I have apologize to James Baldwin for using the title of his famous book for a mere blog post but when I look around me at what is happening in the US right now, that title keeps coming to my mind because it so accurately captures the deep sense of foreboding I feel at the way things are going. We are entering a very dark period indeed.
The circle of people who are being demonized by prominent politicians and other public figures keeps growing. Facts do not seem to matter anymore. Black people are portrayed as leeches who live off the labor of god-fearing white taxpayers and in return just cause trouble and crime. Mexicans and other Hispanic groups are lumped together with undocumented immigrants and presented as a major demographic threat to the country by threatening the dominance of white culture even though the net flow of Mexicans into the US is either zero or even negative. All Muslims are treated as if they were potential terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. Refugees are suspected of being ISIS infiltrators who seek to create terrorist sleeper cells. Planned Parenthood is portrayed as a sinister baby-killing industry that callously traffics in organs for profit. Donald Trump’s rhetoric that the Chinese are cheating the US in trade deals and are a prime cause of its decline will undoubtedly be picked up by the other candidates in the race to the bottom and Asians will be added to the list of groups to be hated. And for the neo-Nazis who now feel so emboldened and their ideology even validated by prominent people, Jews have always been favorite targets.
The people who indulge in this reckless rhetoric, and that includes pretty much the entire Republican party presidential candidates and other leaders, seem to be not recognizing that they are playing with fire or just don’t care as long as it brings them some short term again. Maybe because I experienced first hand in Sri Lanka what happens when wild rhetoric is used loosely to inflame passions against identifiable groups of people, I am more sensitive to the potential danger. What I see now in the US is analogous to people spreading gasoline all over the place. All it will take is for one careless match to set off a roaring flame. In Sri Lanka, it required large mobs to do damage since people did not have access to guns, but in the US, those matches are readily available in the form of guns that can be obtained easily and in large numbers.
As a result, in the US, a single heavily-armed person can do serious damage. When people are fired up to see enemies everywhere and that the nation is being threatened from all around, all it takes is for someone to take this paranoid fearmongering seriously and to envisage themselves as some kind of hero and decide to take action to protect what they see as their nation and their way of life from usurpers. And we see that happening right now as these vigilantes attack black demonstrators, bomb mosques and black churches, attack Planned Parenthood clinics, and generally intimidate people who have been demonized.
Unfortunately, we are now in the stage of the election season where it less important to appeal to a large mass of people. It is more beneficial to get the enthusiastic support of a small slice of the population and those conditions are just right for divisive, inflammatory rhetoric.
I don’t see things getting better any time soon which is why we must take Baldwin’s warning, although it was written fifty years ago, seriously.