GUEST OPINION: Movements Will Move Us

By on November 22, 2016

Coming to terms with America’s dark past and its possibility for a different future.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Trump won. I watched the election results come in with a friend, both of us in utter shock. How could America, we wondered, elect someone so virulent with hate and contempt for so many of us—immigrants, women, Muslims. My first reaction was intense fear. Fear that America could fall into fascism, like Germany did in the 1930s, resulting in our loss of civil liberties, militarized police, and concentration camps for Muslims.

Martin Niemoller sprang to mind:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist…

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

And then I realized that while I’m afraid of American fascism, it’s already been a reality for so many Americans.

Let’s look at our history. An “us vs. them,” mentality has always been prevalent in this country. This nation, this American Dream, was founded on genocide and rape, slavery and plantations. Massacres at Sand Creek, at Wounded Knee. America grew up with patriarchy, xenophobia, ruthless wars of expansion and concentration camps. We became a great empire, we had cheap consumer goods and cheap energy, and we needed force to maintain that empire.

Inside our borders, after the Civil War ended slavery, the South installed obscene, murderous segregation. Lynchings. The Klan. In the 1960s, police tortured African American men in Chicago jails. Police still regularly shoot unarmed Black men. We were afraid of “the other”—Black Americans. America stands by, Amerikkka looks away.

In 1973, Chile elected a socialist president. Again, we were afraid of the other, this time the communists. Henry Kissinger helped a military coup overthrow the president, “disappear” and torture thousands of leftists, launching 25 years of dictatorship. We have installed and supported horrendous fascist dictators all over the world. We’ve trained death squads that murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Romero, and massacred thousands. We stand by, we look away. This year, Hillary Clinton calls Henry Kissinger a close friend and advisor.

On 9/11, we get attacked. We’re afraid of the other—the terrorists—and we let our government do horrendous things to “keep us safe.” Rendition, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo. We torture innocent people. We launch more wars. President Barack Obama has sold more weapons to the murderous regime in Saudi Arabia than anyone in history. We help Saudi Arabia bomb civilians in Yemen. We bomb hospitals in Afghanistan. We whisper about “collateral damage.” We drop bombs from drones, we hit kids at weddings. Survivors go back to find the bodies and we drop bombs on them. Families hold funerals and we drop bombs on the funerals. We stand by, we look away.

Neither party is about peace, or justice, or liberation, or human rights. Not because they’re “bad.” Because they’re us. We want to be safe, protected, with cheap consumer goods and cheap energy. We value our lives more than other lives. So our government does this. Maintains the system, maintains the Empire. More war. More torture. National security. When Bush does it, Democrats protest. When Obama does it, Democrats look away.

Some of us—especially middle-class white men like me—haven’t experienced America’s oppression. We’ve been privileged to live the myth that America is about “freedom,” a “city on the hill,” a “force for good.” We’ve seen only America’s smiling face. Suddenly it turns, and we see the ghoulish grinning death mask on the other side. America is Donald Trump. Donald Trump is America. The chickens just came to roost right in the middle of the Oval Office.

But we also know this: America is more than our dark history, more than the Evil Empire, more than Donald Trump. America is Martin Luther King Jr. and the moral arc of the universe, America is Rosa Parks, America is Freedom Riders willing to endure torture by racist Southern police, America is Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta building a union, America is Dorothy Day and seemingly hopeless protests against wars, America is Dan Berrigan burning Vietnam draft cards with homemade napalm, America is Black Lives Matter, America is the Dreamers, America is #NoKXL and Standing Rock.

America the ideal is the overcoming of America the history.

And the only way we’ve ever overcome our dark side is through nonviolent mass movements. Our society tells us to stay alone, in as small a family unit as possible, drinking corporate TV. We’ve been isolated. But our movements are stronger now than in years past. This is why I still have hope. The movements are not beholden to the parties, or the military-industrial complex, or the 1 percent. The movements are divided, but they’re talking. And if the movements come together, we have power. Enough power to radically take over a party, or to form a new party based on liberation and human rights, not fear and “security.” Main Street, not Wall Street. Food, not Bombs.

What do we do now? We speak truth about our history, and we spend the next four years building power. Let’s all join a movement, or better yet join two movements and build bridges between them. Let’s get out on the streets, speak up, stand up.

Let’s not pretend Trump is an aberration or “un-American.” Let’s admit his rhetoric is precisely our death-mask heritage, and let’s work and love as hard as we can to create a different future. PJH

Skye Schell lives in Jackson. He welcomes your thoughts at

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of this newspaper. Send comments to

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