Just before dying, people in the final stages of hypothermia lose rationality and engage in something called “terminal burrowing.” They seek small enclosed spaces where they feel warm and cozy again, and then drift off to sleep and die.
Some Americans have begun a kind of terminal burrowing brought on by political fatigue. I’ve seen this in others and recognize it happening to me. When I started this blog fifteen months ago I posted roughly three times a week, a reasonable pace. Then it became twice a week, then once. Then many weeks passed before I posted something I had written.
Friends and relatives with whom I share opinions about Trump are tired of talking about him. They’d rather change the subject. There are too many Trump outrages to talk about. We don’t know where to start. There were days when I set out to write about one outrage when two more struck before I sat down.
It became tempting to find a small enclosed space and drift off to sleep—while Walmart continued marketing T-shirts reading: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.” And otherwise-respectable-looking women were photographed laughing at the thought.
Or Michael Wolff published his detailed accounting of the lurid scheming and incompetence inside the Trump White House.
Or mulitple bimbo eruptions (Remember Gary Hart?) got more attention than the Trump-Russia story.
And meanwhile the Trump team marched on.
As the forty-fifth president undertakes his second year in office it is clear that historians will remember him in one of two ways, either as the cognitively deformed man-child removed from office before he could destroy the republic, or as the ignorant and grotesque autocrat who turned America into a dictatorship.
We may still have a say in the matter if we do not submit to blessed slumber.
Timothy Snyder, a Yale historian who studies failed democracies and recently published a book titled “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century,” warned in an interview that “Americans do not want to think that there is an alternative to what we have. Therefore, as soon as you say ‘fascism’ or whatever it might be, then the American response is to say ‘no’ because we lack the categories that allow us to think outside of the box that we are no longer in.”
In the same interview, almost a year ago, he added that “in January 2018 we will probably have a pretty good idea which way this thing is going. It’s going to depend more on us than on them in the meantime. Once you get past a certain threshold, it starts to depend more on them than on us, and then things are much, much worse. It makes me sad to think how Americans would behave at that point.”
Well, we are at that point. Republican office holders in key positions who haven’t already announced their retirement are not behaving well. They are doing less than nothing to restrain Trump from selling out America to Mr. Putin.
What should we do? Snyder offered this advice.
“Don’t obey in advance, because you have to start by orienting yourself against the general drift of things. If you can manage that, then the other lessons—such as supporting existing political and social institutions, supporting the truth and so on—those things will then come relatively easily if you can follow the first one, which is to get out of the drift.”
In other words resist drifting off to sleep, resist terminal burrowing.
And here’s a way to start. Call every Republican representive and senator you can and ask him or her this single question: If President Trump moves to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, would you view that as an impeachable offense?
Ask the question and demand an answer.