I’ve been in an emotional holding pattern since the election, neither experiencing the debilitating sorrow that’s plagued much of the anti-Trump contingent, nor struggling mightily with the implications of his presidency. Suggesting I might be suffering from a bout of anhedonia would imply that a Clinton win would have elicited joy, which is patently false. If I am honest, I simply don’t care about politics in the same way anymore, and that was fast becoming true at the start of the season a year and a half ago.
When the entire cycle began with the build-up of a possible Clinton v. Bush election and I looked at my calendar and noted that it was not, in fact, 1992, I raged at the world. I thought, This is it. This is when the American people will see what a travesty we have made of our society, how we’ve allowed our political system to rot from the top down. Surely no one wants to pick a world leader in an Ali v. Frazier manner. Surely, I spat, everyone can see how manufactured such a stand-off is. And when the American people and the media and the political structure all acted as if the choice between two die-hard political families vying for the most powerful seat in America was not a lost episode of post-Joan Collins Dynasty, I could feel my hand subconsciously tossing in the who-cares towel. It’s one thing for the thresher that is American politics to crank out such pablum; it’s another for the majority of thinking Americans to not only engage it in earnest, but accept the process as legitimate or, worse, as a genuine reflection of what Americans wanted in a leader. That’s not a game I had any interest in playing at all.
Just the same, I slogged through the election cycle, laughing when I wasn’t screaming at my television, although rarely at a candidate. Again: I wasn’t invested. All of the candidates were a problem, and there was apparently nothing in the process to stop the circus from coming to town. The system had broken me, had loosed my engagement after a season of salvos intent on creating just that type of disenfranchisement (and this was before the flat-out election rigging). I wasn’t skip-the-polls disengaged, but I wasn’t happy about being forced to participate given the choices or tenor of the campaign.
I wrote out a few moments of political anguish. I voted. I watched the results. And after November 8, my political heart gave in. A doctor that looked vaguely like Chuck Todd called it. I gave up my governmental ghost and resigned myself to political limbo.
These days, in the rare instance in which I find myself watching a political news program, I find I am mostly mute. It’s not that I can’t think of anything to say; I am simply convinced no one cares. No one who could actually hear me in such moments, certainly, but also in the metaphorical lunchroom of society. Hyperbole aside, while there are certainly people who may care about what I have to say, I’m not actively looking for listeners or readers on the subject of politics.
(This is where you’re supposed to drop that hot take switch-up, like “…I’m looking for DOERS.” Truth be told, I’m not looking for them either. I know they’re out there. I just can’t get it up to care.)
America is a hell of a caprice. It is a land that, contrary to its brand, is neither entirely free nor internally brave. It is a country made of bullies in the shape of a poorly formed fist constantly punching itself in the face as if someone is holding its wrist and making it do so against its will. We lead the world in all the worst industries. America is great in the way terrible things are great and jaw-dropping in its hostilities. Our premiere value is comfort and almost every decision you see a politician make is either a concession to comfort, or the most hypocritical church versus state unit in the worst social studies class ever. American exceptionalism is an action plan step that has mutated into an outright lie. And yet, America has such fine vistas. Stolen, but undeniably fine. The charm of its post-Colonial era monuments can be awe-inspiring even to the most ardent political cynic. It is the same effect Renaissance churches applied in their construction to dumbfound the masses into wholesale obedience: enormous Gothic architecture and soaring murals adorned with the majesty of the other heavens, the heavens you may see if you live poor and die well. The America millions of us know is the America of the conqueror, an empire built from the fastest draw, the toil of the slave-driven, the masking of brutal conformity as diversity. America is very much the country of its ancestors, especially now, and some days? I do not have the stomach for it.
As we edge closer and closer to the inauguration of Donald Trump, all of the old stories are coming back around, and conversely all of the old responses and calls to arms. In an age during which every recorded strategy and organizing principle through time immemorial can be accessed with a phone, all notions of what “the long game” means has become null and void. Progressive camps flare up over differences in principle while their foes entrench themselves in every concrete institute of power, the White House soon to be shored by the ballast of greed masquerading as ignorance.
Look at what you have done, America. Not to me, mind you. I’m going to be fine. I am sullen, but on the mend. Look at what you’ve done to yourself. Look how you’ve dropped the bar for all time. You have installed not only the worst possible candidate for the presidency that could be conceived, but one of the most revolting human beings you have ever produced, short of your many serial killers. You have upended all pretense at decency as a society. You have murdered your legacy. Everything you do after today will have an asterisk behind it. And the worst of it is, despite whatever you may think of me, how I have spoken to you in this moment, what you might make of what emotions I have deigned to share with you, I pity you. That is how bad you have it: that in the thicket of despondency, the least of you sees nothing beneath your feet but bottom. You ailing, lying, battered republic. You breathtaking experiment in audacity. You poor country of white noise cocoons from which, after all these seasons, only a dishwater blonde despot blooms.