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 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.

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