This article is part of the Review’s series on the 2020 US elections.

I am too hurt by 2016 to trust. Four years of outrages against the Republic and Us, the People, from the chief crony on Pennsylvania Avenue have made the United States of America another regime-afflicted society in which the truth loses out. That election was a case of most white men and white women voting for the guy they thought would make a few of them even richer, and a reaction to a black guy having been in charge of the money for eight years—motives that come from the same storage place for poisonous fumes in the head.

The hijacking of the Republican Party by the Tea Party may still prove the last stand of white supremacy: such white people no longer represent the majority of white people as the nation and the world around them become ever more nonwhite. But who needs the Federalist Society, strict constitutional constructionists, libertarian contrarians, troops of the duped, or limits on Washington’s ability to support social engineering? To have no agenda is better than any expert’s advice. The only guideline is to undo whatever the previous and uppity White House occupant managed to change.

The Republican administration descended on the federal government, perverted the remit of federal agencies, and eviscerated federal departments in a fury of looting the national assets. They hadn’t been convinced in 2016 they’d get in. Opportunists have been running amok ever since. No restraint at the top means the shit everywhere is so out in the open and undisguised that everything feels unprecedented. Too many white people would rather let bullies wreck the Republic than have democracy work if that would mean the system also working for people they prefer not thinking about. Plenty of nonwhites want to be white. Nonvoters and voters who didn’t care took it for granted that they’d be fine or just as bad off no matter who won. These bloody days have eliminated that category.

The failed Proud Boys rally in Portland on September 26 says the numbers on the militarized right are exaggerated, yet insecurity and uncertainty put us to bed and wake us. Wearing masks and getting temperatures taken at entrances are not the new normal. Nothing is normal in having to reopen an economy for a population undergoing trauma. A muzzled CDC, an inadequate health care system, no renewed stimulus aid, no cessation of police violence, no respect for the enormity of climate disaster—the problem isn’t that there have been demonstrations that got out of hand, but that there has not been more unrest. Passive, safe, if we are, adjusting to the Zoom way of business and education, happy in social distance reunions until a vaccine rescues whoever can get it.

I am of the cold war generation that was given air raid drills in response to the Soviet threat. That a right-wing party traditionally captious about American patriotism did not react heatedly to evidence of Russian interference in US elections is bizarre. A US president taunts the citizenry, threatens blackmail, will or will not accept election results, and no one of that president’s party in Congress has said publicly that decisions about elections belong to the Constitution, the courts—Lord—not to the president. The survival of the Republican Party depends on a campaign of incoherence, chaos, endless reset. It now relates to its leader as to a dictator. If a dictator falls, party members fall with him, and the only way not to be killed or to face retribution for actions when in power is never to lose that power.

Every presidential election is critical to the country’s future, and this election is to save an autonomous American state, to redefine the primary facilitator of corporate wheeze and purveyor of repressive social control. But the demonization of liberalism throughout the West over many years from several sides has created a political black hole that sucks sanity into it. Liberal institutions are particularly vulnerable to the wages of guilt. But the spinelessness of museum directors and the terror of boards of trustees say that a culture of philistine denunciation does the work of the right wing, undermining liberal values, wasting chances, wasting rage, missing the point about fascism, or perhaps internalizing it, unconsciously accepting it.

People are desperate to act, even destructively. We are a society on the verge of a nervous breakdown, not civil war. We are only at the beginning of a Great Emergency. Something suicidal and reckless is out there. Everyone gives a shove to a tumbling wall, the Chinese proverb has it. I live with a beautiful optimist, someone who has known war zones, revolution. Do not go to sleep angry; do not wake in the middle of the night suffocating from existential dread. Get up with hope. Let everyone be a risen sun, starting with yourself.