Rules for Ridicule
Well, good job of it, America. You threw a fit and at the end of it elected a man who’s been a national punchline for four decades. Conservatives so completely swallowed their own venom that they ended up stuck with a nightmare from the id. Liberals fielded a candidate so disliked that she lost the most winnable election in history. This is where we are now, and it’s not just depressing and sad and futile, it’s stupid. It’s so deeply stupid and avoidable and dumb, and that’s the hardest thing to take. There were a hundred points at which we could have done better, but instead, we chose to be stupid.
But that’s where we are, and like Mr. Obama said, the sun rose this morning just like it has every other day. Every one of us, regardless of our attitude towards the skin-blister we just elected president, has to live with the consequences of that election, which are going to fuck us up for years to come. By all means, take the day to get drunk, hug your kids, crawl in bed, throw a brick through a window — whatever it is you need to do to stay sane. But the world is still gonna be here tomorrow, and we have to start thinking of how we’re going to live in it.
- KNOCK OFF THIS ‘MOVE TO CANADA’ SHIT. If this election has taught us anything — and please, God, let it have taught us something — it’s that nowhere is safe from bad decisions. If you have the luxury of fleeing the country, go ahead and do it. The rest of us have to live here. Take a hike, you non-contributing zeroes; leave the real work to Americans.
- IF YOU FEEL LIKE QUITTING, THEN QUIT. A lot of people are taking a ‘fuck this country’ attitude. Well, like the man says, you don’t fuck the country; the country fucks you. This was a victory of the finks, the scabs, and the rats on both sides. There’s a word for people who make the least possible effort and then quit when it doesn’t turn out their way; we don’t need any of them on our side.
- KEEP SOME PERSPECTIVE. Don’t get it twisted: Donald Trump’s ascendance to the presidency is a disaster. Although it’s likely he’ll get bored with the tedious business of governance within hours of occupying the White House, that only means that he’ll turn the whole thing over to the same right-wing toads who have been running the country into the ground since the Reagan era. The absolute best-case scenario is that he literally does nothing for four years, and even that would be a catastrophe, because it would mean inaction on fixing problems that are tearing this country apart for far longer than we can afford. That said, America has been through some pretty heinous shit before and survived. We elected Richard Nixon twice, the basest criminal who ever sat in the Oval Office, who conspired to keep the brutal, imperialist Vietnam War going at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives for his own political advantage. We elected Ronald Reagan twice, who smiled and waved his way into our hearts while ruthlessly strangling the working class and overseeing massive corruption, racism, and violence. We elected George W. Bush twice, who poisoned the Middle East for a century with his phony bullshit war and oversaw the biggest financial ruination since the Great Depression. Hell, we fought an actual war over the right to own black people as property and somehow managed to survive that with substantially fewer resources and far less educated and diverse a populace than we have today. This sucks; there’s no doubt about it. But we’ve been in worse situations.
- DO SOMETHING ABOUT VOTING REFORM. Every election is the same goddamn thing: everyone talks about what a disaster our voting laws are, and then a week after it’s over, we forget about it until we have to deal with it again. Folks, this should be painfully obvious by now: the two-party system is garbage. State voting rules are an incoherent hash. The lack of federal election oversight allows for widespread gerrymandering, voter suppression, and racism. The fact that felons can’t vote has disempowered generations of minorities. And the electoral college — originally designed to give more clout to slave states — not only doesn’t reflect the will of the people, but has failed in its one allegedly redeeming feature: keeping a populist ideologue from running the country. We can fix our voting system. We can even do it more easily than most people think; we came within a hair’s breadth of eliminating the electoral college in 1970. It can happen, but not without widespread popular support and real pressure from voters. Nobody likes this system; you’ve got four years to do something about it.
- VOTING ISN’T EVERYTHING. With that out of the way, let me suggest that there are ways to change the game beyond voting. You can probably figure them out for yourself; they’re the same ones we used to make this country in the first place. We’ve all seen what trusting the system to take care of things gets you: it gets you more of the system. Well, the system is broken, comrades. You can’t keep feeding the same input into a broken machine and expect anything good to come out the other end. At the very least, let’s abandon the utterly worthless practice of moral self-congratulation and respectability politics. This isn’t a game, and you don’t have to high-five the other team when you lose. Lives are literally at stake. Bad laws should be broken, bad people should be fought, and bad leaders should be cast off like dirty rags.
- THE DEMOCRATIC ESTABLISHMENT SHOULD BE PURGED. Speaking of bad leaders, the utter bankruptcy of the present-day Democratic Party should be as clear as a spring day by now. Its drift towards technocratic centrism is completely unchecked; its status as America’s other party of the rich is cemented; its inability to recognize its own crippling flaws is irreparable. With Obama on the way out, the party elites — the most privileged, blinkered Beltway shits imaginable — jettisoned his fundraising apparatus and returned to the clubby atmosphere of the Clinton era. Hillary Clinton’s lack of appeal was buried beneath the flattery of toadies, job-seekers, and chummy elitists whose insistence that it was her turn (and, not coincidentally, their turn) led them to elevate hacks like Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Neera Tanden, to use every shady tactic in the book to quash Bernie Sanders’ chance at the nomination, and to blind themselves to the fact that, whatever her virtues, Clinton was a bad choice to beat Trump; as Thomas Frank put it, she was “an insider when the country was screaming for an outsider”. If there’s hope for the Democrats (and frankly, a lot of me wishes there isn’t, that they can implode and make way for a genuine leftist party of the people), they must be thoroughly scrubbed of these toxic careerists, time-servers, and social climbers. They, more than anyone else, have turned a supremely winnable race into a historical calamity. And even now they’re shaping a narrative that places the blame on everyone but themselves. You keep backing the same horse, you keep losing the same race.
