A Candle In the Wind
2016 wasn’t a fluke. 2020’s doubling down is all the proof we needed. Welcome to the New America, whatever happens next. Let’s take a tour.
It’s never an accident. Empires don’t accidentally die. Mighty Rome — or Alexandria, or Athens, or London, more recently — did not suddenly succumb just because somebody “even stronger” came along and took over.
No. That’s not what happens. What happens is that an empire eats itself alive. It rots. From within. Like a cancer. Or, to use a slightly less unappetizing metaphor, like tallow and a wick — fuel for a candle’s light, until there’s none left, because it’s been consumed.
In the history of the world, there has yet to be an endless supply of tallow, in any place.
And once the flame is out, someone else with a new candle simply lights it, and carries on.
The empire’s dead! Long live the empire!
Like candles, empires need fuel. And no matter how much tallow there is, or how slowly the wick burns, at some point, it burns itself out, and the light extinguishes.
So for Democrats who believe Donald Trump represents both the worst of America and an existential threat to the nation, you’re misguided. Yup. I just said it. You’re wrong. He is America, whoever wins, and it’s time to stop pretending or hoping otherwise. The 2016 election was not a fluke outcome — or even a temporary lapsus mentis from which four stomach-churning years have suddenly awakened us.
No. We — by which I mean more Americans than not, at least electorally speaking — poured accelerant on our wick four years ago, then the overwhelming majority of those same people did it again, just yesterday—with zeal—after four years of experience with Trump-style leadership to on which to base a decision. Not to see what that implies is to miss the object lesson being taught here, about what happens to human civilizations as their candles flicker for the very last time, before they’re spent.
But first, you’re asking: “But what if Joe Biden squeaks out a victory?” Would my view that Donald Trump is America no longer hold? It would change nothing.
The reason I say this is simple: if Joe Biden did one tenth of the things that Trump has done—things that eschew both basic human decency and national historic norms; that villify a giant part of the nation that he leads; and that sow rampant mistrust in the public realm, while also levying accusation after accusation against his own governmental institutions; and that ignore the scientific community we rely on to get us out from under a tsunami of death, while telling Americans it’s all a hoax, and “we’re doing great”—Joe Biden would have lost most, or all, of the states he just carried, without picking up any of Trump’s in the process. If he’d been president during this time, instead of Trump, he would also likely have been impeached, by now; and quite possibly in jail for high treason, maybe even executed for it, if not assassinated by others that beat the system to it.
No Democrat nor Republican would stand for that behavior without reprisal… from anyone else than Donald Trump.
And yet. Here we are.
This means that Donald Trump, and Donald Trump alone, represents the United States of America, in aspiration and in action; and that for a minority of people, Joe Biden is tolerated—no more—in spite of the fact that he’s done nothing offensive, during his 48-year career in Washington, D.C.
The problem, then, isn’t that Trump doesn’t represent America. He’s the very embodiment of the place, and what’s more, he doesn’t hide it. Sure, he lies through his teeth, but you know that. It’s the ones who pretend to be something they’re not, and whom we believe, that are more worrisome. You know, the duplicitous ones. In that regard, Trump is a breath of fresh air. At least you know what you’re getting with him, whether or not that insight terrifies you.
The problem, rather, is that this has never happened in front of our eyes, before. None of us has lived through the end of an empire. That is, unless you recall the immediate post-World War era, and spent it in Britain. More on that below. So because we are in it — this American Empire — some of us may see the light dimming, suggesting the tallow’s almost gone, but it’s impossible to know when the candle will flicker for the last time, or a healthy gust of wind will blow it out, leaving us without any adequate means of relighting it.
One good way of self-diagnosing is to look at the electoral map — the one making some of our stomachs do back flips, today. If the electoral map were volatile from election to election, that would actually a good sign, because it would tell you the nation is strong with ideas, disagreements and the growing pains these things usually manifest, like impassioned counter-trajectories and tug-of-wars. Those are signs of vigor. By stark contrast, 2020’s map — with just eight states yet to conclude their count, as of this writing — remains 100% unchanged from 2016. It’s stagnant. A non-contest.
Which is the part that alarms me.
In other words, of the 42 states that have been called, no one has changed their minds, in their assessment of the nation’s last four years of leadership and trajectory.
