In case you wonder how our politics fell into such a slough of despond, the answer is pretty simple. Neither main political party, or their trains of experts, specialists, and mouthpieces, can construct a coherent story about what is happening in this country — and the result is a roaring wave of recursive objurgation and wrath that loops purposelessly towards gathering darkness.
What’s happening is a slow-motion collapse of the economy. Neither Democrats or Republicans know why it is so remorselessly underway. A tiny number of well-positioned scavengers thrive on the debris cast off by the process of disintegration, but they don’t really understand the process either — the lobbyists, lawyers, bankers, contractors, feeders at the troughs of government could not be more cynical or clueless.
The nation suffers desperately from an absence of leadership and perhaps even more from the loss of faith that leadership is even possible after years without it. Perhaps that’s why so much hostility is aimed at Mr. Putin of Russia, a person who appears to know where his country stands in history, and who enjoys ample support among his countrymen. How that must gall the empty vessels like Lindsey Graham, Rubio, Schumer, Feinstein, Ryan, et. al.
So along came the dazzling, zany Trump, who was able to communicate a vague sense-memory of what had been lost in our time of American life, whose sheer bluster resembled something like conviction as projected via the cartoonizing medium of television, and who entered a paralysis of intention the moment he stepped into the oval office, where he proved to be even less authentic than the Wizard of Oz. Turned out he didn’t really understand the economic collapse underway either; he just remembered an America of 1962 and thought somehow the national clock might be turned back.
The industrial triumph of America in the 19th and 20th century was really something to behold. But like all stories, it had a beginning, a middle, and an end, and we’re closer to the end of that story than the middle. It doesn’t mean the end of civilization but it means we have to start a new story that provides some outline of a life worth living on a planet worth caring about.
For the moment the fragmentary stories of redemption revolve around technological rescue remedies, chiefly the idea that electric cars will save the nation. This dumb narrative alone ought to inform you just how lost we are, because the story assumes that our prime objective is to remain car-dependent at all costs — when one of the main features in the story of our future is the absolute end of car dependency and all its furnishings and accessories. We can’t imagine going there. (How would you, without a car?)
The economy is collapsing because it was based on cheap oil, which is no longer cheap to pull out of the ground — despite what you might pay for it at the pump these days. The public is understandably confounded by this. But their mystification does nothing to allay the disappearance of jobs, incomes, prospects, or purpose. They retreat from the pain of loss into a fog of manufactured melodrama featuring superheros and supervillains and supernatural doings.
Donald Trump could never be a Franklin Roosevelt or a Lincoln. These were figures who, if nothing else, could articulate the terms that reality had laid on America’s table in their particular moments of history. Mr. Trump can barely speak English and his notions about history amount to a kind of funny papers of the mind. A sinister host of adversaries who ought to understand what is happening in this country, but don’t, or can’t, or won’t, are coming after him, and they are going to get rid of him one way or another. They have to. They must. And they will.
And then what?