Scattered through life under the Hallucination Regime, like mines across a field, are acute flashes of irreality. One wrong step and reality implodes. It contracts to the size of your body. At the border of your skin, you feel, suddenly, as if you’re imprisoned in a movie. You peer out of your cage at a specific type of nineteen eighties dystopian science fiction. Something both heavy-handed and campy, operating in the absurdist overlaps between social commentary, action and comedy. A bit like RoboCop or Death Race 2000. It feels false, staged yet true. It’s a substantiated irreality. Somehow the boundaries, the screen between this world and that, have been torn away. We have, through some bizarre magic, opened a gateway to our televised dreams. The demons pour through. But these demons are ridiculous. A bad special effect. Clumsy stop-motion. They lack even the dignity of the reanimated dead. These mechanical puppets were never really alive to begin with. The world becomes a product of some terrible cartoonmancy. The blow feels like a flashback. But not exactly into the past. Nor is it a flash-forward into the future. It is a flash-aslant. It blows us sideways into a view of the present embodiment of a future imagined by a past. Into the perspective of a parallel reality where this is all just another kitsch fantasy. It reveals the scaffolding of the stage. The props are shoddy. This is a bad movie. It keeps jerking us out of belief and towards irreality. We know this, we see it, and yet, we cannot help it. We are inside the movie. Lucid but stranded. Surrounded. There is no way out. The movie is real. Its sub-pseudo fakery physically embodied in the banal. It is and it is everywhere and we are trapped within it.
I had one of these moments shortly after Donald Trump was elected. Much of America was in shock. Me, less so. From the outset of his candidacy, I thought he would win the republican party and had a very good chance of winning the presidency. I’ve always had a dim view of things. Americans being duped by a racist conman hardly seemed impossible. His division of the world into winners and losers was certainly moronic but every country has its own special moronic beliefs and this one tapped right into one of America’s founding idiocies. He was no joke. He never was. But that’s how the opposition treated him. They believed that he was not to be taken seriously. That he could be dealt with through a sort of technocratic reason. They believed that scandals were possible and that scandals could undo him. They still believe this. In spite of it all.
Now, as then, this faith in scandals says just as much about the liberal opposition as it does him. They believe in rescue. Someone will rescue them. And they are, themselves engaged in an act of rescue. Not of the people or their country but of their most treasured assumptions. Much of the Russia controversy is about liberals attempting to rescue their party line of “America, actually everything is totally fine” as much as it is about any actual malfeasance. To preserve this optimism about America, one must believe that Trump is impossible and, since he is not impossible and, in fact, president, then he must be the result of foreign interference. None of this is to say that there was no interference. It’s only to state that one does not need to invoke Russia to explain America. The problems are here. They are American problems. Things are a long way from fine. Insofar as any of that was exploited, it’s because it’s there to be exploited. Ready to be.
This incapability of self examination, this urge to lay every problem at some foreign doorstep, turns out to be, like American exceptionalism, a unifying feature of both parties. The myth is that America is good. If not in practice then, at least, in theory. It’s just somehow misled. It’s just making errors here and there. But this alleged goodness? “There was nothing I could say, except the one unalterable fact that it wasn’t true.” The truth is that this country is rotten. It’s always been rotten. The dirt watered with blood. Sins that cannot be cloaked with a manicured lawn. The dirt bleeds cartoon demons.
Oh say can you see . . .
While the liberals waited (and still wait) for the silver bullet scandal that would finally bring this werewolf costume down, they put him on stage again and again. Look at his hair, they said. Listen to his howls! Isn’t it all so phony?! The opposition played his game and never understood the rules. They could not see that they were the full moon.
I’d seen something like this before. Not a movie. More of a community theater production of the same show. In Toronto, with Rob Ford. Another transgressive strongman. Another opposition who believed his strengths were his weaknesses. The sense of denial and the whole stinking miasma of ‘we’re better than this.’ It was all so frustrating and familiar. People assured me, smart people, that this irrationality could never happen here. It would all be stopped. Somehow. Invisible components in his own party would stop him. He’d quit because it was just a con and he only wanted to advertise his show anyway. People would wake up. No way people could be this stupid. There was a tape. Evidence. Put your faith in the morality of the republican party, the lack of ambition of a Reality TV Star and the intelligence of the American people. Like, c’mon man, be real. It won’t happen. It can’t happen. It’s not that bad.
By the dawn’s early light . . .
A lot of people woke up to the reality of President Trump. And although this didn’t surprise me, I still had a sense of horrified awe at the thing. You might know that a bunch of elephants are about to stampede over a cliff but to see them actually do it? Well, one can almost understand why people would think the whole thing was some sort of put-up job. At certain scales, events are unbelievable. You have to see them to believe them and having seen them, you don’t want to believe them. The mind retreats.
And in this, the first day, I had my first flash of irreality. Outside, the police helicopters roared and circled in the dark sky, casting their spotlight down on tonight’s unlucky star of an arrest. Sirens howled like wolves. A car passed by, its radio cranked up. The news played on its stereo. I heard the serious voice intone the words “PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP.” It felt, suddenly, as if I was in a low-budget dystopia. A campy thriller full of wild claims about a terrible future. This cannot be the present. It cannot be real.
I had another sideways flash in an airport. Everywhere one looked, there he was. His face, everywhere. Orange. His voice, everywhere. Ranting. Warnings of terrorism. And all of us just going about our business, doing our best to ignore this shit because that’s what passes for sanity these days – the ability to ignore reality and function in spite of it.
Yesterday, I had another. In the immigration office, my hands on sanitized glass, scanned by green lasers. On the peach wall, glaring down, was his portrait.
One could not feel stranger if there was a picture of President Ronald McDonald hanging on the wall. I joked to my wife that cameras were probably not allowed in the office because, when this too passed and we faced the judgement of historians, the office workers probably didn’t want any evidence that they had ever conducted business below these beady eyes. How could you look at such a photo and answer the future’s question – how were you able to function? What is there to say? We hoped it would get back to normal? They’ll only ask how. Maybe the more imaginative among them will ask why. After all, what could have been so great about the normal that birthed this? And to think they’ll be around to ask that, well, that’s probably where my optimism currently lies. That’s my excuse, I suppose. That we might survive to read about this and be smart enough to see it for what it was. That we won’t stampede into something worse that makes this all appear like The Good Old Days. I’ve always had a dim view of things but never quite dim enough. Some light gets in. It blinds. They’ll probably elect an emoticon.
What so proudly we hailed . . .
But those judgments are the business of the future. Now we must only be quiet. The cartoon demons have been conjured. Their images sit on peach government walls, surrounded by black candles lit by hooded figures. Quiet now. The image has been anointed with goat-blood. The chant is about to begin. The biometrics are being offered upon the glass altar of the altered present. These images won’t go easily away. Demons never do. They might remain. Maybe we’ll get used to them. Perhaps, we better. There no longer even exists a normal to go back to. Neither facts nor technocratic bleating will help us. Maybe we can learn to ignore these things. Maybe they will learn to ignore us. With enough effort, maybe we can pretend reality remains stable. Maybe we can ignore the flash-aslant. Call it anomalous. But, for now. Hush. Quiet. The chant is about to begin.
At twilight’s last gleamings . . .