And what years they have been! You could not have predicted the things that have happened, here in the United States of America.
Shock doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.
What all of this means, effectively, is that after four years of pussy-grabbing, supremacist-stoking, strongman-fellating, ally-baiting, protection-shredding, truth-assaulting, science-denying, minority-hunting, Constitution-breaking, virtue-obliterating, virus-incubating, and death-courting, the American public stood up — well, at least half of it; maybe more — and said, in the great Dickensian tradition:
“Please, sir. May I have some more?”
Not one single state looked back — nor at our global top-ranking death toll, not to put too fine a point on it — and said, “Whoah… maybe we should lay off the sauce.” Or, to keep with my initial metaphor, “Let’s not pour any more accelerant on this here candle…”
Nope. Instead, we are blissfully unaware that the wick is about to extinguish. We are ensconced in the fire’s warmth and glow, and it still feels good.
What else is one to make of the fact that nothing — not a single unprecedented thing [and there have been so many!] that the person until recently known as ‘Leader of the Free World’ has done in four (let alone 74) years — has changed Americans’ support for him?
It doesn’t matter to the American people, I’m left to conclude, that he openly courts dictators, or invites them to run our elections (by feeding us propagandistic horse sh*t), effectively rendering the foundational act of democracy—an informed vote—null and void.
It doesn’t matter that his disrespect for women — more than half of all Americans are women, by the way — is limited only by the reach of his tiny, groping fingertips, unless what they find is someone “bleeding out of her whatever”, which apparently grosses him out.
It doesn’t matter that he has destroyed Americans’ trust in the only thing that allows us to act in the world, and prosper: TRUTH.
It doesn’t matter, it would appear, whether or not the American leader models good — forget virtuous — behaviors for our children or adults to emulate, both toward other Americans, and to foreigners, too: things like kindness, or manners, or fairness, or encouragement, or inclusivity, or honesty.
It doesn’t even seem to matter than the president of the United States hates half of his own country, refuses to govern on their behalf or even listen to them, and is openly courting armed militias — thugs with guns! — to cow them into submission.
One must conclude that these things no longer matter enough here in America, anymore, to represent part of the national agenda, or even our abilities, come tomorrow.
We will quickly forget what it was to vote freely, based on facts. We will forget what it was to treat women as more than pets, or holes to fill, or punching bags. We will forget what it is to know something. We will forget what it is to have character, the way the rest of the world understands that word, even if we don’t, any longer. And we will forget what it is to comprehend a person or idea that’s new, and will give up even expending the effort to do so.
The path to the bottom of the wick is swift.
And when the light goes out, it’ll be dark, and cold.
Ancient Greece gave us philosophy, democracy, medicine and cartography. Ancient Egypt gave us mathematics, metallurgy, astronomy and the plow. Ancient Rome gave us engineering, the calendar, warfare and newspapers. Ancient Mongols gave us gunpowder, artillery, and biological weapons. And Colonial Britain gave us industry, the scientific method and the computer.
America has given us plastic waste, the La-Z-Boy and obesity.
To look at Greece, Egypt, Rome or Mongolia today — the older empires — is to see what happens to a once-mighty people after history passes them by. That is, once their candle has burned to its nub. Looking at them now — and I’ve spent time in each place — it’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a time when any of these places was dominant, let alone strong, or even — not to be rude or disrespectful — functional.
They’re not. Not by a long shot.
Human nature doesn’t change. What was, will also be. To see the future, we just need to look at our past.
So apart from those old enough to recall World War II, after which the British Empire — hubristically “the empire on which the sun never sets” — went quietly into the night, overnight, none of us has experienced the death of an empire, personally. In the case of Britain, it essentially went broke from waging war. So just 75 years ago, the largest empire in the history of all empires — (yes, the British one) — went from controlling 25% of the planet to administering a smattering of tiny islands, none worth contesting, since 1982’s 74-day war over the Falkland Islands, not far from Antarctica.
The Falklands are Britain’s largest remaining territory.
The penguins, and the 2,840 human residents, don’t seem too fussed.
