This dream. Something is in the house, something’s breaking, the things I love are going away. I reach for Laura, she becomes translucent, evaporates. I wake up, telling myself this dream means I’m worried about how tired and worn Laura has grown from years of activist work trying to get people out of prison. I’ve always nagged her about doing too much, and now, with Donald Trump slouching towards Washington, that’s inevitable. Doing too much will be a necessity.
Laura and I were married a little over three years ago, but we’ve actually been together in one form or another since 1988, when I, on assignment for a feminist newspaper, interviewed her in the DC Jail. Laura and five other political prisoners were charged for the protest-bombings of U.S. government sites, including the Capitol Building. Our relationship has since been built on years of rock-solid personal insecurities and constant political arguing; also writing and activism. I had hoped that, by now, we could start to kick back and, in our debilitating golden years, embrace a pinko form of bourgeois individualism. Then: Trump.
What will be taken away? I don’t have to mention, do I, how drastically against gay marriage the Trump administration will be? Last time I checked, the legal right of queers to marry was upheld by the Supreme Court. But that needn’t stop Trump, who recently proposed jail time and loss of citizenship for burning the American flag — an act twice protected by the Supremes. And, given already rising hate crimes, there will be equal opportunity suffering. Ecological accords will be broken. Walls will be built. . .
People often compare the ascendance of Trump and his cabinet of deplorables to the rise of the Nazis — taking momentary refuge in the fact that 1933 Germany didn’t have the nuclear option. Apropos of Trump’s take on flag burning, one of the first things Hitler did as chancellor was to rescind freedom of speech, assembly, the press. . . Then the arrest of political opponents, the forcing of Jews to register their property, wear Stars of David. Remember those “good” Germans, who may have lamented, but went along because they could — because they still fit in to what remained normal?
Here and now, mainstream pundits talk about how we should never take for granted, or “normalize,” the Trump regime. But the Trump phenomenon grows from the fact that Americans have already normalized too much: steadily eroding unions and labor laws; the devastation of welfare; prison expansion; the invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq; millions of immigrants already deported — all of which rests on an implicit White-über-alles that allows most of us to conduct business as usual, as Black citizens are regularly gunned down by cops. Face it: this Trump thing has been coming on for years.
In the activist communities I inhabit, normalizing will be less a problem than figuring out new ways to fight Trump. The old ways — demonstrations, petition signing, sit-ins — may connect us and make us feel better, but will they work?
Since November 8, there have been, in Manhattan alone, scores of Facebook-generated demonstrations. Can we keep this up four more years? Just how do we take on a growing list of execrations, in an increasingly complicated world where social media can mean self-surveillance? How, for instance, do we confront Trump’s proposed registration of Muslims?
There was a piece in The Forward recently: “All Jews Should Register as Muslims: Because We Know the Horrors of Religious Registration All Too Well.” And Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, announced, “This proud Jew would register as a Muslim.”
“Hey, what about me?” I thought. Registration for everyone! Then I noticed a hashtag: “#RegisterMeFirst.” I began to think just how and when I would join Laura and her fellow Jews to register as Muslim, in keeping with proud decades of to-the-barricades protest —
But wait. Later, I was in a conversation with our friend Arun Kundnani, author of the book, The Muslims Are Coming!: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror. Arun said he was unconvinced by this kind of activism. Speaking of “normalizing,” what I hadn’t considered was that there is already in this country a history of registering Muslims, as well as an ensconced surveillance system.
According to Arun, some version of the National Security Entry-Exit Registry System (NSEERS) that George Bush used from 2002 to 2005 to register over 80,000 non-immigrant visitors (students, temp workers, etc.) from 24 Muslim countries could be expanded to include permanent residents and naturalized citizens. But this system wouldn’t be as obvious as forcing Muslims to wear crescents on the street. In fact, Muslims need not be required to come forth and identify themselves. There is at work what Arun calls “Algorithmic Fascism,” by which the National Security Agency scans millions of online and social media records of everyone in the United States and analyzes metadata (with 99% accuracy, Arun estimates) to determine whether they’re Muslim or not. The government could then ask selected individuals to register.
“That means,” says Arun, “it won’t work for non-Muslims to resist by voluntarily registering themselves as Muslim in solidarity.” Better, he adds, to work on an approach like sanctuaries to protect Muslims who refuse to cooperate when the feds call them to appear.
This is only one issue. How do we stop the “hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” that Trump wants to use in “interrogations”? How do we fight the criminalization of abortion and forced “conversion therapy” of young queers that may soon be routine? How do we reach people in prison whose lives are already getting worse? How do we support organizations like Black Lives Matter and BDS? How do we love each other in the face of this oncoming hatred?
Here in our little NYC apartment, Laura and I are quieter than usual. Watching the light fade, treasuring what of our lives we suspect will disappear, maybe suddenly; maybe over years, without our consciously realizing. Soon, Laura will turn 72. I hold her thin, tired body as she sleeps, listen to her breaths. There is so much more to come. And we are already so tired.