As democracy is perfected, the office of the President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron. [H. L. Mencken, The Baltimore Sun, July 26, 1920]
We are coming undone. The outcome of the election seems to tell us so. Actually, things have been coming undone for some time. Against the past eight years of relentless obstruction, against an underlying Republican disdain for democracy and with a backdrop of worsening income inequality dating back to the 80s, we staked our future, our peace of mind on a familiar (sham) process of engagement and persuasion, a mud-wrestling match in the political pit in which we (are told to) assume that rational views of opposing camps are tested in an inferno of hype and what passes for analysis. In this case, analysis assumed the guise of scientific polling, which actually turned out not much different from improvisational voodoo sold by prevaricating amateurs. In this election, the rational was at a distinct disadvantage-like bringing a knife to a gun fight.
In fact, it is a gun fight on the decks of the sinking apparatus of normative democratic political/economic reality that imprisons us all and to which we are mostly so captured as to think it is the only reality. Margaret Thatcher famously said, referring to capitalism, “There is no alternative.” Well, if that’s actually true, we’re in deep shit.
In the froth of imperfect self-affirming arbitration, aka smugness, the uber-rational Left failed to notice the gaping flaws in their view. All of this occurred on the temporary and fragile stage concocted and named as “debate,” but which-for the Clinton Left-was really a sterile exercise of Freudian analytical detachment propping up a dying neo-liberal story, a clinical discussion so removed from the reality of long-standing pain of so many of our fellow citizens that it misled half the nation and was body-slammed by Trump’s often incoherent but mysteriously resonant racist bloviating.
Not that Hillary didn’t deserve our support. Despite the DNC putting their finger on the scales, she appeared to be the logical alternative to what came to be known as the GOP dumpster fire. She had some good ideas, many adopted from Bernie, but we had to hold our noses and overlook a good deal of her history and settle for the attractive notion of electing a woman, knowing that from Day One we would have to put her feet to the fire to push for real change. Accordingly, she and her campaign strategists were so timid or flummoxed about meeting Trump head on, only comprehending him through the lens of their dominant rational view, talking endlessly about her lifetime of public service and the five-point economic plan. This was talking sideways to Trump’s voters instead of actually connecting-as Trump did-by ripping the veneer off their economic anguish and appealing to those Others who have been “stealing from you.” Is there someone to blame for this? Or are we all culpable?
Political dialogue revolves around a certain pretense of argumentation and resolution. We imagined we were engaged in something like that all over again in this election. But it didn’t work out that way. The ground is falling away. Today I collapse into bottomless sorrow, confusion, pain and even despair for the vicious and cruel policy reversals that are about to occur which is also a recognition that losing is not the sole or true story here: it is the shocking revelation that everything we took for granted about America is suddenly not true, something like a national personality that’s having a psychotic break.
There’s no denying that, to a certain degree- this election was about white (and male) supremacy and privilege. White women also went for Trump. But these too are substitutes for identifying the true reasons the system is not working for everyone. Wall Street has been bleeding Main Street for the better part of three decades. The chickens are coming home.
Already, some are plotting rebuttal, resistance, conjuring symbols and strategies of alliance and, to a certain extent, rightly, responding to the fear, even terror, permeating immigrant and muslim communities like a cloud of noxious gas. All in due time.
In the parable of the Chinese farmer, posted by my friend Lion Goodman, to whom fortune brings apparent benefits and obstacles, nothing is fixed, uncertainty reigns and we don’t truly know what will emerge from the impossibly complex universe of causes and conditions that are set in motion by uncountable beings.
Collapse can be a good thing, depending on how we respond. Maybe it’s about time we let go of trying to hold it all together, as did the Dark Money in this election. Rushing too quickly back into the rational arena, desperately crafting linear responses to wholly non-linear conditions will not work. There’s an element of grasping about rushing to form a response, like refugees squabbling over life-jackets, clinging to the lifeboat of our rational ideologies. We are all refugees now, in shock and cast adrift in unfamiliar waters, not knowing which way the wind will blow, doubting our navigational skills and searching for any possible instrument of agency.
But no. Now is the time to wait, to feel what collapse really is, to steep in the questions that arise, to wait for the view as vast as space to clarify. Phil Rockstroh posted:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” —Rainer Maria Rilke
The Morning After, I spoke of love, but I think Charles Eisenstein hits closer to the bulls eye by naming it as empathy. Instead of reflexively acting out of anger, fear or scarcity, repeating our past mistakes, collapse presents a blessed moment of possibility, a dynamic opportunity for generating a compassionate response, taking stock of our true condition, seeing something new–or old–and re-connecting with all of our fellow refugees in the authentic pregnancy of this moment. It is precisely the natural desire for certainty that perpetuates a dying paradigm that ruthlessly commodifies all questions into simple conclusions.
The inevitability of the Industrial Growth Society is unraveling. The election of Trump is a last gasp. If the speculation about his appointments to the various federal departments holds true, the corporate capture of government will be complete and will fit the definition of fascism to a T. On the ground, conditions will require great fortitude, with the prospect of great personal risk and fierce love as demonstrated by the water protectors in North Dakota. If we fail at the fine “barley flour” level of our response, we will descend further into conflict and far more damaging throes of ecocide and dissolving empire.