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Friday, October 30, 2020

I never wanted it to be like this.  Not that anyone did, but I’ve been dreading it longer than many.

This week I heard yet another pundit say “no one could have ever imagined it could be this bad.”  “This bad” meaning Trumpism, mass death, a democracy in trouble…  all of that.

Yeah – that’s not correct.

Some of us saw the potential danger here.  Imagined what it could look like.  That people were not able or willing to see it does not mean it was inconceivable.

I started taking Trump dead-seriously in the fall of 2015, after moving to Iowa just in time for the run-up to the caucuses.

That was when a former homeland security colleague and I were talking about the fringe chatter we had both been seeing from wyt supremacists backing Trump, and pushing for civil war if Trump wasn’t elected.  Comments backed or made by at least some conservative media personalities, and tied in by loose association to Steve Bannon and his digital horde of incels.

Now that crowd has evolved, and grown their movement.  Now they’re taking their emotional support guns and oversized trucks to state capitals, and not shyly plotting to kill governors – even enlisting the help of a few elected for law enforcement.

My colleague and I took those threats for real in 2015, but the mainstream media wouldn’t touch that or the spectre of Russian election interference with a 10-foot pole for the entirety of 2016 – despite pushes and warnings from multiple national security professionals.

The serious nature of the threats posed by Russia only made it into mainstream media coverage after multiple ongoing hearings in Congress, the Mueller Report, and various Senate and House reports.

The serious nature of the threats posed by wyt supremacist domestic terrorists only made it into mainstream media coverage after the nationwide protests to the George Floyd murder finally brought the wyt supremacists out of their hidey-holes and compounds to show up and wreak some havoc.

National media tiptoed into the zone only when the actions and spectacle of the Proud Boys and the Boogaloo Boys made it difficult to not cover them.

That matters, because what the national media covers drives the public and the policy agenda.  It matters a lot.

When we can’t even have an out-front conversation about the threats Russia poses, it’s very difficult to get the public to understand the danger that country poses.  Same thing for racist, radicalized domestic terrorists.

I take the domestic threat seriously because I’ve sat through numerous domestic terrorism briefings working in the federal homeland security and law enforcement worlds for 10 solid years.

Many of the national security professionals making the rounds on the cable news circuits have way more depth and breadth than I do on either subject – but we’re all sort of, well, %*$$ing into the wind, if you catch my meaning.

Doesn’t matter if people don’t take any of it seriously.

It doesn’t serve the public well to have a set of media, pundits, and political leaders who are not able to imagine worst-case scenarios when a demagogue comes onto the scene.

Because part of how the demagogue seizes and then holds on to power is through the shock of the populace.  And we are shocked.

I started hearing the word “demagogue” whispered by Democratic campaign operatives in the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses – but no one took the spectre of Trump being a demagogue seriously enough.

We know that because people getting mainstream media coverage didn’t start using words like “demagogue,” “strongman,” “tyrant,” or “authoritarian” until well after Trump took office.

People are still cautious about using those terms – even after Trump tear-gassed peaceful protestors near the White House this summer so he could have a fascist photo op with an upside-down Bible in a moment so brazen it seemed the public would surely start to understand how dangerous the man was.

Except I’d say we’re still not there.

That’s a problem, because it’s about to get a whole hell of a lot more intense.

I hate to say that, but the writing’s on the wall.  The risk is CERTAINLY out there.

I’m not trying to scare the bejesus out of people.

I’m trying to help you get ready.

Humans naturally freeze in trauma.  In any disaster, about 10% of people make clear and decisive decisions, about 80% of people wander about looking for someone to make clear decisions, and about 10% of people act in ways that are counter to the survival of themselves or others.

Arguably, in this scenario we already have more like 30-50% of Americans acting in ways that are counter to their own survival or that of others, so we’re not coming into this time of increased intensity ahead of any disaster curve.

What we’re coming into is a reckoning.

And the risks on our immediate horizon are WAY BEYOND radicalized wyt supremacist domestic terrorists, and Russian election interference.

This isn’t a complete list, but we’ve also got a high-stakes election, tension around the election, widespread voter suppression and disenfranchisement, an administration unwilling to commit to a peaceful transfer of command, outright foreign interference in support of that administration, skillful and well-established domestic and foreign disinformation machines ready to spread false and dangerous narratives related to the election, enormous and well-funded financial interests pushing for their own agendas through the chaos, elected Republican officials who have totally abdicated any independence from the aspiring tyrant – including governors, all of the freaking disasters, the massively out-of-control pandemic, a public pushed by their own government to fend for themselves, widespread business failures, schools forced to stay open without public health protocols, governments at every level refusing to mitigate virus spread, enormous public science denial, economic instability, and certain system interruptions and cascading effects from all above the above.

And that’s on top of the people pushing for civil war, and Russia’s strategic push to spread chaos, discord, and division to weaken its most dangerous competing superpower.

Oh – and on top of the damage the Trump Administration and oligarchic angry Republicans could do to the US between Election Day and Inauguration day.  Trump has already weakened civil service protections on employees that were in fact designed to create safeguards between political whims and the government itself.  This week it was announced that large swaths of the Tongass National Forest have been opened to timber sales.  Many government agencies and institutions have already been eroded, abused, or politicized – the most extreme examples being in the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice.

What else could they possibly take apart, deregulate, sell off, auction, politicize, erode, degrade, dissolve, or privatize in the 12 weeks in-between?

And don’t get your hopes up for any coronavirus aid from Congress.  The Senate already took care of their wealthy clients in the spring aid package of unregulated, untracked billions going to the already-wealthy and large, well-established corporations.

If they were worried about voters, seems like they’d have tried to pass aid that would help some of those voters before we all had a chance to vote those Republicans out.  Assuming those voters votes don’t get thrown out or ignored anyway, through the numerous voter disenfranchisement efforts by Republicans terrified of the large majority of Americans.

This post is gigantic and long.

I write it because I’m concerned that we are VASTLY underrepresenting the risk we’re coming into as a nation.

This moment right here is what I’ve been terrified about since I first heard the word “demagogue” whispered about Trump at an Iowa Caucus event in very early 2016.

Someone asked me today how seriously we should be taking this.

Well, I’ve been taking it so seriously since that day in 2016 that I’ve shifted most of my entire focus since that day to getting ready for this moment.  Put a framework together that can help us find our way through it – by helping each other through, by strategically holding this country together, through widespread civic engagement that helps us do all of that.  Plus we can make change as we go; transform this society into something that will work better for the majority of us as we find our way through to the other side.

And there IS an other side.  There is an other side.  We’ll get there.

It starts by taking what’s in front of us seriously.

Take a deep breath.  Take some time to love some people and take care of each other.  Breathe.  Put resilience in place where you can.  Get grounded.  Stay healthy.  Sleep.  Eat.  Try not to dead.  For real.  It’s getting trickier by the hour.

And then do whatever in the heck you need to do to pull yourself out of this trauma, overwhelm, and numbness everywhere… and join in on what we’re putting together.  There’s something for everyone.


Written by Vanessa Burnett, Founder

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