President Donald Trump’s four years in the White House changed many aspects of American politics, but none quite as apparent as the influx of apocalyptic political posturing on both sides of the aisle.
Have we now reached the apex? It is difficult to say, but all signs point to no.
When it comes to American politics in the year 2020, there is simply no chill.
What’s behind the surge in sky-is-falling rhetoric? Who cut the brakes on the clown car?
For a culture in which especially younger adults are having much less sex, it seems fair to ask if a certain amount of the Armageddon narrative is being promulgated out of sexual frustration as well as those manipulating that sexual frustration.
Much has been made of the 2008 recession and fairly so. The economic impact of lockdowns and quarantines can’t be overstated. But we also can’t forget about the ongoing Sex Recession.
To put it less politely: America has a serious case of blue balls. Not just physically, either.
Spiritual blue balls.
Culturally, sexually, politically, and religiously—you name it—the populace is yearning for a climax and a resolution. They want the episode to end, finally. They want the cameras to pan back and do the post-show interviews with the biggest stars.
Even when it doesn’t happen, growing droves of voters flock to the politicians who promise that satisfying finish and post-game wrap up.
Seth Abramson will finally expose once and for all the labyrinthine conspiracy of Trump and Co. and just how they’re the most corrupt, despicable crowd ever to stain the lily-white and heretofore unimpeachable surface of American politics; Candace Owens just owned Ilhan Omar so hard that she’ll never recover and her secret identity as an al-Qaeda Manchurian candidate who supports abortion in order to decrease the birthrate of Christians will finally be exposed. The anti-Trump media is basically the heroic French Resistance of World War II; Trump has been chosen by God Himself to lead the last stand against a global Satanic conspiracy.
But…what if these grand dreams and fears aren’t just random or “crazy”? What if they are a psychological need that people have for things to matter and a deep aversion to the deep mediocrity of our times?
What if the last thing people want to hear is the horrible news: our lives, our era, just aren’t very remarkable?
As the late great author Walker Percy wrote, his protagonist was “living in fact in the very century of merde, the great shithouse of scientific humanism where needs are satisfied, everyone becomes an anyone, a warm and creative person, and prospers like a dung beetle, and one hundred percent of people are humanists and ninety-eight percent believe in God, and men are dead, dead, dead; and the malaise has settled like a fall-out and what people really fear is not that the bomb will fall but that the bomb will not fall….”
There’s a good argument to be made we’re still living in that century of merde and that the acceleration of technology hasn’t changed the underlying malaise Percy describes.
So let’s take a look at the apocalyptic visions of the American left and right, the immanentizing of the progressive eschaton and Drumpf doomsday dolor and its cousin the quacking hysteria of QAnon and earnest Millennialism of Trump worshipers.
First, the view from the center and the liberal left as well as their numerous media backers and scriptwriters.
Trump—whose policy record has been largely indistinguishable from any prior milquetoast Republican—has been routinely chastised and branded in the media as the next Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, or Joseph Stalin. And although he shared some of the strongman personality characteristics, you’d be hard pressed to find any average American whose life changed drastically under number 45, except, maybe, for CNN’s heroic Jim Acosta in his epic quest for press freedom.
What the last four years of Trump’s presidency did change, however, was the media and the institutional left’s acceleration into pure, unfiltered narcissistic self-righteousness. By branding Trump as a dangerous man of immense dictatorial menace, a dying industry was able to cast itself as the resistance and a misled and confused progressive base was able to pat itself on the back for chipping away at the Greatest Threat Of All Time.
In a privileged, distorted parody of the journalists and organizations that took great risk in standing up to the actual dictators and mass-murdering regimes of the past—many of which paid for their actions with their lives—the American mass media has LARPed with reckless abandon, highly publicized gestures, and foaming-at-the-mouth op-eds wherein they trumpeted their own supposed heroism and grand pursuit of truth (which was mysteriously missing during the run-up to the Iraq war and other national tragedies).
The Washington Post changed its slogan to “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” champing at the bit to nobly defend the republic from the bad orange man, while the Post steadily blew any of its remaining credibility by claiming that everything from an electricity outage in Vermont to the color of the wallpaper was a Russian conspiracy.
Rachel Maddow of MSNBC helpfully informed viewers in North Dakota and the Midwest that they could freeze to death if Russia decided to shut down the power grid in the middle of winter. Just the facts, folks.
Some media figures made things up altogether for dramatic effect. Louise Mensch’s sincere claim that Steve Bannon was about to be executed for espionage was one of the most notable examples in the past few years.
Meanwhile Trump—a president who takes great enjoyment in riling up his opponents and who is an expert manipulator of the media cycle, if nothing else—was in reality doing little more than changing tax percentages, coordinating empty Israeli-Arab normalization deals, and parading his own symbolic gestures on the world stage.
