The following piece was written and submitted before the Tree of Life Synagogue murders in Pittsburgh.

The far right wing hasn’t gotten worse. It has always been this bad, but by vicariously enjoying the rise of one of their own to the world’s most powerful position, all checks and safeties on the movement’s hatred, ignorance, superstition, tribalism, and violence have been removed. In this regard, there is no longer such a thing as “a nice person, but.” The malevolence that has infected America’s political right is too profound, ingrained, dangerous, and permanent to brush these beliefs aside in forming and maintaining our voluntary relationships. 

Nor can we say any longer that “it’s just politics.” Politics is certainly a big part of the equation, but there is something far more fundamental at stake. It is unacceptable for us to live out our lives in denial of the destructive views that many among us tolerate, even if they do not fully embrace them, because it gets them what they want in the moment. We must, as a society, vocally and assertively reject the depraved values, strategies, and tactics of the American right wing, even when it is uncomfortable for us to do so on a personal level. This, however, is exactly what prior generations had to do and what we must do to preserve America for future generations. 

It is not an exaggeration to mark these times as pivotal for the United States. The infatuation with authoritarianism in our country is nothing new. It is a continuation of past, painful schisms in the evolution of the American experience. The idea of fighting for independence from a monarch was a political dispute, but it transcended politics because it was also a question of human rights, as was the end of slavery and the rise of women’s suffrage, workers’ rights, and the Civil Rights Movement. So too is the struggle of LGBTQ individuals to become full participants in society. 

Many political issues of our time, like health care — voting rights, reproductive choice, humane immigration, economic justice, and wage fairness — arise from conflicting perceptions of the basic dignities that should be afforded to everyone. In each case, the status quo had (and has) its passionate defenders. In many minds among conservative America, certain people just don’t merit regard or respect. The resurgent fascists elevate such callousness into an obsession with self-empowerment and a desire to impose the kind of status quo ante that historically could only endure through exclusion, coercion, violence, and, at its worst, murder and even genocide.

In apparent desperation, the right wing has turned to extremes in nationalism, religion, personal weaponry, voting suppression, and the forces of racial injustice in its attempt to broadly impose policies that cannot win in the marketplace of ideas. As the proponents of this toxic vision have become more brazen and belligerent, the unequivocal rejection of their vision has been mirrored by broad and diverse elements of society and business. It is no wonder that the right wing has allied itself with freedom’s historic national enemies who exemplify similar tactics and beliefs.

When such destructive attitudes and behaviors are implicitly and explicitly endorsed by a man who has become not just the worst U.S. president in history but the most horrifying, it is no surprise that threats, violence, and terrorism are overt features of far-right-wing doctrine. The only surprise is that it took so long. The seeds were sown decades ago and cultivated all this time by well-funded power brokers. Now we are all reaping the poisonous harvest.  

Decency will win out as it always does, but the extent of damage and injury in the meantime and how hard we are willing to work to hasten the demise of renewed fascism are open questions.

Brian Kibble-Smith is a resident of Oak Park.

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