Tomorrow

Tomorrow, it happens.

Tomorrow, the reality towards which we have been building for so many weeks, so many months, so many years, is consummated. Tomorrow, that man takes office. Takes charge. Takes over.

And then tomorrow will end, and we’ll be one day closer to the time when he will, finally, be gone.

Between tomorrow and that other day – perhaps four years into the future, or eight, or less – something else will happen. Between tomorrow and that other day, we will have to make a decision about who we are. What we’re doing. Where we’re going.

Americans and, indeed, the world are waiting to see what kind of a social contract Donald Trump will propose, Anne-Marie Slaughter writes. Different presidents in different eras have offered different conceptions to Americans of the relationship between citizen and state. Through the pathways of (contested) hegemony, those conceptions have reverberated throughout the world, shaping political, economic and cultural life far beyond America’s borders.

But Slaughter is wrong. It’s not Trump’s voice we’re waiting to hear. It’s our own. Today, in 2017, when a man who commands so little loyalty or authority ascends to the highest office, when we recognize so little of the cognition or compassion that motivates our compatriots, when we look at our children and lose all gift of speech – today, we have no need of Trump’s proposals. We have need of our own.

I spend most of my time writing and thinking about Russia, a society whose social contract might be described as a ‘Soviet-style divorce’ – развод без разъезда. In Soviet days, you see, you could certainly divorce your spouse, but the state often could not provide a new place for you to live. Estranged spouses would, as a result, learn to live their separate lives while still sharing the same space. It was not, as you might imagine, easy.

It’s not too much of a stretch to see the Soviet state as a rather poorly chosen spouse: one who promises much, delivers little and yet demands quite a bit in return, prone also to abuse and domination. Little surprise, then, that with the end of the USSR, Russians and their ruling elite were only too happy to go their separate ways, sharing only the confines of what is, after all, a rather large country. As the state became ever more practiced in kleptocracy, freed from the ideological and material bonds of its erstwhile socialist social contract, Russians themselves turned away.

The moral of this story is that there seems to be very little that any Russian leader might do either to gain or, indeed, lose the trust of the Russian citizenry. They live in separate worlds, and the primary emotion each feels for the other is cold disdain. Sound familiar?

This need not be our fate. We can learn, again, to demand more of our state. We can demand that government be at least part of the solution to our considerable problems. We can refuse to sit quietly in our corner. And if that doesn’t work, well, we can change the locks.

The hard reality is that our political system has failed us. It has – not without our own collusion – withdrawn from the production of public goods and now seeks to replace that function with bombast and military parades. That is not the deal we are owed, and now is not the time for us to wait for the system to propose a new one.

No, the world is not waiting to see what Trump offers to Americans tomorrow. The world is waiting to see what Americans demand the day after, and every day that follows.

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