St. Philip’s Catholic Church in Battle Creek, Michigan. Temples like this serve as empty refuges from the crucified American Dream.
Battle Creek, Michigan used to have factories. It doesn’t have many of them anymore. As The Guardian’s Chris Arnade writes in his profile of Battle Creek’s disenchanted voters, “with the economic backbone broken, with hope in the future dimming, faith has become more central as a source of community, solace and hope.”
American society has reached a very real tipping point. Capitalism’s creative destruction has left millions of people with nothing more than amorphous notions of “faith” to lead them through the penury-stricken Land of the Free. Those just retiring are hoping to scrounge together what little benefits they have left, while those just starting out are facing the bleak reality of a future without any retirement at all. If you were a betting person, however, you’d know that rolling the dice on faith usually means giving away your chips to the House.
A map depicting the pollution stretch index of each of the Great Lakes. Via Chris Brackley/Canadian Geographic.
A long time ago, Jesus and Ronald Reagan took some time off from cracking the skulls of petulant Berkeley protestors to write the Christian Bible. After receiving divine inspiration from the prophets in the oil, gas, and coal industries, Reagan wrote the now famous verse in Genesis 1:26: “Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth.”
Ever since that sacred meeting between The Gipper and Hey-Zeus, the unofficial Republican platform has loosely revolved around the Dominion Mandate, which supposedly gives man (and maybe woman, if she asks politely and still has supper ready) the right to exercise dominion over the earth and plunder its natural resources at will for the glory of God and Exxon Mobile. Of course, not all Christians subscribe to this hollow interpretation of Scripture, and not everyone who wants to defile the natural world is a Christian. Consider President (“I got 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton”) Trump.
President Donald Trump poses with one of his many cabinet picks who doesn’t believe in the validity of the government agency they’re about to lead.
Conservatives harbor an aversion to all-things “public.” They tend to see the world through a deeply individualistic lens in which there’s no public interest, only private gain. Their world is one in which capitalism is not a system created by human beings that’s subject to human flaws and shortcomings, but a sanctified doctrine received from atop Mount Sinai for the purpose of separating the worthy from the unworthy via an unassailable “market” that capriciously decides who shall rot in shantytowns and who shall lord from golden penthouses.
Of all the ideas that come together to “make” conservatism, chief among them is that the pursuit of material wealth and social power through capitalism constitutes the ultimate human purpose on this earth. In other words: it’s the money, stupid. For the Right, wealth is both the means and the ends to measuring human worth. This is why, during the long buildup to the 2016 presidential election, protests from warbling scribblers like Charles Krauthammer, Cal Thomas, and Peter Wehner that Donald J. Trump was “not a conservative,” did little to damage Trump’s appeal to legions of Republican voters.
The Big Orange Tyrant now sits in the Oval Office as the leader of a conservative party that dominates American government at the federal, state, and local levels. Either Donald Trump isn’t a conservative, or he hoodwinked millions of conservatives into supporting his lurch towards the presidency. I’m willing to give conservative voters more credit than are conservative pundits. Voters know that Trump is conservative. His wealth is all the proof they need.
Left: the non-native wild hog that inhabits Florida’s remaining brush. Right: a Trump-Pence campaign sign in Pasco County, Florida. Trump is also a species of fauna that is non-native to the Sunshine State.
The hogs seemed terrified that night. A few days after Christmas 2016, I decided to take an evening walk in the balmy December air that, for a few weeks a year, makes the state of Florida a bearable place to inhabit. The problem is that Wesley Chapel, the Pasco County census-designated place (CDP) where my in-laws live, isn’t especially hospitable to the notion of pedestrian traffic. There are some sidewalks, but not enough of them, and most of the time you’d be hard-pressed to see them populated by anything but the odd Acura RL piloted by one of the state’s billions of confused retirees.
Nevertheless, there’s a long stretch of sidewalk snaking alongside Wesley Chapel Blvd., the multi-lane thoroughfare that connects the town’s residents with their sacred auto dealerships, buffet chains, and a Wal-Mart Supercenter the size of Estonia. I decided to make use of this sidewalk for a bit of evening exercise. With my iPod blaring the synthwave sound of 80s retro-future act Gunship, I ambled along as the gas-guzzlers blew past until I arrived at a bridge that separated the marshy natural bushland from the seemingly endless sea of new pavement and big boxes. Suddenly, along the roadside where cement gave way to scrub grass and treeline, two wild hogs — a common wildlife sight in Florida and throughout the South — scurried from the roadside brush and disappeared back into the trees.
Those hogs were as lost, scared, and confused as America was in 2016.
You’re fired, America!
