We are not now and never will be an autocracy despite some people’s best efforts

Dear President Trump,

In past letters I’ve covered how the Declaration of Independence promised only some life, liberty, and the right to pursue happiness, but Roger Kagan’s recent WP essay on the rise of autocracies has led me to revisit the topic. Kagan lays out how the predictability of contained communities and circumscribed kin-groups is threatened when individual rights are elevated over the tribe or community’s norms and customs. In other words, when individual people are able to love and marry who they want, are able to aspire to and fill social and occupational roles they desire, are able to choose their religion, including no religion, it means there are few standards or strictures that can be enforced to control people or to keep the regular old systems intact.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Kagan does a good job of unpacking the particulars of individual rights and in my mind, he stays way too high up in the stratosphere to be able to diagnose the problems well. You see, I think it’s the particulars that are especially instructive when it comes to understanding the timing and viciousness of your all’s efforts to wrest control back for wealthy white men.

But first, a quick trip down memory lane. Since the signing of the Declaration of Independence there have been hundreds of examples of how the white men (and their sons and grandsons, etc.) who granted themselves the inalienable rights noted above were none too happy about extending those rights to anyone else. They worked hard to convince themselves and the rest of us that non-whites and non-males were sub-human, and thus, could legitimately be excluded from the group afforded those rights. Indeed, none of the gains that the rest of us have made in establishing the legitimacy of our personhood and our right to equal voices have come easily. You all have held onto your power and privilege with iron grips through overt violence and covert manipulation. But there are a lot of us, and you haven’t been able to hold us all down and back so you’ve kinda, sorta had to play along.

Basically, as long as things didn’t go too, too far and your hold on the real levers of control and power weren’t threatened, you all came to tolerate women and blacks and gays and Jews (etc.) engaging in some bits of self-expression and staking out some bits of control. However, the gloves came off big time when, holy Jesus, a Black man was elected president and then, horrors, a woman was a major party’s candidate for president. I think it was in the face of these developments that insecure white men decided the little experiment of allowing those not originally favored by the Declaration of Independence some portion of the pie had gone way the hell too far and it was time to install a Big (Autocratic) Daddy who promised a return to the “good old days.” That this was the desired outcome by Vladimir didn’t hurt, either.

But still, there really are a lot of the rest of us, including a lot of white men, who are working to realize seismic culture shifts that can’t easily be undone by those who fear change and feel threatened by a pluralistic society. You are scary and what you represent is scary, for sure, but there are not closets or glass ceilings or even industrial prison complexes that can realistically contain us any more. Time’s up on that shit and you all will either learn how to play nice and share or you will find yourselves increasingly marginalized and irrelevant.

May we all be safe to claim our rightful spots at the table.
May we all be happy to figure out how to redo this thing so it really is fair.
May we understand that your health is my health and my health is your health.
May we hew to nonviolent, peaceful tactics as we make our way through this tumultuous transition.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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