Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Is This It?

Back in 2010, I read and reviewed a book by Chris Hedges called "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle". It's an insightful but depressing read which does no hold out an abundance of hope for the future of western society.

The crux of Hedges' argument, as summarized by his publishers, is that
...we now live in two societies: One, the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world, that can cope with complexity and can separate illusion from truth. The other, a growing majority, is retreating from a reality-based world into one of false certainty and magic. In this “other society,” serious film and theatre, as well as newspapers and books, are being pushed to the margins.
When I stumbled back across this pint the other day, it chilled my blood a little bit to think of Empire of Illusion in the context of the U.S. Presidential elections, which blessedly draw to a close tonight.

This was the year both major parties saw 'outsider candidates' make a plausible run at becoming the nominee for President, Bernie Sanders on the left and Donald Trump on the right. Both appealed to their respective bases on a platform of significant change, but in the end, Democrats rejected Sanders, ostensibly because of the inability of a self-described socialist to win. There were some hurt feelings, but Democrats have mostly filed in behind Hilary Clinton.

Trump, on the other hand, has brought divisiveness to new levels across the country and within his own party. Using blatant demagoguery and populism while catering to the worst instincts of largely uneducated and underemployed white males, he still, astonishingly, has about a 1 in 3 chance of becoming the most powerful man in the world before sunrise tomorrow.

Did Hedges foresee an event like this causing an existential crisis in the U.S.? From my review:
The speculative future he draws where some form of crisis, either real or imagined, results in a large portion of the American working class turning to elements of the conservative right to validate their victimization, re-affirm their uncontested right to success and happiness regardless of effort or ability and mete out appropriate revenge for the mess they were complicit in creating, and you may not be quite so dismissive of the next Sarah Palin news article you come across.
Even if Trump doesn't win (which is both statistically more likely and also the result that a large proportion of the world outside America is fervently hoping for), the drama is unlikely to end. He and his supporters have repeatedly cried that the system is rigged and voter fraud is rampant (neither of which bears up under scrutiny), and have threatened to challenge the results of the election. The number of armed American militias and 'Three-percenter patriot' groups' have proliferated over the last 8 years, and are fully prepared, possibly even anxious, to take up arms in the event of whatever sort of civil unrest they find compelling.

Trump himself, in the third debate, refused to say if he would concede on election night to ensure an orderly transition of power, the bedrock of the American democracy, smirking instead and saying he would keep us "in suspense". 

One way or the other, tonight's election results will present a significant turning point in the history of the world's remaining superpower, the real question for me is whether it is the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end.

Every empire ends; in some ways, it is what they are created to do. The best you can hope for if you are present when the wheel goes round is a modicum of order and cooperation during the transition. In truth though, I am already anxious about what we might be facing four years hence.

No comments:

Post a Comment