Thy Will Be Done
So as went 2016, so quite possibly goes 2020, electorally. But it doesn’t matter! The 42 vote-concluded states prove — to me — that the outcome of the 2016 election was no fluke; and that a large share of the country wants another round. The people’s will has been met. So just what is this will, exactly? What actually does matter to the Americans who so fervently support Donald Trump, to the point of wanting not only to watch him on TV for laughs as he fires entertainers, but to lead the United States of America, where he fires scientists and generals, and foments hatred, domestically and internationally?
You know, what makes him the poster child of what it means to be American?
Because isn’t that what the president is supposed to represent?
Well if Donald Trump represents Americans, as I believe he does, then to be an American means some very specific things.
Let’s look at them.
Being American means protecting white folk from black and brown people, through abusive policing, drug laws created to justify this vilification, hiring prejudices and inequalities, the withholding of social services, and curtailed access to a decent education, life-saving healthcare, and medicines. These are all part of the official Republican platform.
Being American mean religionizing the national laws, as one nation, under God, including the re-criminalization of abortion and homosexuality. These, too, are officially part of the platform.
Being American means weaponizing all citizens, like the 70% of us who have yet to give in to gun ownership, such as teachers defending their students against other students. Because with 400 million openly wielded guns owned by just 30% of Americans, given the increasing militarization of the public at large, it’s only a matter of time before the non-weaponized are forced to defend themselves from the growing number of “well-armed militias” who are slowly taking control of the streets, without the opposition of actual law enforcement; sometimes with their help; and with the tacit support of the National Rifle Association—America’s biggest gun lobbyist.
Being American means fracking our water sources for cheap fuel, in spite of the fact that it’s now as cheap to “mine” the sun and the wind, according to this neat graph. That’s because clean fuels are perceived to be elitist — more difficult for someone with a fifth-grade education or “thick fingers” to run, or install.
Being American means, above all, lowering taxes, which by virtue of the fact that money runs the world, will presage fewer government services. (Yay!) And so being American means letting our roads and bridges decay. It means ceasing viral analysis. It means privatizing education. Too bad if you can’t afford one. It means dying from toxic foods that our food pyramids and the USDA—which are both run by Big Agriculture—tell us are healthy. It means telling the elderly — the ones who live off Roosevelt’s New Deal — “Tough sh*t” if you don’t have enough money to eat dog food (I’ve seen this, personally), or to see a doctor. They’re called Medicare and Social Security. And lowering taxes also means fewer firefighters and police, so it’s a good thing that there are already about 100,000 organized militants fighting in the United States, today. That will save some bucks.
Being American means shrinking government if we’re not going to tax people, which may require us to dissolve the Republic altogether. Because if there’s no money to pay federal politicians’ salaries, then what makes us a nation? Will Wall Street pay a living wage to our Senators? Will Big Coal?
With a smaller government, we will finally be able to let private companies run free of regulation, so that “the open market” can lead shareholders to the Promised Land of perpetual double-digit returns. It will also free us of standards in education and testing, so that the market can prevail. (Thanks, Betsy!) It will leg Big Agriculture stop being dogged by food safety standards, even though these are already written by Big Agriculture. (Hello, food pyramid! Can you say triple-digit returns? Here. Have more cheese and cow.) It will rid us of irksome and expensive safety nets for those in need, when they fall on hard times, like the 51 million of us who have lost a job in the past 8 months, and are currently pulling in unemployment benefits that we will be able to stop paying out, once the government no longer has to fund “formerly working Americans” with enough money not to starve to death. Or heal! That’s called Medicaid.
This is what Americans used to do. Not so in the New America.
In New America, we will continue isolating ourselves from neighbors and allies, and we will commercialize our relationships, as mercenaries for hire. Here come the ROI! Want our military? Pay up. Want us to reduce carbon emissions? Pay up. We have 400 million guns, and people dying to use them.
In New America, our borders will close altogether to newcomers, and we’ll get to reseed our white roots. (Here comes the wall!) For the privilege, we will set our price of admission. In New America, we may even deport our minorities, back to their sh*thole countries. I don’t care if they were born here. A New American is a real American only if we say you are. The rest are rapists. Or socialists. Or godless heathens.
And possession is 9/10ths of the law.
It’s hard not to conclude that a real American and New America are all of these things, because the citizenry — we, the people — have just voted it so.
So, hey! Congrats, America.
Enjoy the warmth.
A mighty wind is coming, whoever wins this election.