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Op-Ed: Dystopia is real now, and it’s our future, too, should Trump win the upcoming election

The Bobcat fire burns in the Antelope Valley on Friday.
The Bobcat fire burns in Antelope Valley on Friday, which marked the beginning of Rosh Hashana this year.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Friday night we drove home from a Rosh Hashana dinner, with the dog sitting up silently, surveying the neighborhood from the backseat in the usual half-darkness of a suburban night. The car windows were open and the air was breathable for the first time in a while.

We passed Black Lives Matter lawn signs and a long placard filled with prescriptive mottos two houses down from ours — Feminism is for Everyone, Love is Love, No Human Being is Illegal, Science is Real, Be Kind to All. The palm trees waved their starry fronds down at the street. When we got home, we set off our burglar alarm by accident. Then there was an earthquake, like a bomb. The house shook. Sirens went off in the distance. Sweet dreams.

The holiday dinner was in a newly refurbished backyard, with three socially distant tables for us all in our family pods, and some masking. Candles lit in hurricane lamps. Our host and her brother, Jews who know something about what that means, said and sang the old prayers for the new year in Hebrew. We said Amen. Then there was misery about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and what would happen next. We ate apples and honey for a sweet new year.

It was like the Rosh Hashana dinner where we were guests right after 9/11, in New York. Apples and honey. People talking and gossiping and then long silences, during which we all knew that we were thinking about the same terrible thing. Nineteen years ago we walked home past buildings decorated with American flags and candles, in honor of the dead and the country.

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I couldn’t help thinking at last night’s dinner that in a year, Donald Trump might be presiding over 20th-anniversary memorial services for those same dead, frowning his I-care frown and puffing out his vast, important Mussolini chest. Maybe by then he’ll have decorated himself with false medals. Why not?

California is still burning, mostly up north, along with Oregon, and in the high desert. The smell in the smoke of lost forests, houses, families and firefighters wafts over us lazily down in the city. It wafts over Latin America, it wafts over Europe. How does the world interpret it? As the last dust of American hegemony over their economies and the globe’s military future? Or as a sign of the planetary doom being brought to its logical grand finale by the worst leader to take command of a major power since the nuclear age began.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for governor of California in 2003, there was much chatter on the internet about his resemblance to the Antichrist, a figure I had never thought about much. But I was writing a book about the state at that time, so I spent many days reading the comments.

Schwarzenegger was a superman, a he-man. He was Austrian, which to the commenters seemed to mean basically German. His father was a policeman in Austria, which to the unschooled meant basically in Hitler’s SS. Arnold married a Kennedy spinoff. (Kennedys fascinate the Antichrist crowd.) He was rich, he spoke with a bad-guy accent. Something about his birthdate meant something to those who know tarot. Nostradamus played a part in all this. It wasn’t always clear in the chatter whether Schwarzenegger’s being the Antichrist was good or bad. But in the event, Arnold turned out to be moderately moderate as governor and gave no indication that his demonic reputation was justified.

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Now, however, we actually have such an end-times figure running the country. Trump certainly outdoes Schwarzenegger in the Antichrist department, but mostly his maleficence is made manifest in his ability to subvert law, spin outrageous lies to millions of credulous people, encourage violence by gun-toting militias, take credit for what he hasn’t done, blame others for the evil he has done, and turn back every rule and regulation that protects human beings in his country and the world from the impending disaster of climate change.

Look at the country Trump presides over. His United States is burning. Here in California we are breathing climate change and living in its haze. Doom and disaster are literally in the air.

People are fighting each other in the streets. Millions are signing on to the zombielike stupidity and cynical and dangerous mythmaking of QAnon, to which Trump gives the nod. Violent crime is up for the first time in years. The police are angry at the people and vice versa. The left has taken to Stalinist tactics of thought repression and cancellation where it can: Hollywood, publishing, the academy, the media. The right peddles vast lies. The government bureaucracy is depopulated. The Supreme Court is about to lose any semblance of fairness or independence from the executive. The police have not been defunded (not that that is such a bright idea), but the Postal Service, upon which the results of the upcoming election may depend, has been.

This dystopia is real now and it’s our future, too, should Trump win the upcoming election. In a second term, though, things will be more desperate, crueler and more vicious, an exaggerated version of the chaos and menace we see now. No number of flickering candles in hurricane lamps can protect us. No prayers can protect us. No army can protect us. We live in a country under siege, ruled not by the majority of the people but by decree and fiat, and even the threat of violence. Pretend at your risk that this will always be, or even still is, a democracy.

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From his aerie at the White House, a plantation home if ever there was one, Trump is suppressing opposition votes while suggesting his own supporters vote twice. He has all but promised that should he lose, there will be no peaceful transfer of power. A new judge on the court, chosen by him, will mean that a disputed election that goes to the highest court in the land will surely be decided in Trump’s favor. The danger from this president is real and imminent.

In the next weeks Americans must protest in the streets, show their strength as citizens in great numbers, and vote as if their future depended on it. Because it does.

Amy Wilentz is the author, most recently, of “Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter From Haiti.”


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