Trump brings the old “no-go zone” lie back to America
How dare a president lie about citizens of his own country and about what is happening in the country to fool people and aid himself by creating false beliefs and strife? All of us – including all Republicans – who are genuinely familiar with big American cities, big cities in general, know that Trump and Barr and the ghoulish acting head of the DHS, Chad Wolf, are lying when they portray cities as being threatened by “mobs” and whatever other mendacious words they use. They are lying in order to scare people who don't know the cities into believing that mayhem is coming if Republican hardasses don't crack down.
The truth – a truth accessible to everyone who doesn't have racist explanations for everything – is that the problems that do exist in cities, and the reasons so many people have been protesting, are caused precisely by the attitudes Trump and his henchmen are expressing. This not giving a shit how people's lives are and expecting everyone who's not straight vanilla to just accept unfairness as an immutable fact of life and then criminalizing every response is the source of unrest.
All these lies and spasms of authoritarianism send this message: We are not going to listen to you or change anything, we are going to put you down and restore the conditions that were unacceptable to you but work for us. That is the history of this country for everyone who's not straight vanilla. That's going to quell unrest? What a ridiculous proposition. It's not meant to solve anything – it’s meant to restore the status quo ante.
Big cities and small towns are not so different in ways that count
I've lived in big cities and small towns. I like both in different ways. No one is obliged to think the other way is for them. But one thing I know for sure: If you're open-minded and willing to get to know people and actually find out what things are like, you will discover that Trump and his goons are full of shit. Who's read about “no-go zones” in some far-off city you've never been to? They always have to be far away, because anyone who's ever been there knows that it's bullshit. I don't know, maybe there are parts of Kabul or Grozny you shouldn't be too cavalier about (though frankly I would assume that local people know how to live normal lives even in the craziest of places), but I have heard conservative politicians claim that places I know well are “no-go zones” for beleaguered Christians or white people or Americans or Westerners or whatever. Capital B capital S. I can't count how many times in recent years I have read or heard a comment by some person from rural Minnesota say that they will never go to a Twins game in downtown Minneapolis again because it's too dangerous after years of Democratic misrule and a takeover by “thugs.” Every person who has actually been there, including probably most of the people making the comments, knows it's nothing like that, but the lies live on like unkillable zombies. Don't get me wrong: There are some seriously uncool people in cities and if you get really unlucky something could conceivably happen, just as you could be assaulted or hit on a back road by a drunk in a small town. But outside of war zones, “no-go areas” are a rhetorical tool of liars who instrumentalize fear. In my whole life of being open to adventure and occasionally rather reckless in a lot of different countries, the only times (plural) I was actually threatened by anyone it was skinheads. People who think they have the right to decide who belongs are the dangerous ones – everyone else is just dangerous by chance. The common criminal is not out to get you, you just might be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have been in loads of places that your hysterical Baedeker or conservative fear-monger would classify as dangerous, but they aren't dangerous. They are neighborhoods people live in. I have never once been in one of those movie scenes where an outsider walks into some area where they stick out like a sore thumb and a throng of people starts to gather and whisper conspiratorially before some hostile young man says “hey, you lost or what?” I have definitely stuck out in a few places, but it was never threatening. In fact walking through a moment that feels like one of those movie scenes because your head is full of movie scenes like that is an experience of tension slowly melting into a weird calm as your gait unstiffens and your jaw unclenches and it begins to sink in that nothing is happening. It's an experience I recommend. One time walking home at night in Berlin a guy sucker-punched me as I walked past him. He knocked my glasses off and I was just completely stunned. I wasn't hurt – I just couldn't believe it. Does that make Berlin a place where you get punched in the face by strangers? When I first moved to Berlin there were riots every May day and my street was a prime spot where shit always happened. There were always legions of cops bunkered in armored vehicles all down the street, and then there would be these rituals of confrontation where the rioters would throw shit and the cops would form and walk the rioters through a maze of streets and loud noises here and then there. Does that make Berlin a hotbed of rioting radicals?
It might actually be that, but don’t expect your life to be much more exciting for that. If you actually live in a city, these things are just a small, fleeting part of the lifescape – like one day you might hit a deer with your car if you live in the woods. It's not pandemonium or like war or scary, and you know that the next day everyone's going to be going to the grocery store and hanging out in parks.
You can't build solutions on falsehoods
It's galling to have to live in a societal story in which total bullshit defines a lot of the parameters for conversation. When I hear conservatives talk about what's going on in the country, most of the time I just think: say what now?! It's not actually like that. The cities aren't war zones – they're places where 99.9% of the time life is as run-of-the-mill as anywhere and the problems that exist are because our society is fucked up. Because we have an economic system that accepts – in fact depends on – loads of people living in squalor with no realistic chance of improving their lot. There is concentrated dissatisfaction that demands to be addressed, not dismissed or criminalized. Trump and his henchmen and his fake reality cannot possibly solve any of the bogeyman problems they conjure up out of the realities of entrenched poverty and unfairness. What they brand as cultures of crime and dependency (and hint at being cultures of inferiority) are cultures of poverty and lack of opportunity and perhaps more than anything, cultures of resignation because the so-called paths to prosperity are undignified and low-paid through absolutely no fault of the people funneled into them. Who the hell is motivated to hoist themselves up by the bootstraps of a job at McDonalds? Good luck hoisting at those wages anyway. These perpetually dishonest knaves have no solutions for any of this. They and the people who buy into these dark fairy tales don't even remotely get what the problems are because they are steeped in bullshit stories about what is happening.
What's worse, they don't even want solutions – they only want to make these disgruntled humans shut up and accept it. That's their complete answer. Don't ask what they're upset about, don't grapple with their realities, don't view or treat them with the solidarity one would extend to anyone one views as a compatriot or a fellow passenger to the grave – just call them criminals for having the temerity to be dissatisfied. Ignore them as long as you can, mock their troubles, deny that they even have anything to complain about, and then, when their fury hits you, book them for being unruly.
The Republican party has no solutions to offer the country at the moment because it is not dealing in or with reality. You can't convince people under your foot that your foot is not on them.
What we are seeing now is what happens when unprincipled power-wielders have run out of any real answers: authoritarianism. The exertion of force that has to invent a reason for itself. And when you're making up reasons to exert force, what are you but a tyrant?