What Happens Now

Andrew Dana Hudson
11 min readNov 9, 2016


A few weeks ago, in a fit of sleeplessness, I wrote an essay about the election. I intended to post this essay on election night. It was about the implications of a Hillary Clinton presidency: the historic significance of electing a woman to the office, the political deadlock that was likely to continue, the skirmishes to come with and among the various factions of the right.

I titled this essay “What Will Happen Now.”

So. About that.

What happens now is dire, make no mistake. Great power will fall into the lap of a madman, and behind him lurk a host of ravenous vultures: culture warriors, predatory capitalists, war industrialists, wannabe hegemons like Putin, disruptors like Assange, racists, sexists, nativists, and all those others who make their business the suppression of the progress of others.

Trump, I expect, is a dog who unexpectedly caught himself a car. He has no plan, no policy. His presidency may resemble the reign of Silvo Berlusconi: orgies in the White House and an acceleration of general decay, but very little movement on the larger conservative project. Most of the things he actually suggested don’t really resemble governing. But he is a master of reading a room and telling people what they want to hear. Feeding on their energy and sending it back to them. It is a strange skill, a perverse one, but in a world failed by late capitalism it tapped into what I have come to think of as “The Disorientation.”

The Disorientation, called by others for other contexts “Dark Euphoria,” is the feeling of spinning and falling that comes from suddenly losing sight of 0ne’s place on the arc of historical progress. To riff off Bruce Sterling’s description, imagine you are in a rocket ship, and you are lifting up out of the atmosphere, moving a million miles an hour, and it’s such a rush. And then you look down, and there’s no earth there. Your clear, proud trajectory into the sky suddenly has no anchor or destination. You are simply tumbling through space.

So: Trump won by promising people something they desperately wanted—to blow up the political class and the global economic order—even though he had no idea how to give it to them. He bluffed his way into power. We should not be so surprised, I suppose. After all every pundit said his candidacy was a joke from day one, constantly shouting over polls until the votes began to fly in the GOP primary. And even then, even after Brexit, we still thought the weakness of the man mattered more than the myth he painted.

His support had a ceiling, they said. When the establishment consolidated he’d be outmatched, they said, and there was no way he could get there with only half of the GOP, or 30% of the electorate, with only angry white men, with only the uneducated, with only Baby Boomers. But he got the nomination anyways.

In the last few months, we—the left, the radicals, the progressives, the urban, diverse, millennial denizens of global network culture—have been making peace with and lionizing Hillary Clinton. We had many good reasons for that—experience, glass ceiling, et al. But let us look back a bit, say eight months or so, to the heat of the Democratic primary. It was an oft-cited (and oft-dismissed) argument by Sanders supporters that Hillary couldn’t beat Donald Trump. There were indeed some polls at the time that said this. And perhaps we should not be so surprised. She did, after all, have historically high negatives.

This was a result of decades of unrelenting GOP attacks on her character, her history and her political clan. But it also came from her general lack of charisma on the political stage, her position after her husband’s administration as a dynastic establishment figurehead, and her obvious, unrelenting pursuit of the presidency and palpable distain for all the jobs she did on the way to that goal. In the brighter-timeline version of this essay, I wrote that I thought Hillary was “burdened no doubt with a sense of forceful purpose, believing that since she was probably the first woman in a position to do it, she HAD to do it.” I don’t fault her for this, but I also don’t doubt that this personal ambition, blind to the needs and whims of the people, will turn out to have done great harm to the arc of moral progress she intended to manifest.

Let us not forget: she lost the primary in 2008 to a first term senator, a novice, an upstart with little experience but a boatload of personal appeal. And it was so easy to vote for Obama over her. I often thought then, and again this year, “Hillary, maybe people just don’t want you to be president.” But still she persisted. She made her intentions known years out, and she elbowed out anyone that might challenge her.

And indeed, eight years later, the only Democrat willing to get in her way wasn’t even a Democrat. He was an independent eccentric, running at first just to get his ideas into the air before the end of his career. And look at the reception he got, starting with almost no infrastructure and no money, against the years of planning by the thorough if always dysfunctional Clinton machine. Do you forget how close it was? How many states he won? States full of white people estranged from globalization, left out by neoliberalism. Even he was shocked by the momentum he found there. And when, inevitably, he was shoved out of the race, where did we think those people, and their counterparts on the other side of the culture war, would go?

