As I write this, America’s four year experiment in governance by denial seems at last to be grinding to its inevitable conclusion. Twitler is in the bunker; his generals are deserting him. Stephen Miller is his Eva Braun.
This is the way the regime ends; this is the way the regime ends. Not so much with a whimper as with a series of increasingly whingy tweets that remind me of all thoses jokes from the 80s about “White Whine.” (Trump really does wanna go to Florida.)
America’s much longer experiment in creating a culture myth by denial, it seems, might also be lurching toward a painful, spasmodic end.
When we believe a narrative in contradiction of reality because reality is painful, or embarassing, or shameful—that’s denial. When we believe things are fine instead of facing all the shit we need to fix, that’s denial too.
We’ve been avoiding responsibility with all the fervor of an alcoholic stuck in adolescent behavior patterns. Denial is a hell of a drug, and it’s damned hard admitting that mistakes, to coin a phrase, were made.
But denial is a root of fascism, too. Because it’s so much easier to just pretend that everything is fine.
Tens of thousands dead of the pandemic. An unknown number of thousands dead of police brutality. Tens of millions dead of unattainable healthcare.
One often has to hit bottom before one can see how fucked up things have gotten. Well, it’s 2020. Here we are. Bathypositional. Pretty sure I see some anglerfish and a vampire squid around here somewhere.
Somebody find us a sponsor, because it’s time for our long national binge of denial to end. It’s time to stop wallowing in extended adolescence of American Exceptionalism and accept the consequences for our national actions, admit that we’ve flown this sucker into a mountainside, and start to make amends.
Maybe we had to elect the actual distilled personification of the Ugly American to see ourselves clearly. Well, there we are: narcissistic, histrionic, purblind, bigoted, cartoonish, arrogant, violent, cowardly, incompetent, downright wincingly embarassing.
We are “governed” by a President who believes that a likely eventual quarter of a million dead Americans and thirty million lost livelihoods is something he can have the tech staff fix in post. Who believes that the lives of all the black Americans murdered by police are nothing more than a political talking point, who thinks it’s fine to send in the Army to violently suppress Americans exercising their constitutional rights.
Who cannot comprehend that there might be consequences for any of his actions, because for his entire life he’s been surrounded by enablers making sure he never had to face a single one.
Trump’s not really the one to blame here. He’s a stalking horse, a lightly guided and not very effective warhead in whose path of carnage Mith McConnell and his flunkies follow, taking a hammer to the Great Society and anything else they can get their hands on that doesn’t benefit billionaires—and doing everything they can to suppress the vote of people who don’t follow their bankrupt, exploitative neoliberal ideology, or can’t be fooled into voting for it by the conservative social values they hypocritically mouth.
The Republican establishment that realized they could no longer win on the merits, and so they’ve resorted to election-fixing on a scale not seen since the 1800s. They’re as deep in the grift as Jim Bakker preaching a prosperity gospel to poor folks while building a gold-plated mansion.
Ignore the economy. We’re bound to have a strong third quarter, after all. Ignore the plague. It’ll go away. Ignore the human rights of anyone who makes you uncomfortable. They will go away. Ignore the 500-year legacy of America’s original sins of colonization, genocide, and chattel slavery. They mean nothing at all.
Just stick your fingers in your ears and claim to be a genius. Everything will turn out fine.
I was thinking yesterday about Watership Down, which is one of my two favorite books, and how often people describe it as an allegory without remembering that it’s not, really. Not exactly, though it has allegorical elements. But it’s no Animal Farm. It’s a far more subtle work.
It’s also a profoundly anti-fascist book, one of the great anti-fascist works of the 20th century.
I was thinking of Strawberry’s warren, and how the denial there is complete. There are things you just don’t talk about—if somebody goes missing, for example. Why the good food just shows up near the warren, for another. The denial that serves the comfortable classes, where they choose not to see the suffering that comfort is built upon.
But I was also thinking of General Woundwort, and his blind, rabidly ferocious end. “Dogs aren’t dangerous!” he cries, right before he is devoured by a dog.
The difference between Woundwort and Trump is that Woundwort isn’t cowardly or incompetent. The similarity is that neither one can acknowledge being wrong.
White Americans have historically had an extremely hard time acknowledging when our nation has been wrong. Whether it’s owning up to the realities of slavery, or genocide of Native Americans, or Jim Crow, or of the generational violence caused by systemic racism today… we don’t want to hear it. And we don’t want to fix it.
Adulthood begins when we look at everything that has poisoned our life and the lives of those around us, and begin to identify the patterns of behavior and perception that have led to that toxicity. It does not begin with a backward-looking evocation of a fictional greatness, which just means “a time when I was less aware of my failures.”
Regret is a healthy emotion, when one has done something terrible.
America has spent a long time lying to itself about itself—in school curriculums, in media, in revisionist narratives about the Civil War.
Maybe it’s time we heard the truth.