing costs more, jobs pay less — everyone accepts and expects to live worse than their parents did. 

The question is who is to blame?

The radical scene has the most crucial role in opposing fascism, because we have the clearest answer: the 1%, the bosses, the landlords, the Corporations and capitalism itself which is a rigged game where creating inequality, misery, a dizzying pace of change and meaninglessness is a feature, not a bug. It’s simple and obvious — and even has facts behind it. 

The democrats can’t and won’t provide a credible answer because they are bought and paid for by the capitalists. When they try in some limited ways to offer solutions, their message is so mangled and guarded and inauthentic that everyone can see right through it and ignore it. 

Which has provided the perfect petri dish for MAGA, which offer scapegoats, confusion and misinformation to address very real problems we’re all feeling deeply. MAGA wants to blame everything on immigrants, crime (read black people), gays, trans people, woke people… But to do it, they have to contort facts and hatch spectacular conspiracy theories — stolen elections, QAnon, immigrant caravans, and similar gibberish. The problem is that when the only options on the TV are democrats who won’t offer a solution and MAGA solutions that touch on emotionally resonant issues, a lot of people are picking MAGA. 

OUR JOB is to point out that we don’t need scapegoats. To do so is much more about storytelling and our hearts than endless academic critiques, facts or policies. We need to stop being scared of talking to regular people who might not agree with us 100% — it’s not giving up our purity to deal with the real world as part of a longer-term process of building a world we want to see.

We need to tell better stories not only to expose the system, but to describe a future people will want to be part of. We have to stop just being against stuff all the time — that doesn’t organize anyone in a sustainable or long-term fashion. 

And I know many will disagree, but focusing on guilt isn’t working — it doesn’t motivate most people. It barely works within the radical scene — rather it just promotes burnout and makes all of us afraid to say anything lest we be the next one to be cancelled. I was talking about this with a friend at the park recently and she suggested maybe all the radicals who want to stop focusing on policing language so much and start trying to engage with a wider audience should all get cancelled at the same time so we can get it over with and move on.

We don’t have — nor do we want — anyone like Trump or his talking heads. The best way to oppose MAGA has to be grassroots and decentralized — lots of talks person-to-person that focus on things we share no matter whether we’re in a red state or a blue state or what color we are or how we were raised.

MAGA hates elites and that might be a good place to start — the billionaires’ extravagances keep getting more absurd. $500 million yachts? Starting your own rocket ship company? What the fuck. These are points I think most people — MAGA or Berkeley Hippie — can agree on. But there’s positive stuff I think we can agree on, too. Most people love their families, care about their friends and their communities, work hard at their jobs and love the land we share. 

The goal of these conversations is so we can stop dehumanizing each other — which at this moment is dangerous because it allows those in power to divide us based on made-up differences and also makes violence more likely. You can kill the “other”, but it’s harder to kill a neighbor, someone you’ve spoken with, someone whose family you know. 

I want to say to my red state brothers and sisters that even though I’m an urbanite hippie from Berkeley — I don’t look down on you or have anything against you. If you think me or people like me hate you, you’re being fed a lie by people who DO look down on working people. They want to divide us and turn us against each other. 

What we need is solidarity — we have more in common than divides us. We even need to love each other.

I’ve been a radical since I was 16 years old and I have plenty I would like to change about this country and the system but nevertheless I love America — not just the coast, not just people who are like me — the whole thing and the other people with whom I share this land. Indiana, Kentucky, North Dakota, Kansas — these are places I’ve lived or visited or places people I love are from. I love the people and I love the land — even if I still criticize the system and the history of injustice that brought us together.  So far as I can tell the MAGA people are against the system, too — we see it different but I think there are places to overlap. I myself don’t own a gun and I sure feel worried about the harm guns do, but I don’t want to take away anyone’s guns and I can’t think of many people I know here in Berkeley that want to take anyone’s guns.  Certainly no one wants to take anyone’s bible. 

A key value is tolerance — live and let live. I am okay if you want to think or believe or live differently than I do. I don’t want to crush you or force you to give up anything. I don’t know if that’s something MAGA people can agree on as a group but maybe on a person-to-person basis? 

And moving beyond just avoiding catastrophe, I wish radicals would spend more time telling stories about the world we want to create. Glimpses of a world where we cooperate with each other to create beautiful, pleasurable and meaningful lives are already around us — and even though it’s painful and unjust that so many people are still excluded, it’s a mistake to just focus on problems and ignore the joyful parts of the here and now. Sometimes I feel guilty that I’m getting away with my life here in Berkeley — but it’s real.  People treat each other with respect and caring. There’s a zillion projects people have created to make the world better and not for money — art gardens, free pinball, shared hot tubs, community centers, even the Slingshot. I’m still living in a commune with 8 people and when one of us gets sick, the others jump in to help so we can all feel supported and safe. My daughter goes to an excellent public school where the 5th grade puberty education seamlessly includes gays, trans people and body positivity. I just saw the Milky way on a moonless night standing in an off-the-grid, communal organic apple farm that hosts 3 generations of people living on unspoiled land with a pond for swimming, a sauna — where sheep wander amongst oaks and madrone trees.  People from diverse backgrounds speaking many languages mostly get along just fine in the East Bay — our diversity adds texture and excitement — with people pursuing many different passions that don’t hurt anyone — parties, concerts, dance, food, children, exercise — just regular living. 

The good parts of this world right now is the new world we’re trying to build — there’s no use waiting for the revolution or dreaming of some utopia. The question is how to expand the parts of our lives that are worth living? And how to avoid having the freedoms we enjoy not swept away by civil war, fascism, intolerance, hate and fear?