After years of whipping themselves—and in turn, the American anti-Trump population—into a frenzy, the media’s narcissism came to a spectacular conclusion this month after Joe Biden was projected to be the winner of the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Two false stories began to circulate: one from ABC News claimed Brits across the Atlantic were setting off fireworks in celebration of Biden’s heroic victory, while MSNBC’s Ari Melber insinuated church bells in France were also a passionate response to the Blue Wave.
In reality, fireworks were launched in the UK for Bonfire Night—a celebration that has taken place annually since before the United States was even founded—and church bells rang out in France for Mass.
But for an American mass media that had become so absorbed in its own resistance narrative, it was only logical that the entire world must have been celebrating Trump’s electoral defeat too.
But where does the media go from here?
Without the bogeyman in office, and the ensuing scandals, how will the fourth estate keep its ratings from falling back into a pre-Trump slump?
Without an adversary as impressive as Trump, do journalists sink back into their seats and cheer the Biden-Harris administration from the sidelines? The answer is obviously yes: they will largely do that and intensify their demonization of Christians and conservatives in their search for new baddies to blame for all the wrongs of this world.
Now, to take a look from the right, we are presented with a slightly more diverse and nuanced view.
Indeed, after enduring sustained assault from the cultural left for decades, the right has plenty of voters who know Trump isn’t the real deal but are still immensely grateful for his safeguarding of America’s judicial future and institutional pushback against the left on critical race theory and other initiatives.
Nonetheless, it can’t be denied that the American right is suffused by a lot of childish behavior and apocalyptic mumbo-jumbo as well.
One dominant narrative popular among some white evangelicals holds that Trump is God’s modern King Cyrus—a Gentile Persian king who helped rescue the Jews from Babylonian servitude. Israelis jumped right onboard the supreme silliness, issuing a coin (which you can get for the low price of $70) featuring Trump and King Cyrus to celebrate the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem in 2018.
Other out-there theories run the gamut from vague beliefs that Trump will usher in the end times (hey, there are still two months minimum, so it’s still possible: don’t give up hope) and that he’s been secretly arresting all the pedophile, blood-sucking freaks who backed Hillary Clinton in 2016. The 100-dimensional chess of Trump is otherworldly, and its only doubters are libtards, Satanists, and smug blue checks from Brooklyn, for sure.
Right-wing pundits thunder about the impending downfall of the republic and decry pink-haired Maoist madmen who swarm the streets. BLM leadership are Chinese-trained saboteurs and demon-worshipping occultists sent to institute the next phase of the New World Order.
What if the fever dreams of the left and right are just a cope?
What if we’re living in the ultimate anticlimax?
Instead of a 1,000-year Reich, what if we’re living in a 1,000-year *psyche*?
What if all this drama isn’t the final countdown and more like a tired rerun where we’re running out of ways to amuse ourselves to death?
We’re living in a time of low social trust, accelerating technology, neo-feudal late stage capitalism, and half-assed social democratic proposals to try to salvage some form of unity out of a fractured polity and declining family structure. Is this really the end or just the beginning of a long decline?
What if we’re all a hammer looking for a nail?
What if we’re thrusting wildly but still can’t get no satisfaction?
What if we’re not living in the end times and we’re actually the “middle children of history” going through the tired throes of an Empire in decline?
What if there won’t be a currency collapse and a second Great Depression? What if there won’t be a giant cataclysmic war or final showdown full of screaming Chinese communist commandos and heroic patriots resisting their invasion from atop the hills of Tennessee?
What if there’s no giant robot Godzilla AOC coming to chew up tanks and spit fire as she scoops conservatives away in her bewitching bosom and takes them to her free health care gulags?
What if “no Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA” comes true and things become so tolerant and peaceful and full of fair-trade hemp harmony that it’s all kind of…mind-blowingly boring?
What if you aren’t a vital operator in a story of the final battle between good and evil but are actually just a person struggling through the ups and downs of life like everyone has for…all of human history?
Wouldn’t that be sad and kind of just a little, tiny bit moderately disappointing?
Wouldn’t it be so much more fulfilling if you fit somewhere in the script, if you were one of the super elite or educated few who really gets it? Wouldn’t it be so much more truth-y to feel like this is all part of a grand, cosmic destiny in which you’re a warrior for eternal truth?
Well, as Trump’s rally-finale tune always reminds us, “you can’t always get what you want.”
Paul Brian is a freelance journalist. He has reported for the BBC, Reuters, and Foreign Policy, and contributed to The Week, The Federalist, and others. Charlie Nash is a journalist who has written for Mediaite and the Spectator.