What does the rise of fascism mean in a country where some people have never been free?

Against my better judgement, I am obsessing over the presidential election. 

Even though Donald Trump’s approval rating continues to fall, I am not comforted. I can’t shake the feeling that our country is careening toward a political cliff.

It’s not that I particularly like Joe Biden. I simply think him a fine alternative to self-destruction. I see my vote for him like James Baldwin saw his vote for Jimmy Carter over Ronald Reagan in 1980: a “coldly calculated risk, a means of buying time.” 

With the time a Biden presidency could buy, fewer people might die in this pandemic, or in the climate change catastrophes still to come. But I am terrified that, like Ronald Reagan won over Jimmy Carter, Trump will somehow win the election and our country will never be the same. 

Recently my fears have been further stoked by Trump making good on his long-time threats to “send in the feds” to cities nationwide.

Portland, Oregon, the first city where Trump sent Department of Homeland Security agents, is my hometown. Since near the beginning, my family and friends have attended Black Lives Matter protests at the Multnomah County Justice Center. I have watched the demonstrations unfold with ever-growing dread.  

When I close my eyes, I picture Department of Homeland Security stormtroopers grabbing my sister, throwing her into a van and disappearing her forever. But when I open them, I remember that similar fates have befallen thousands already. I remember that the Trump regime has caged children and keeps the sword of Damocles dangling over the heads of thousands of immigrants. And those are just the latest injustices. Guantanamo Bay is still open for its grisly business. Millions are locked up in the prison system. Meanwhile, poverty grows daily.

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I have come, too slowly, to the conclusion that some of my anxiety is due to my white privilege. I am worried that I may soon find myself in a position that millions of Americans already know well. I suspect that many white people, if we are honest with ourselves, know this is the selfish root of our fears. 

Yes, even white people involved in Black Lives Matters protests. Even, if not especially, the Wall of Moms. 

What does a rise in fascism mean for millions of Americans of color, queer and trans people, disabled people and poor people for whom the promises of democracy have always been out of reach? On the one hand, everything, because they will fall first and hardest. On the other, less than most will admit. 

What is terrifying about the November election is not that Trump might try to steal it. What should horrify us is that, because of decades of gerrymandering and voter suppression, he might not even need to. 

On the eve of the 1980 election, Baldwin wrote, “Perhaps only black people realize this, but we are dying, here, out of all proportion to our numbers…Therefore, in a couple of days, blacks may be using the vote to outwit the Final Solution. Yes. The Final Solution.” 

The stakes are the same today.