I was in my early twenties when the threat of Y2K was thrumming through the air. It seemed very real to us at the time. I remember feeling entirely assured that it was not a big deal, that nothing would come of it, that all would be well. I took a smug approach to it, thought that the people who were succumbing to the fear were paranoid back-to-landers and Luddites and conspiracy theorists, people who thrived on such things.
I remember talking to my buddy Alan about it in a diner. Late 1999, people all around us, both of us with smokes in the ashtray, steam clouding the windows. Alan was older than me, wizened, had made it through his tour of Vietnam as combat infantry and come out the other end of it with a certain quietness.
“I mean, it’s just a fucking joke,” I said. “All these people freaking out. It’s ridiculous. Like the whole fabric of the globe’s gonna suddenly rip apart? Planes falling out of the sky and shit? Please.”
And I’ll never forget it: Alan leaned forward and said, very quietly, with that voice of his like gravel in a tin cup, “Listen to me. It’s gonna happen, Keith. It is. I’m getting ready. You should too.”
I couldn’t believe it. He went on to tell me that he’d bought a pair of AK47s out of the trunk of some guy’s car in a Walmart parking lot. That he was loading up his truck full of gear and spending the end of December up in Montana where a buddy had some property.
It was my first time being shocked, truly shocked, by someone I thought I knew. Here was a man who had silently bit his tongue whenever I mentioned Y2K, until the night he’d finally had enough and spoken up. He’d decided to give in to the terror of the unknown, and I’ll never forget the way it upended my world, this realization that you probably don’t know people as well as you think you do. And then January 1st, 2001 came along, and nothing happened, and the world continued wheeling on.
My interest in blaming people for what’s going to happen next has diminished daily. What’s the point? We’re all culpable in some way. The sooner we accept that, the better off we’ll be. The whirlwind is coming, and it’ll be unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and it’s time to accept that. In the meantime, we reside in this strange and half-lit world before a Drumpf Administration begins enacting their policies and gleefully quashing long-held civil and human rights and becomes, depending on who you listen to, an autocracy, a kleptocracy, a banana republic, or our own version of straight-up good-ol’-boy American fascism. How we got here is moot at this point. We’re here. This is happening, and no amount of handwringing or finger pointing will stop it.
Drumpf is our problem now, and we are his.
The first of order of business is this: We would do well to believe he means what he’s told us all along. He should be taken at his word. With the appointment of Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser, Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, and Mike Pompeo as CIA Director, we are in deep shit. This is a truly motley collection of old white nationalist motherfuckers who have for years espoused a great number of anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic, racist, sexist opinions, with their policies staunchly reflecting that. This is a group of deplorables propped up and put into positions of grand power. That should not be downplayed. These are sinister men with a sinister agenda. We should stop saying that they deserve a chance to lead, because they do not. A Drumpf surrogate was recently heard on FOX News casually suggesting that internment camps for Muslim Americans might be an appropriate measure because a “legal precedent” was set when we did it with Japanese-Americans during World War II. This is the measure creep of white nationalism happening right in front of us. Over 400 instances of documented hate crimes have taken place since Drumpf was voted President-Elect. White supremacists have been emboldened and the Drumpf Administration has failed to refute these acts, and that silence is considered tacit approval by their followers. Stop giving these men a chance, they don’t deserve it. They deserve your ire.
Second order should be: Understand that they’re playing us. They may know fuck-all about policy or law or the Constitution, but they know how to work a room. Steve Bannon is a master of divisiveness, a master of obfuscation. The night Mike Pence shows up at the Broadway musical Hamilton and is soundly booed – he is, after all, a man who rose to prominence in Congress on a bill proposing Federal AIDS funding be transferred into electroshock therapy to “cure” homosexuality – provided plenty of water cooler talk the next morning. So rude! And yet the same morning, it was announced that Drumpf had decided to pay $25 million in damages towards the class action fraud lawsuit against Drumpf University. The fraud case – normally something that might be enough to kickstart an impeachment for any other President – was shuffled to our collective Page 2 while incensed idiots organized a boycott of Hamilton because people were “rude” to the man who wants to electrocute the gay out of people. It’s fucking brilliant, the smokescreen they’ve thrown up, and we have to get familiar with looking behind the curtain.
Third: Get ready. Those of us on the left have suffered from a distinct failure of the imagination, and that needs to stop right now. We sat back during the election, smug or disinterested, having the audacity to say one candidate was as bad as the other. That they were both crooked. We could not imagine a Drumpf presidency, confident that other people would make the reasonable choice for us. That a Drumpf dystopia was unimaginable.
But here is it, and it’s time to prepare. We have to be smarter. We have to be ready. We have to be willing to move. We should assume that Drumpf means all of what he’s said – the Muslim registry, the attempted jailing of Clinton, the wall, the slander suits and clampdown on media that have reported unfavorably against him. We should prepare for the storm that will inevitably rain down upon our most cherished institutions, that will attempt to dismantle and shred our simple but vital protections as citizens. Because it’s coming whether we prepare for it or not.
The left must stop blaming each other; we must look to the top of the building and fight the ones that reside there. We have to be willing to rally alongside marginalized people, as their allies – they’re the ones that will catch the brunt of what’s coming. We have to be willing to vocalize our dissent. We have to reach out to our Congressmen and Senators and hold them accountable. We must provide our time, skills and money to those organizations that will protect our institutions against the incoming behemoth. We must refuse to spend money in places that support these men and their aims. We must be willing to go out into the streets and hold up a sign and march and raise our voices and let ourselves be counted as one among thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. These are desperate times, and every one of us is integral in combating it.
I haven’t seen Alan in years, but I think about him a lot. I wonder how he’s doing now. And I wonder if he was ashamed of his fear back then, or if he turned on the news that first morning of a new millennium and was simply glad to have a world that was still mostly whole, to still have a country that he obviously loved so much.
I hope this is my Y2K. I hope I can look back at these approaching years and say I simply overreacted, that I let my fear take hold, that I was wrong.
But all signs say otherwise.