Bad America

Our debate recap: A nation decides whether it’s time for the final act.

Hamilton Nolan

Win McNamee/ Getty Images

Individuals may experience injustice, but nations get what they deserve. America has gobbled up the earth, sucked its blood, and swallowed all of its carcinogens and poison in the process. Our fate is not glory, but brain damage. We may end our history as fools, the scary mob bosses who aged into pathetic infirmity, parked in a corner in front of a droning TV set as the rest of the world carries on without us. 

The Trump years have actually made me less cynical. Cynicism is a knife used to prune away the flowery concealments that obscure the truth. With Trump, this is unnecessary. There is no skill or nuance required to decipher his meaning. This is one reason he leaves so many of his opponents sputtering. We came for fine dining, and were given instead 100 Snickers bars shoved directly into our mouths as a robot manipulates our jaws up and down. Trump asks nothing of anyone, except to sit back and watch and die. Maybe that is what America wanted all along. 

Despite all of our nuclear weapons, America’s real power has always been cultural. We took over the world with Doritos and McDonald’s and Hollywood blockbusters, everything engineered to provide a quick and addictive burst of pleasure with the least possible effort. Perhaps the barking, dog-faced idiocy of our entertainer president is the inevitable culmination of that. Joe Biden seems like a nice enough man when juxtaposed against that — and is the one and only thing on the menu besides total nihilism — but he also embodies the devastating weakness that all of the normal politicians are now faced with. Trump, a jackal blessed with a total lack of self-reflection but able to smell blood, gestures out at everything that is broken and says: You helped to break this!” Which is quite true. And Biden and the other traditional types can only stammer back: Well, I don’t want to break it any more.”

A tepid choice when compared with the thrill of watching the world burn! Did you ever stop and consider that perhaps Americans are ready to lay back and cackle as it all collapses? The best and final reality show in American history is on the ballot. The only question is whether a majority of us have had enough of the rise of our empire, and are eager for the fall. It is certainly not the sign of a healthy society that we expect a tight race between Let’s enact a science-driven public health program” and FUCK EVERYONE HAHAHA.” 

Donald Trump is and has always been the avatar of American capitalism — a nakedly ambitious, infinitely greedy, corner-cutting, tax cheating, self-glorifying rich kid piece of shit, always scheming how to not pay his bills. The only difference between Donald Trump and every company in the S&P 500 is the style of public relations. That, my friends, is what we are all about. It has made us the richest country in the history of the world, and one of the most despicable. And now, live from the White House, is this braying idiot embodiment of all of our sins, come to offer us a grand finale for American democracy, rather than a boring long and slow decline. It is not hard to see Trump’s allure when you look at it like that. He is not capable of breaking our country himself. Rather, most of us had to have given up hope already in order for him to take power in the first place. 

I am supposed to have written a review of last night’s presidential debate. Here is my review: You have spent a lifetime ripping everyone off. Your enemies finally catch up to you, hit you with a baseball bat, and tie you up. One of them holds up an enormous needle full of heroin. How do you wanna go out? The fun way? Or we just leave you here to starve.” Maybe, with great effort, you could chew your own arm off and break free of your restraints. But that would require so much suffering. Why not just float into oblivion? You wrack your mind, straining for something to give you the will to fight for your life. You think of your kids (good for nothing), your bank account (empty), your prospects for a brighter future (nil). You have only sin in your past, and doom in your future. The temptation to give up is overwhelming. You close your eyes, poised on the precipice of despair. Then, very faintly, you see a light in the distance of your imagination. You float towards it, hoping against hope for a message from god that will bless you with the strength to find your way to salvation. At last you arrive at the light. It is a bright, blinding set of dentures. Here’s the deal,” a voice says. I’m Joe Biden.” 

Election Day is 34 days away.

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Hamilton Nolan is a labor writer for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. More of his work is on Substack.

Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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