January 10, 2017

The Final Act

Waferinos and Other Fellow Travelers-

I was going to post the following short essay on January 20th, but as the previous post was fast approaching the 200-item comment limit, I decided I might as well unload this now. Enjoy! (well, maybe not)

For those of us who were around at the time, it seemed beyond belief that Richard Nixon, little more than a two-bit hood and a red-baiter, could actually become president of the United States. And the damage he did to the country was immense: Kent State, Chile, Southeast Asia, Watergate, and so on. With Nixon, we became a different country, and hardly a better one.

And then there was Reagan. Who could have imagined that this knucklehead, as Philip Roth has called him, this B-movie actor, could accede to the presidency? But there he was, with a simplistic economic theory that dramatically widened the gap between rich and poor, and a budget that tripled the national debt and poured wasted billions into the military. As in the case of Nixon, he was another downturn from which we have never really recovered. His destructive legacy is with us to this day.

But with Trump: well, this is really our last gasp. The final years of the Roman Empire produced, as emperors, folks who were little more than bad jokes, including imbeciles and children. And this is where we too have arrived. Sitting now in the Oval Office is a cartoon character: a man who has no political experience or qualifications to be president; who touts an absurd haircut; who is a vulgar boor; and who is, nevertheless, the logical culmination of 400 years of hustling—what America is finally and nakedly all about. As the comedian George Carlin used to say, our leaders are representative; they don’t just descend from Mars.

In retrospect, it is clear that Nixon and Reagan were dress rehearsals for The Final Act. They too were unfit for the presidency, and the havoc they wreaked on America and the rest of the world is proof of this. But Trump is somehow in a different category, because he comes across as surreal, an error of a different magnitude than Nixon or Reagan, as grotesque as they were. This is Reality TV on steroids, and I think we can expect that as huge as was the damage inflicted on the nation by Tricky Dick and “the Gipper” (read: clown), the damage that Trump is going to inflict on it will be that much greater. The US will end, not with a bang or a whimper, but on a bad joke.

And it’s just as well. No civilization lasts forever, and our time is clearly up. What are we, really? A genocidal war machine run by a plutocracy and cheered on by a citizenry that has the political sophistication of a five-year old. A nation so cruel that in some states, it is a crime to feed the homeless, and where the police routinely gun down unarmed civilians. A place where torture is now legal, and where the government has the right to arbitrarily rub out anyone it dislikes—including American citizens on American soil. A country almost completely lacking in community and friendship, where no one trusts anyone else, and where daily relationships are of the dog-eat-dog variety. And where the focus of the left is not on the relations of class and power, as it had traditionally been, but on politically correct language, and the legalities of who has the right to use transgender bathrooms. What, indeed, remains of the US today, where “democracy” is but a façade, a hollow shell?

To put it another way, then, Trump is karma writ large, the perfect agent for our Final Act. He is clearly what Hegel referred to as a “world historical individual,” a lightning rod for the major trends of our time. It could well be the case that by the time he finishes with the US, there won’t be very much left to finish.

In the meantime, us Wafers just watch the drama and shake our heads. Who could have guessed that God, or History, or the Zeitgeist, would turn out to have such a perverse sense of humor?

©Morris Berman, 2017