Everyone Loves Our Mass National Hypnosis

After the final Trump-Biden debate, we only get one more chance to snap out of it.

Hamilton Nolan

What is wrong with us? After thou­sands of years of prac­tice, human soci­eties have not yet evolved to be able to gov­ern our­selves in any­thing approach­ing a ratio­nal man­ner. We pro­duce great sci­en­tists and engi­neers, econ­o­mists and math­e­mati­cians, an army of tech­nocrats ready and will­ing to craft and imple­ment pol­i­cy pro­grams to achieve agreed-upon goals. But we can­not agree on the goals. Nor can we agree on how we should decide what the goals are. Nor are we able to agree on the facts that might allow us to decide on what the goals are. Nor are we able to agree on who to trust to tell us those facts. The only thing that we are able to do real­ly well is to rev­el in our hatred of Our Ene­mies. That, and laugh. Here in the most pow­er­ful nation in the his­to­ry of the world, you have to be able to laugh. 

It is only the fact that we are just over a week away from Elec­tion Day that pre­vents pun­dits today from inton­ing with solemn pride, Don­ald Trump tru­ly became pres­i­dent tonight.” View­ers of the final pres­i­den­tial debate Thurs­day night may have been mar­gin­al­ly encour­aged by the fact that Trump seemed to hew a bit more close­ly to the pre­scribed debate rules rather than just scream­ing the entire time, in the same way that par­ents are encour­aged at any sign of suc­cess in pot­ty train­ing. The pres­i­dent does not know much, but he does know how to set and then momen­tar­i­ly exceed very low expec­ta­tions. We are expe­ri­enc­ing, I believe, a sort of mass nation­al hyp­no­sis, the prod­uct of years of pro­longed expo­sure, that makes us mea­sure Trump against him­self rather than against objec­tive real­i­ty. It has robbed us of the abil­i­ty to appre­ci­ate the ludi­crous­ness of the sit­u­a­tion we have got­ten our­selves into. 

There is a pan­dem­ic. The pan­dem­ic is caused by a virus. The virus infects peo­ple and repro­duces itself under con­di­tions which are known to us. We can do sim­ple things to ensure that those con­di­tions are min­i­mized. Or, we can not do them, and the virus will con­tin­ue to spread. Fri­day morn­ing, sev­en months into the pan­dem­ic, the Unit­ed States report­ed the high­est dai­ly num­ber ever of new coro­n­avirus cases. 

The virus does not care about clever argu­ments or pro­pa­gan­da. There is no per­suad­ing it of any­thing. It will spread, or, if we pre­vent it from doing so, it will not. It, unlike us, is ratio­nal. We must under­stand that the debate” over the pan­dem­ic is only a debate with our­selves. The virus itself is get­ting the hearti­est laugh of all as The Great­est Coun­try In The World holds a big pageant to decide if we want to con­tin­ue to employ our leader who has got­ten hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple killed by being con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly inca­pable of say­ing peo­ple should wear masks” even after all of the nation’s experts told him to do so. 

Fun debate you are all hav­ing! Be sure to put a lot of thought into this knot­ty ques­tion of whether or not to need­less­ly allow anoth­er two hun­dred thou­sand peo­ple to die!” the virus chuck­les to itself. 

It is tempt­ing to ask of Don­ald Trump: What the fuck is wrong with this guy? But that is the wrong ques­tion. The answer we actu­al­ly need is: What the fuck is wrong with us? We, a nation of hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple with unpar­al­leled wealth and resources and tech­nol­o­gy and mil­i­tary might, with a Con­sti­tu­tion that we nev­er stop con­grat­u­lat­ing our­selves on, select­ed this shriek­ing, cluck­ing goof­ball to be our pres­i­dent, and allowed him to reign unin­ter­rupt­ed for four years of chaos, and now are con­sid­er­ing doing that again, assum­ing we do not die of the virus in the next week, which is cer­tain­ly a possibility. 

Don­ald Trump may be the wad­dling human embod­i­ment of the sev­en dead­ly sins, but it is us, all of us, who are tru­ly fucked up. We got our­selves into this posi­tion. Even now, after every­thing, we are too con­cerned with pre­serv­ing the deco­rum that sur­rounds the bro­ken sys­tem of elec­tions that award­ed vic­to­ry to this man who lost the pop­u­lar vote to stand up, start rip­ping out our hair, and yell GET THIS CRAZY GUY OUT OF THE WHITE HOUSE BEFORE HE KILLS US ALL!” 

Instead, we have tele­vised debates. And then we try to vote, to the extent that the Repub­li­can Par­ty fails to stop us from doing so. And then, depend­ing on the out­come of a bliz­zard of spe­cious legal chal­lenges super­vised by crooks, we may get to a slight­ly bet­ter place. You can’t be sure of that, though. The only thing that you can be sure of is that we will get what we deserve.

As a 501©3 non­prof­it pub­li­ca­tion, In These Times does not oppose or endorse can­di­dates for polit­i­cal office.

Hamil­ton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ­ing about labor and pol­i­tics for Gawk­er, Splin­ter, The Guardian, and else­where. You can reach him at Hamilton@​InTheseTimes.​com.

Subscribe and Save 66%

Less than $1.67 an issue