These were people motivated by grievance. Was that grievance legitimate? Debatable. Certainly it was less so compared to the plight of black people gunned down by police, or Hispanics hunted by ICE, or Muslims harassed by homeland security. We dismissed them because they were protected from the predations of racism, which were and are so much more acute. But, was it legitimate? I remember listening to Adam Davidson of Planet Money talk on a podcast about how Hillary’s economic team acknowledged that they had no plan for these people. No ideas on how to give them a piece of the general prosperity of globalization—at least not a piece that compared to the prosperity of mid-20th American semi-hegemony, of which they were the great beneficiaries, at the expense of so many.

I now suspect that we have spent eight years primly ignoring the extent of the devastation brought by the 2008 financial crisis. In our haste to defend Obama from his detractors, we missed that the recovery was limp and lopsided. We ignored the fact that our charismatic black president presided over a period of gridlock and deterioration. Because the right’s ideas seemed so horrendous, the left let itself get away without having any ideas at all.

Consider the political calculus. Imagine that, unlike people of color, you do not depend on Democrats for protection from the tide of racist policies that want to push you back down the ladder out of oppression. Instead your concerns are the economic and status losses delivered by an entrenched neoliberal political establishment. You have nothing to fear from Trump, and nothing to gain from Clinton. Who do you choose?

To be honest, I understand this impulse. I have been in the precariat. I too have felt the keening desire to upset the rich and powerful, consequences be damned. The world I arrived into was not the one I was promised, and that has always stung. But with the gentle guidance of wise people in my life, I tempered my expectations. I learned that many others suffered an even greater alienation, and came to believe that my own struggle was bound up with theirs. But there are millions of struggling white people who did not learn this context.

So Trump stumbled into the embrace of the newly needy discontents of our sputtering civilization. Is this tragic? Yes. Should we have seen it coming? It certainly feels like it. That supposed ceiling on Trump’s support that we crooned about—when it never materialized we perhaps should have asked if there was instead a different ceiling, one limiting the power of politics as usual in a decade of revolution and upheaval.

So what happens now? Here I’ll quote my college mentor, Chris Toulouse:

So that’s that for abortion rights. Gone. A religious freedom law will lead to the end of gay marriage and LBGT people being shoved back in the closet. We get internment camps for Mexicans. I mean, we already have internment camps for Mexicans, but now there’ll be many more of them, and there’ll be Black Lives Matter activists and other political prisoners in them too. It’s hard to see how there won’t be war with Mexico.

I suppose this is the end of constitutional democracy. Now that we let Trump in he’ll make himself king. Hillary gets a show trial. Ryan and Janet Yellin get forced out by the mob. Trump goes Erdogan on the free press and academia and forces journalists and professors into exile. People are too frightened to discuss politics any more because violence now rules. It’s like the Brexit in the UK: now that we’ve voted you’re not allowed to be against it.

It’s hard to see how there won’t be war in Europe because the Russians now have a green light to invade the Baltic states. Since we’re now a surrogate state of Russia I guess he’ll avoid war with them and stay neutral in their fight with NATO. I expect Trump will use nuclear weapons on ISIS. But I don’t know about the Chinese. Either way, the coming trade war with China is likely to lead to a severe recession, and of course, since nothing is ever his fault, that will make him even more surly and belligerent.

I’ll not lie, it feels apocalyptic. Tonight, for the first time in my life, I reached for a bottle of liquor as a solution to the fear and pain welling up inside of me. All those things Chris presaged are possible, even likely, if Trump can consolidate power behind him amongst a shocked political class. If not, if Mitch McConnell and others resist the worst of his impulses, the effects might be less acute during his years in office. But of course the long term damage to the progressive cause will ripple down through the ages.

But don’t forget, George W. Bush felt apocalyptic too. Surely there will be many that will argue that Trump can’t last more than a single term, and that this gives the left an opportunity in four years to surge back to ever greater heights. I have always resisted the logic of “sharpening contradictions,” but tonight it is tempting, even though, deep down, I know things can always get worse.