President Donald Trump. Let that sink in for a minute. If you haven’t yet leaped in front of a bus or fled to Canada, New Zealand, or some other former British colony that uses “ou” in words like “labour,” then you’re probably aware that Donald J. Trump is now President-Elect of the Unites States of America. After writing about the great orange dictator for over a year now, I never once went out and predicted that he would actually pull off the biggest political upset in American history. But I never ruled it out either.
I’ve called Trump a blowhard, a demagogue, an exclusivist tool, a middle-class radical, an authoritarian, a historical revisionist, a Know Nothing, an ethnic nationalist, a sham Evangelical, a rural populist, a faux American Exceptionalist, the Second Coming of Ross Perot, a world-class asshole, and the near inevitable end-result of Movement Conservatism. Now I have to call him president. So let’s try and unpack how America ended up crawling down the deepest, dankest hole since South Carolina decided to form its own republic in the name of preserving Dixie’s former coerced labor force.
Donald Trump talks ethnic nationalism in Scotland, seemingly unaware that Scottish voters opted to remain in the EU.
Remember when the sun never set on the British Empire? Remember when political decisions made by dentally challenged limeys on some dank Atlantic island had far-reaching implications for the entire globe? Of course you don’t, but that might change in the very near future.
When the United Kingdom narrowly voted to leave the European Union on June 23, 2016 (a move popularly designated as “Brexit,” as in “Britain + Exit,” get it?! Yes, yes, very droll indeed), global markets shook, and badger-bouffanted blowhard Donald J. Trump went to Scotland to congratulate the Highlands’ heroic William Wallaces who “took their country back,” even though the Scots voted to stay in the EU. As he does about every world event about which he knows nothing, Trump has an opinion about Brexit, and like most of his opinions, it’s spectacularly wrong.
The Florida Man Twitter feed is the most American thing ever, because Florida is the most American thing ever.
America is the place where people from all over the word come to live the American Dream. But in America itself, people move southward to live out something far more American than the American Dream: the Florida Dream.
Florida is where the runoff from America’s cultural stream settles into a fetid, stagnant pool of low taxes, cheap property prices, an endless supply of immigrant labor, cold weather-fleeing geriatrics, and trigger-happy right-wing politics. For decades, Sunshine State boosters have wrapped up the Florida Dream in a carefully marketed vision of an overly humid, sunburned paradise bolstered by an economic tripartite of hospitals, condominiums, and a gigantic, anthropomorphic mouse. And Americans can’t get enough of it.
“Bosses of the Senate.” by Joseph Keppler, 1889. At the height of the Gilded Age, private oligopolies became as powerful as, if not more so than, states. The more things change…
Alas, capitalism, we hardly knew ye! Actually, we’ve known ye all along, and we know that you can sometimes be a real sumbitch.’ But thanks to the not-surprising-yet-still-infuriating revelations highlighted in the Panama Papers, we know at lot more about the world’s most notorious open secret: global capitalism has allowed private interests to thrive unencumbered by the whims of states, democratic or otherwise.
In fact, you might say that capitalism as practiced by the neoliberal global order is really just a front for perpetuating a modern feudal system. The Road to Serfdom indeed.
Bernie Sanders yells at those damn kids to get off his lawn, while Hillary Clinton smiles thinking about her next check from Wall Street.
Hey, you, the person reading this. Do you know what it means to be a liberal? Depending on your own political persuasion, being liberal might make you a firm believer in liberty, equal opportunity, and the right to pursue an economic system that distributes the benefits of capitalism more broadly across the citizenry. Or, being a liberal might make you a Stalinist, Marxist, atheist, pantheist, freedom-hating, abortion-craving, tree-fondling, Chick-fil-A scorning, queer-o-sexual menace to Jesus and the Constitution that He wrote.
Either way, liberalism inspires passionate opinions in American society.
A really big chunk of Americans really like to be told what to do.
What do you look for in a political leader? Do you value intelligence? Religious faith? Commitment to national security? An assertion of family values? Or, do you find yourself drawn to leaders that separate the weak from the strong; that promise to use all of their accumulated power to advance the interests of the U.S.A. as the most dominant country on earth? If you find yourself identifying with the former description, then you just might be attracted to the presidential campaign of a certain billionaire braggadocio with a gnarled squirrel on top of his noggin.
That’s right, of all of the qualities that have transformed Donald Trump’s presidential run from a seemingly Quixotic national experiment in the limits of extreme narcissism into a viable path to the White House, few are more important than his appeal to conservative voters’ authoritarian instincts. While not necessarily interchangeable, conservatism and authoritarianism go together like peas and carrots, like bread and wine, like trigger-happy white police officers and unarmed black dudes.