- WE KILLED THE PRESS. I don’t want to push this angle too hard; claiming that it’s all the media’s fault is too established a trope of right-wing revanchists for me to be comfortable with. But it is true that they have played a part in our current predicament. If we want to lay blame, though, it should start with us. We’ve become addicted to harmful new-media vices: triangulation; an obsession with polling which only intensifies the more it becomes clear how wrong it can be; favoring instant reaction over thoughtful and timely reporting; idiotic hot takes, ill-informed ‘explainers’, and brainless thinkpieces; an utter ignorance of history disguised as analysis of contemporary trends, as if they have no precedent; smug inside jokes and the sharing culture of witless memes by comedians whose job it is to congratulate you for being on the right side of everything; chasing virality like a junkie chasing his biggest high; and grasping, ambitious hacks who are more interested in landing access and career opportunities than doing their jobs. And we bought all this when we stopped paying for journalism.
- WE BELIEVED OUR OWN HYPE. One of the most depressing things to come out of this election is how completely so many of us live in a bubble, only letting through the information that seems to confirm our desired outcome. Engaging in fantasies about Russian internet conspiracies and FBI coups is our way of dealing with the fact that there was ample evidence of Donald Trump’s support from good ol’ regular Americans, but it bummed us out to think about that. This is why Hillary Clinton’s “America is already great” rap didn’t work: for millions and millions of Americans, white and black, male and female, straight and gay, America isn’t that great. Crime numbers might be down, but that’s not that important if your son just caught a stray bullet between the eyes and you don’t feel safe walking the streets after dark. The economy might be recovering, but that’s not that important if you haven’t had a steady job for years and the only way you can get health care is by the government forcing you to buy a lousy private policy you can’t afford. But we didn’t know those people, and we didn’t talk to them, and we didn’t listen to their stories. Now that some of them have made a bad decision, as people in desperate situations so often do, we’ve decided they’re all racist, they’re all misogynist, they’re all delusional xenophobes who are on their way out. But they’re still here right now. And they still voted. Maybe we should have listened to them, instead of the well-fed publicity shills telling us how great everything is.
- PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE CONSIDER MOVING LEFT. I’m not gonna indulge in any I-told-you-sos. There’s never a good time for that look, especially now. But for the love of all that’s human, it is agonizingly, punishingly obvious that capitalism is dying on its feet and it’s dragging us all down with it. The time for thinking that the solution to the problems of capitalism is more capitalism is way behind us, but it’s still the default approach of Republicans and Democrats alike. It is not that hard to start making the transition to an economy based on human needs and not ivory back-scratchers; dozens of other countries have done it. Americans were practically begging for it this election, and it took a lot of dirty dealings and paid propaganda to tamp it down. We are so indoctrinated from a young age to think of socialism as taboo that we can’t even recognize when our own countrymen are clamoring for it. We may never be able to eliminate the kind of racism, misogyny, nationalism, and hatred that helped put Donald Trump in the White House; but there are tens of millions of people of every race and station who didn’t vote last night because they don’t feel like the system represents them. And they’re right. If we can mobilize those people, no amount of bigotry can stand in their way. There is nothing class solidarity cannot accomplish, if we only give it a path.
- HELP SOMEBODY. Here’s a fact: a lot of the people who voted for Donald Trump are going to be the people most hurt by his policies. A lot of the people who didn’t vote for him are going to be hurt by them as well. There’s going to be a whole lot of hurt to go around these next four years. So, by all means: medicate, meditate, self-care: do what you gotta do. But when you’re done, there are still a lot of hours left in the day and a lot of days left in the year. Whether Trump is an unprecedented nightmare or just a repeat of previous badness, there are an awful lot of people who are going to suffer because of him. To make a woefully incomplete start of it, LGBT people, Muslim-Americans, blacks, Latinos, immigrants, refugees, women in need of abortion services, the elderly, the homeless, people with serious medical conditions, drug addicts, prisoners, citizens of countries the United States is presently bombing (there are seven), Palestinians, people with mental illnesses, the disabled, Native Americans, at-risk youth, the unemployed, the working class, and the poor are all about to get slapped hard across the face. I’m not going to spell out how you can help them with time and money; you can figure that out on your own. But please help them, because the Trump government sure as shit isn’t going to. You may have the luxury of giving up, but they don’t.
La lutte continue. You win sometimes, by inches or by yards. You lose a lot; sometimes it seems like you’ll never stop losing. But the fighting will never stop, with you or without you.