Last summer, cable personality Tucker Carlson started doing a bit where he claimed to believe in things like extra-terrestrials, or at least believe they are possible. He would go through a list of things that he used to think were impossible, then finish with how in a world where Donald Trump is president, anything is possible. The point was not to talk about little green men, but to highlight how our old assumptions have to be abandoned, because many of them have been proven false by events.
It is a good thing to keep in mind when evaluating predictions about what comes after the great lock down. Trump is no longer talking about Easter as the back to normal date and has extended the lock down through April. Governors are now in a race to see who can come up with the bleakest prediction for when things get back to normal. The Brits now lead the race with six months as their estimate. This is an unprecedented time, which means what was considered unthinkable is very thinkable.
For example, ten years ago most Americans assumed the political classes had learned a hard lesson from Watergate. They had let the security services run wild for too long and suddenly they were a threat to the politicians. The days of a J. Edgar Hoover spying on people were over. Not only was that false, but there was a plot among FBI officials to interfere in the presidential election. They went so far as to concoct an impeachment trap in order to remove Donald Trump.
Six months ago is was unthinkable that these same security agencies would have the president removed by some other means. Six month ago we did not have a third of the country hiding under their beds. We did not have major cities turned into ghost towns by quarantine orders. How unreasonable is it to think that the same people who launched the seditious plot in 2015 would find themselves a Lee Harvey Oswald? It sounds crazy, but we live in an age where the crazy quickly becomes the norm.
What about something less cloak and dagger like martial law? State governors are getting pretty close to the line between state of emergency and assuming dictatorial powers over their states. New Jersey is supposedly issuing travel passes to citizens and arresting people for gathering in their own homes. Los Angeles has suspended the second amendment. Trump has contemplated a Federal quarantine of New York City, which would probably mean troops on the streets to enforce it.
On April 27, 1861, Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus between Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia so military authorities could silence rebel dissenters. In a world where governors are calling up the National Guard in order to enforce a lock down, is martial law really unthinkable? Sure, some nutty judge would no doubt challenge Trump on something like this, but what about governors? Would a corrupt judge like Amy Berman Jackson challenge a fellow party member like Cuomo on this?
What about the upcoming election? The Democrats have already suspended many of their state primaries for this virus. Given that Joe Biden is in such poor health now, they may force the suspension of the remaining primaries in order to have an easier time finding a replacement for him at the convention. That’s a precedent that could easily be used to delay the general election in November. What if New York and California have a second wave of the flu in the fall? Unthinkable?
How about something way out there with Tucker Carlson’s space aliens, like a military coup to topple Trump? The military is riddled with multicultural lunatics these days, so you know many are fanatical Trump haters. You can be sure there are a few generals who think they are Napoleon trapped in the body of a mediocrity. Given what we saw with the FBI, it is not unreasonable to think that the same “us versus them” mentality has crept into the officer ranks of the military.
Of course, for a military coup to work, it needs at least some support down the line, but mostly it needs civilian support. An ambitious general would need someone that really hates Trump to be the fig leaf for the coup. Would a vindictive old bat like Nancy Pelosi entertain such an idea? Would a group of Senators from the neoconservative cult consider such a thing? It seems unthinkable, but again, we live in an age when the unthinkable is not just thinkable, but happening in real life.
Of course, military coups and revolutions at the top have the habit of setting off civil unrest, as some portion of the public protests what’s happening. Locking people in their homes and communities will have unanticipated consequences. Lots of things that were out of the question now start entering people’s minds. The riots in Wuhan after they lifted the lock down is a good reminder that forcing people to do something does not change their unhappiness with the policy. It just intensifies it.
If this does go on for months and the cracks in the ruling class begin to show, is civil unrest really unthinkable? Is civil war unthinkable? Rhode Island now considers New Yorkers persona non grata. Pennsylvania is doing the same. Mainers are now going vigilante on suspected New Jerseyites. Sure, concern for the virus is the stated reason, but a general dislike for New Yorkers is the real reason. There are lots of such divisions in this country. Is civil war really so unthinkable?
Just because something is possible, does not mean it is likely. It is possible to hit the lottery for a billion dollars, but the odds are very small. What we’re talking about here though are the things that were thought impossible or close to impossible just six months ago that are now suddenly possible. Maybe they are still unthinkable within the ruling classes, but we thought the FBI and CIA spying on presidential candidates was unthinkable until not so long ago.
We live in an age where the unthinkable, like the fog, quietly creeps up on us until suddenly the unthinkable is the new normal. Just as “shelter in place” is the new normal whenever it snows, mandatory lock downs will be the new normal whenever too many people get the sniffles. The unthinkable not only becomes thinkable, it becomes impossible to think otherwise. It also means that everything unthinkable today is suddenly on the table, maybe even the menu, for tomorrow.
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