I doubt we have ever lived in a more cynical age. Ever. This is not some Trumpian exaggeration, and I am trying to take into consideration the changing times, the shifting perceptions on morality, faith and patriotism. It is important to be aware of ‘the way things used to be.’ But those words ‘used to be,’ when spoken of with romanticized blindness, are only really ever said when we scorn the present day.
Donald Trump won a Presidential election on the back of our nation’s cynicism. When people praise the man for “telling it like it is,” of course this is a reflection of our own hopelessness. But listen to what Trump is actually saying. He says nothing positive about anything other than questionable achievements he claims for himself and nobody else. Everything else he says is crass brutality. Everything is an insult. All he does is destroy the idea of America in every speech he makes, not even a ‘used to be,’ (except if that is the crowd he is playing to) but the notion of finally making America Great, maybe for the first time.
“Make America Great Again” is a fine slogan. We can take it to mean anything we want. It is intentionally vague, states nothing about what ‘greatness’ means, and gives every person the freedom to decide for themselves how it might be perceived. This will always create chaos, this lack of any goal. No one really believes what anyone else believes. And with an atmosphere of ‘on the attack’ mobility (Trump is not a ‘counter-puncher.’ He starts the fight, then blames his target for hitting back), people just breath a sigh of relief and tell anyone who thinks differently to go fuck themselves.
And that’s really where we are, isn’t it? Fuck you! Who cares what you think? You’re wrong! Only I–What does this say about us that, for or against Trump, we all seem to have been caught up in the game he is playing? And make no mistake–to him it is a game. Listen to his terms: “Winning.” “Loser.” These are the chief label his gives to either himself or anyone he thinks of as a rival. Games. Crush the opposition. Win at all costs . . .
What does this tell us about who we are? We talk endlessly (I know I certainly do), about Donald J. Trump, which I’m sure makes him happy. Even the criticism is good for him, he believes, no matter how thin his skin might be. It gives him something to react to, like any reactionary (remember, reactionaries from the past were those who led fascist and communist and other radical movements to the edge of the earth, and were only brought back through the horrors of an apocalyptic world war). To his followers it somehow gives him the moral upper hand, their foolish claims that no president has ever been treated as badly by ‘the lyin’ news media,’ or ‘Lyin’ Ted Cruz,’ or ‘Lyin’, angry Democrats,’ or liars in his own party who find his tone destructive to the morale of the entire world.
Think about it: when we follow Trump we have decided to accept that everything we know about the world is wrong. That everything is broken. That we need some father figure to pull us up out of the thickening swamp of our failures, to shake us off, give us jobs to do, and then shove us back out into a reformed world of far more limited freedom. We ask for a ‘strong man’ to give us back our self-respect.
On the other side, every bit as radically angry and insane, Donald Trump is elevated to a cartoon caricature of some old time villain, either a mustache twirling, giggling madman, or a Hitleresque parody of ultimate doom. He is branded onto poster boards in the way they did in 1984, only the opposition does things like X-ing him out, or sneering at him and his followers with some childish insult that has far less impact than the vagueness of ‘Make America Great Again. ‘ That phrase makes it easy to call anyone against their movement someone trying to destroy the nation.
There is, as with everything, a generational curve to this, but this will be picked up on tomorrow in a piece dedicated to my own peers, “The Ballad of Generation X” (forgive me for advertising). But from what I remember of my own upbringing and the reactionaries we all seemed to be in college, these are the people who have taken over the world, and who have made Donald Trump our emperor, and who have radicalized everywhere else in the world behind whichever absolutist cult offers them salvation in their minds.
We cannot fully blame Donald Trump for this precipitous decline in our national character, because it was certainly plummeting well before he ever made his political voice known, calling for innocent black people to be executed, then following this up years later by declaring that our newly elected president wasn’t truly American. These are the tactics of someone on a search and destroy mission, and not a person interested in saving the nation. All that he did was to pick at our slowly healing scabs and spit a little of his sepsis into the freshly opened wounds. America began rotting like half eaten fruit right before our eyes, and we are still convinced we can make something out of it. Donald Trump poured salt on the wounds, told us it was okay to hate again, and sat there laughing at the legitimacy of his unparalleled success. Because, say what you want about his character and his obvious corruption, his clear lack of concern or interest in the nation, or all of humanity, you cannot deny his resume. You cannot say that his life has been a failure. He is a spoiled brat who pretty much has gotten everything he ever wanted.
The age of Obama was fractious, and the president, while far more dignified than Trump, did not really help things. The innate racism that initially objected him and could not truly see him as American, was dragged into a conspiracy about seeing anyone other than the white man as an outsider. It is like back in the days when the Spanish first arrived, back in the 1500s, these foreign raiders, and the white men declared themselves rulers, and slaughtered all natives who did not submit. It was the white man’s America, regardless of who was there before him. Now it was the white man’s property. It has been ever since.
George W. Bush saw the re-birth of left-wing outrage, recently smugly simmering throughout the Clinton scandals, doing a full Trump and blaming everyone other than themselves for the problems that emerged. The left even flirted with nonsense conspiracy theories before Obama and Trump caused a right-wing revolution of paranoia. The left blamed George W. Bush for an inside job on 9/11. This same man that they once considered irresponsibly stupid (this is a common theme on the left for politicians they do not like, refusing to admit that some of these motherfuckers are pretty damn smart), successfully pulling off the greatest conspiracy in history, engineering an endless war for oil money that seems to have finally dried up. Nonsense. This belief is nonsense. People who believed (or still believe this) are imbeciles. Just like haunted paranoids dreading the ‘deep state’ (hey! Just because people within the government think the President is shit does not instantly make them a part of a secret, underground cabal of devil worshipers or Freemasons trying to bring about a New World Order under their command. Maybe they truly think the president is bad for America. As political leaders, wouldn’t it actually be their job to call the man out? And quit condemning politicians for ‘politicizing issues.’ They are fucking politicians. What are they supposed to do?)
But the growth of cynicism can go all the way back throughout American history, highlights under Reagan and Carter and Nixon; LBJ, the Kennedy assassination and the anxious anti-Catholic and youth crusades that preceded it. Eisenhower warning of the ‘Military-Industrial Complex’–hell, George Washington using his farewell remarks to warn the nation he helped found about the threat of political parties. Every warning of every leader has come true, too. The reason for this is our cynicism. Someone important plants an idea in our head, and for a third of the public this becomes gospel. Another third sees the idea as the only thing worth fighting against in the world. The rest of us are simply worn out. We don’t want to hear it anymore. We just want to stop fighting. Know what that ultimately makes us?