I can tell by the way a group of friends who live two blocks from me in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, sit around eating and enjoying an after-work beer that the future of the city doesn’t mean much to them. That’s because the future of America — their city — seems to be moving in a way that seems designed to keep them out of it.
What I mean is that Brooklyn is on the verge of becoming a sanctuary for conservatives and populists, where, say, the alt-right and the nativist Right are on the rise.
The question that is not being asked is whether the country can survive. In fact, it’s not being asked at all. Instead, the question being asked is how we got to this place of despair. What are we going to do as a people if the city we know so well ceases to exist?
In the days before election night, it seemed clear that the president-elect was going to do something extraordinary: Win the White House, but lose both the Senate and the House — just as he had in several of his campaigns. There were already whispers, though, that his advisers were preparing a “war room” (or White House bunker) for his victory.
In the weeks and months before, when Donald Trump’s campaign seemed to be spiraling out of control, these warnings had little or nothing to do with him. Even if one of his biggest fans, Richard Spencer, had been murdered, the people who predicted he would win, like Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, didn’t really care. They were only worrying about what would happen if Trump lost, not whether he would win — and what would happen, if he lost.
As we know now, that fear was justified.
There was a reason Trump’s victory was so extraordinary, and for that reason it was also so unexpected. This is a country, after all, that has been at war for decades against Islam. After World War II, the United States was led by two presidents who were very much in line with the views of the United States as a whole. One was John F. Kennedy, who, like today’s president, was a Democrat. He didn’t think of himself as a nationalist, and he certainly wasn’t a racist. Indeed, he would sometimes even admit that he didn’t think Americans were particularly good people.
In his 1960 farewell address, Kennedy said: “I have to say we do not wish to be judged by the
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