In my bright-timeline essay, I had sketched out an eight year path for a progressive takeover of the American political system. Hillary fights off of GOP challenge in 2020, and her coattails give Democrats control of enough state legislatures during the census year to undo the gerrymandering that gave Republicans a stranglehold on the house. Then in 2024, if we played our cards right, she is followed by a Sanders-style progressive (Zephyr Teachout, anyone?) and a full progressive takeover of the legislature. It was unlikely, a fantasy, but possible. This scenario was based on assumptions about the seeming collapse of the conservative movement that are now suspect tonight.

But as anyone who has read my climate fiction knows, I am in the business of not-worst-case-scenarios. So: what is to be done, and where do we go from here?

In his 2016 talk at SXSW, sci-fi novelist Bruce Sterling talked of how close the USA was to meeting all the qualifications of a failed state. After all, we already had a legislature that can’t pass any laws, and a judiciary where no one can get confirmed. Just throw a reality TV star into the executive branch and you have the full hat-trick. But what does it mean to operate under the auspices of a failed state? Well, it means what I’ve been suggesting for a while now: move quietly and plant things.

Even in the bright-side version, I counseled against putting too much faith in government, given the crises already arrayed before us (climate, war, late capitalist failure). I wrote:

We have to start building and preparing for a future where nation-state politics don’t define the course of history. This is not a “small-government” proposal, because that implies an ideology of individualism, which is catastrophically inadequate in the face of our current crises. What I suggest is the opposite, a focus on collective action, community projects and networking together of movements. Politics is about continually defining the terms and structure of our society, and this is a process that has to act on the lives of many people for it to be meaningful. Even if policy progress in America was possible in the next eight years, it’s likely that the Westphalian nation-state simply isn’t set up to enact transformation with both the breadth and the depth/intimacy required by our circumstances.

This still holds true! In fact, it’s sadly even more true now than when I first wrote it! I had resigned myself to a decade of “managed decline” under Clinton. Baby Boomers seeing out the end of their disastrous age of excess. Now there will be no slow decline. There will be crash and burn. The rubble in which new possibilities grow will not be the moldy detritus of neglect but the razor-sharp shrapnel of hot violence shooting into the heart of our civilization.

Dear reader, we have inherited an inhospitable universe. We are young, but we have already made great mistakes. The world will look back on this decade and mourn our dithering. And yet, in the morning we will begin a slow and thankless process of resisting tyranny. Of protecting our LGBT/POC brothers and sisters. Of being wary of state machinery and surveillance that may soon turn on us. Of reckoning with the fact that on Spaceship Earth, mutiny may yet be required, and no one will take that up but us.

And it must be taken up in cities. Make no mistake, the biggest divide in this election was rural/exurban vs. urban. The nature of political power has always given outsized influence to farmers and empty geographies. I know, I know: your first instinct was to pack a bug-out bag. Discard your life and go live off-the-grid on some kind of organic utopian homestead. Mine too, to be honest. But that’s not where the action is. Most of the people in the 21st century will live in cities, and it is in those units that we must assert our independence and make moves against a failed order.

It’s time to get off our phones. Global network culture is a cacophony that obliterates truth and marginalizes virtue. Be done with Instagram and all the other forums of atemporal self-propaganda. Frequent mediums of discourse where the future exists. Encrypt your communications and hatch secret plans and escapes. Like it or not, the future is more up for grabs than ever. Ready yourself and your fellows to pounce.

I really do believe that the last paragraph I wrote those weeks ago still holds true:

What will happen now will not be pretty. Do not expect the coming years to inspire hope or confidence or satisfaction. But this is a supremely interesting time to be alive. Let’s keep our heads and make good choices. Let’s invigorate our imaginations. For all its destructive blindness and suffocating noise, the techno-neoliberal fire has cleared land left fallow for centuries. There is room for new things to grow.

Godspeed, friends and comrades. All our struggles are bound up together.



Andrew Dana Hudson

Notes from the crossroads of this brazen age.