A Rambling Mess
I sit here in the twilight of the Trump era and I genuinely think that there are brighter days ahead in the near future. But my outlook on the country as a whole, politically and culturally, has been pretty bleak as of late. So if you’ll allow me a little bit of cynicism and a smattering of political bitching I’ll get back to talking about Garfield soon enough.
It’s news to no one that there is a great divide in our country. The seeds of authoritarianism have been sewn into the fabric of our culture. America is no longer a society of enlightenment ideals but instead is totally consumed in its own neo-liberal fervor. We’re increasingly subject to capitalist realism, as Mark Fisher puts it, “the widespread sense that not only is capitalism is the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible to imagine a coherent alternative to it.” Our blind devotion to the constitution itself provides a very linear idea of liberty devoid of nuance and has created our atomized society.
It's a perfect breeding ground for demagogues, and the stage is set for a more nuanced and politically savvy version of Trumpism in the future. Frankly, we lucked out when Donald Trump turned out to be the banner under which the populist movement in our country gathered. Other populists like Turkey’s Erdogan or Hungary’s Orban are smart, collected politicians not as prone to the moderate disenfranchising outbursts that Trump is. Trump was completely unable to keep a consistent cabinet in his 4 years, his presidency so fraught with scandal that he lost the Republican House majority despite having one of the most powerful economies in US history. Our population is extremely vulnerable to authoritarianism. Based on our current trajectory Trumpism will return and in a far more concise and malignant form.
The other side isn’t exactly a beacon of hope either. The progressive left is swamped in moral absolutism and infighting, while the moderate left are not only incompetent and out of touch, but are only one step left of neo conservatism. We’re caught between a dangerous binary and it’s not the left//right divide as seen on the surface, but rather a divide between ideology and pragmatism. Ideologues refuse to compromise their ideals, while pragmatists are structurally unable to change. In 2016 I had hoped that the left would be able to unite against this new populist threat, but the Democratic primaries showed that we are simply more divided than ever.
America has a problem with its uniquely linear form of liberty. Individualism at all costs even if that ironically leads us down a road into authoritarianism. Somehow we ended up drinking Ayn Rand’s Kool Aid and created a system that respects individual rights through the strict tenets of laissez-faire capitalism. Now we’re bound by the “liberty” that those structures imply, whether that takes the form of corporate culture, special interest lobbying, or algorithmic echo chambers, among others.
Right now there’s a tremendous desire to return to “normal”. I think the most upsetting thing to middle class liberals about the last 4 years was a realization that normal wasn’t good. That the idea of normal was a cheap facade that covered a growing ugliness created by systemic oppression and complacency. My worry with a tepid response to extremism is that it breeds complacency. Similar to Trump’s Twitter banning, a Biden presidency feels to me like an attempt to recover that facade. A step back into a time where we could plug our ears and cover our eyes. But that’s not a bell that can be unrung.
It's troubling to see left leaning people cheer on these corporations as they further infiltrate what is supposed to be public space. Banning who can come in and who cannot. The agora didn’t belong to a private company, it belonged to the public, that is no longer the case. It's more akin to the final true physical meeting place we had before the prevalence of the internet, the shopping mall. The 80s and 90s were dominated by the shopping mall as a public gathering space. But the mall too was a private company, those who looked homeless or too poor to take part in its consumerist rituals were barred from entrance and thus barred from speech. But it is now no longer economic privilege that buys you entrance but rather sanitized, marketable thought; apparently creating waves in the pool is what gets you banned.
I’m conflicted. On one hand, the spread of misinformation is rampant and it’s only being propagated through the office of the president. We cannot let that happen. We saw in 2016 (among countless other examples) the far reaching and sometimes permanent consequences of unregulated speech online. If social media is the modern day agora, it’s in my opinion the right of anyone to stand there and spread their ideas no matter how crazy, but if someone was trying to incite a riot in ancient Athens they would be removed.
Trump is an exaggerated example and if anyone should be taken off a platform it’s him, but that’s a slippery slope to the censorship of “transgressive” thought. Censorship is never one sided if left to its own devices.
Beyond that, I think there’s something else that rubs me the wrong way about all this. We banned Trump and now our Twitter feeds look a lot nicer. But the underlying problems didn’t go away. Banning Donald Trump is just the gentrification of online space. We swept the problem under the rug, forced it to move somewhere else. Put up nice buildings and a Whole Foods, but that problem doesn’t go away with the banning of Donald Trump, it was under the rug in 2016 and we are allowing it to return there and fester.
I generally don’t like to be the “hell in a handbasket” guy, I hope that we can establish some kind of national unity at the end of this long and dark tunnel. I hope that there are brighter days ahead. I would like to put a tidy little bow on the Trump era, but I think that its influence and the ramifications of the Trump regime will bleed into our future in a way unlike any other president in modern history. An inauguration is supposed to feel like a rebirth, I guess that’s just difficult when what was there previously has yet to die.