The American essayist: «In two years the Republican party could be very different. The former president could be banned from running for a criminal sentence ”
“It’s good that in his January 6 speech Biden called things by their name. After the elections it was very conciliatory: when you aim to cure the divisions, you can be tempted not to talk about the divisions “, says Rebecca Solnit, American writer and activist, who has just published the intellectual biography” Memories of my nonexistence “in Italy. (Ponte alle Grazie) and at home “Orwell’s Roses”, a book on George Orwell.
On the eve of Joe Biden’s speech, you wrote two articles in the “New York Times” and the “Guardian” centered on the fact that there are two opposite truths in the eyes of the American electorate: for Trump followers, the real coup is not the assault on Congress but Biden’s election. What leads to the persistence of “alternative facts”?
“The world is changing and the United States is changing. I am 60 years old and, when I was born, only white men sat on the Supreme Court in this country and no one imagined a president who was not a white man. The United States will become a non-white majority country around 2040 and there are those who are opposing the change. I believe that the Republicans made the decision a few years ago: they could choose policies that won the support of a large electorate or try to govern with the support of a minority and the suppression of the vote. They took the second route and Donald Trump pushed authoritarianism even further. My piece on the Guardian it was on the leaders while the one on the New York Times it was about followers. I don’t think the majority of Republican politicians believe Trump’s conspiracy theories – they use them to their own advantage. Instead, many followers believe in it devoutly. The number of people who believe the antifa is responsible for the assault on Congress is staggering. But beware: we always think that the Republican party is powerful, but even if the percentage of Republicans who believe that the election has been stolen is 71%, they must be counted on a percentage of the population (about 31%) who vote Republican, and therefore it is a total of 20% of the electorate: it is not an insignificant number but it is not half the population ».
How do the media and US history itself contribute to these different truths?
“In large part this is due to Fox News and the rise of the right-wing media that began with radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh carrying on alternate realities. And there are those like historian Heather Cox Richardson who believe that this is an open wound since the Civil War: the North won but then let the South rise with the Jim Crow laws, the KKK and white supremacism and with a fictitious story that celebrated the Confederate States through monuments and trying to reconstruct their beliefs and values. In a way, we are now trying to end that war. ‘
In an article in the New York Times, you argue that “the distinctions between credible and not credible, true and false, are not relevant” when people discover that following outrageous ideas “is a ticket to a community or an identity.” Do studies on feminism and Orwell influence your analysis?
“They are two things that helped me understand the Trump era: feminism because it made me study authoritarianism (misogyny does not consist only in trying to control women physically but in controlling history) and obviously Orwell is the person who recognized better than anyone, along with Hannah Arendt, that totalitarian figures like Trump seek to control not only the government, the military and the economy but facts, truth, science and history. ”
A true Republican like Karl Rove today writes in the Wall Street Journal criticizing the lies of his colleagues, but the few Republican MPs who dared to challenge Trump, the 10 who put him under impeachment, have not had an easy life in the last year (resigning, pariah, challenged by Trumpian challengers in their states)..
“I’ve read Rove. And it was a bit surprising because when he was George W. Bush’s strategist Rove told a reporter that, while the press lives in the reality-based community, “We create our reality.” Now the party is too corrupt and destructive for him too ».
How is it possible to reconcile such different views of reality?
“There are more analyzes and studies on how democracy is destroyed than on the reconciliation process. One thing I think is that people tend to believe things when they are on the winning side. As an American Civil Liberties Union activist once told me, no one remembers supporting Jim Crow racist laws. Many also forget that they thought in 2005 that the war in Iraq was a good idea. Many people have seen Trump as a winner but in reality he is a loser. I am among those who fear that he will run in 2024. I think it is incredibly destructive for the Republican party and has corrupted the entire leadership. Only a few have not given in and gone away like Jeff Flake or won’t run for re-election like Adam Kinzinger from Iowa, while Liz Cheney is under attack from all sides in her party. Beyond the behind-the-scenes maneuvers with which Trump’s politicians wanted to declare martial law, what struck me most are all those middle-aged white people who stormed the Capitol; did they really think somehow that they would overthrow Biden’s election and that the US government and the governments of the world would recognize a government installed by that means? ”
Do you think Trump can win?
“The Republican Party is likely to be different in two years, it is possible that Trump will be banned from running because of a criminal conviction, and he is elderly and may be sick or dead. There are things that look permanent and then fade over time. Trump corrupted the party but also sent it into a dead end: by becoming more extreme he lost many voters. Now their goal is not to win honestly and freely, but to corrupt the system. Unlike coups involving dramatic and sudden forms of violence, it is easier to draw public attention to the corruption of laws, state by state: it is easier for this to go unnoticed ».
Many Americans were shocked by what happened on January 6, 2021: they thought that such a thing could not happen in America, someone wrote that American exceptionalism was dead.
“I hate American exceptionalism, the idea that we are blessed, magical, superior to other countries. On 9/11, I was shocked that so many Americans were surprised to believe that this attack was something that could not happen to us. I am the grandson of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and the idea that it cannot happen to us does not belong to me. But at the same time the United States is a great federation and, the day after Trump’s victory in 2016, the California speaker made a defiant statement: No matter who is in the White House, we will not give in to authoritarianism. people like Trump may take power temporarily, but while other smaller countries of the world are easier to totally dominate, we are big and chaotic and while it’s often a curse in this case it’s a blessing. In America there is often a sense of complacency but I am happy that Biden and the Democrats are now launching warnings that we are in a dangerous situation, because there are forces that want to put an end to democracy ”.