These are interesting times.
We have the dubious privilege to be living in the era when centuries of capitalist evolution are approaching their climax. Their apocalyptic climax. And one of the chief agents of the coming cataclysm is a buffoonish orange amoral man-child who understands nothing but money and power. What an appropriate catalyst of our doom. The very personification of capitalism: capitalism stripped to its ruthlessly avaricious, morally deformed, chaos-engendering, nihilistic essence.
You have but to read economic and labor history to recognize Trump’s loathsome, bloated, fast-food-gorging visage as capitalism-made-flesh. “I want everything, I need everything, I am insatiable in my desperation to accumulate and accumulate and take over everything and destroy everything.” He is Mammon itself. This toad in the White House, surrounded by toadies whose every move is cravenly calculated to please the Toad-in-Chief, is the thing that has been gorging on human flesh and blood, the blood of millions, for hundreds of years. It is now so engorged it attracts a morbid fascination, which is maybe one reason the Toad still has millions of worshipers. The Cult of the Toad is a death-cult.
Libertarians’ cult of capitalism is the cult of Trump, the cult of death. (Ecological death, societal death, species death.) Evangelicals’ cult of Trump is worship of Satan. He is the Antichrist. How appropriate that a substantial segment of Christendom has ended up worshiping the Antichrist.
Despite all our twenty-first-century comforts and technological conveniences, it isn’t particularly easy to be alive now. Everywhere one looks, one sees either triumphant nihilism or despairing struggle against triumphant nihilism. It is hard to have a healthy, happy life in these conditions. We seem to be waiting for everything to end. That’s the “structure of feeling” of life in 2020. If the Toad wins the presidential election, our fate is likely sealed. Even if it doesn’t win the election, our fate is likely sealed. We are too far along the road to perdition.
Everything feels like treading water. It feels futile and narcissistic to write. It feels futile and self-indulgent to read, as the world is collapsing around you. And it’s merely masochistic to read the news. It feels futile to teach (my job), especially in the time of COVID-19. Watching TV feels, as always, like wasting time, but at least it feels suitably apathetic and nihilistic. Whatever we do, we know the future will be worse. How can there be genuine hope that things will get substantially better? That seems ahistorical, willfully naïve. There is simply too much nihilism everywhere, especially in the corridors of power. Power for the sake of power, and profit for the sake of profit, is the all-conquering principle that governs the world. How can scattered millions of virtually resourceless people challenge tens of trillions of dollars’ worth of nihilism?
Massive concentrations of power, particularly the Republican Party and its fascist imitators everywhere, are dedicated solely to destroying human civilization. It seems the best we can do is to postpone human self-immolation, or the self-immolation of capitalism. These fascist agglomerations of power are not going away, and they will not give up their crusade to destroy life on earth. The far-right is winning; the far-left scarcely exists.
Trump and the semi-fascist Republican Party—more dangerous, as Chomsky says, than the Nazis were—are the poisonous fruit of two generations of abjectly cowardly and mediocre political leadership, or rather leadership devoted exclusively to the interests of capital. The Clintons of the world, the Bidens, the Obamas, all the centrists and liberals, not to mention the Bushes and Cheneys and their ilk or the armies of political commentators marching lockstep to the rhythm of neoliberal misanthropy, gave us Trump’s Republican Party. It is a virtually unprecedented systemic abdication of moral leadership. It is a swamp—we have been led by swamp-things for two generations, impossibly myopic creatures, hideous and stumbling, hatched in the putrid bog of the Ivy Leagues and Wall Street. No wonder society is on the verge of collapse.
One feels suffocated and stupefied by the mediocrity that is ubiquitous in the higher realms of politics and the economy. It is inescapable. One observes ordinary people walking in the streets, chatting, chattering, giggling, and is struck by their apparent obliviousness to the coming maelstrom. One begins to have contempt for humanity as such. This is the danger, the sinful temptation, to which two generations of neoliberalism have led.
Somehow we just have to keep trudging on, hoping beyond hope. The pathetic mediocrity of the Toad in the White House is the mediocrity of our entire political economy and all its power-brokers, and it represents the darkest side of human nature. Which is therefore constantly thrust in our face, almost killing the will to live. But the will to live is remarkably tenacious, and we still see it all around us. The Toad will be gone one day, as will its septuagenarian toadies in Congress. All is not lost quite yet.
We can permit ourselves moments of despair. But, despite everything, the struggle isn’t over, not yet.