American Freak Show
STEP RIGHT UP! GET YOUR BULL SHIT HERE!
Here we are again at the dusty civic fairgrounds that host our once every four year national refute to the theory of evolution known as the Presidential elections. Hot damn! There are rides aplenty. Frights and delights of all shapes and sizes! We got putrid hot dogs made from the discarded assholes and ears of so many broken political promises and the oh-so-sweet cotton candy of phony American exceptionalism that gives you a quick little rush before making you barf on the primary tilt-o-whirl.
We’ve been here before. Sure, things seemed nicer the last couple times around. Someone in the Obama camp had the foresight to spray paint the omnipresent dirt a delightful hue of kelly green. It almost approximated the grass that used to grow here during the Clinton farce. That was before little Bush had it ripped up and shipped to a private golf course in Jackson Hole, Wyoming so the impressionable electorate could really feel his High Noon, standoff with the bad guys, Tejas vibe. Those in the know are hip to a dirty little secret: that grass was nothing but AstroTurf pieced together in a Juarez maquiladora for pennies on the dollar.
Find a few lucky old-timers with that gleam still in their eye and they’ll tell you how the fairgrounds shone with flecks of gold when old Ronnie or Jack came through. Boy, were those the days to be an American! Check the records. It was shitty back then too. Some devious foreign enemy was hell bent on destroying us. Our country was irreparably divided over silly shit like skin tone and the right of an unborn fetus to enter this despicable world and then get aborted by circumstance. Did we mention the ever-looming debt debate?
Hell, go backstage in ’60 and all you’ll see is a rich kid with a bad back railing out an intern or two, praying he won’t have to confront the fact that black people live as permanent second class citizens in these United States. Slip past the velvet rope in ’80 and you’ll find a hopelessly deluded B-actor with a silver tongue presiding over a John Birch circle jerk making a spunky mess on top of a framed portrait of Barry Goldwater.
It only seemed nice back then. It was a trick of lighting, the magic of a few nice facades slapped on a subpar construction job of cheap constitutional chicken wire loaded thick with the crumbling plaster of irrational national pride. We get so worked up over this bogus fanfare twice a decade we hardly remember that the arena itself is built with sub-par, non-union labor on fill dirt barely covering the stench of the countless American sewers that empty in unison into our political process.
I’m sorry if this sounds cynical, but the idea of legitimate democracy in this country is like a red, white and blue cat toy dangled in front of the body politic at large so we can bat it around, pretend we’re in control and then go right back to sleep in the box by the window instead of tear-assing around the house, scratching the furniture. When Old Glory starts waving, we automatically move our hands to our hearts and begin barfing unsound, erroneous platitudes like its week old tikka masala.
“All men are created equal!” “They hate our freedoms!” “For God and country.” “Out of my cold dead hands.” “Si se puede!” What does any of it mean? What bearing does it have on our every day lives? None. They are nice pleasantries that make us feel like we’ve drawn hard and fast lines in the quicksand we the people have always been sinking into. You can repeat this shit ad nauseam like popping a socially sanctioned prescription narcotic that gives you constipation but still feels better than remembering how bad Bush butt fucked you and how Obama was a nice ride, but never returned your call when you left him a message asking where your fuckin’ cut of the Wall Street bail out was.
Sure, serendipity still happens. Give enough money here and there and you may find yourself a nice tax cut or maybe you’ll get to marry your same-sex sweetheart and show them off at the fucked fairgrounds in four years. Does it make you feel like you have a voice because you can get hitched now or you’ve got some spare dough to spend on your spoiled-rotten daughter’s new Beamer? Good. Enjoy it. Because shit’s going to get ugly this year.
The curse has finally come due. Years ago when the Supreme Court whacked Albert Gore, Jr., that still-eyed dullard who couldn’t win his own state, the Republican Party, Katherine Harris presiding, snuck out to the fairgrounds late one night to dig a shallow hole and bury dear Al ass up. Nowadays you can press your ear to the ground and you’ll hear a horrible groaning, “I warned you!” The corpse is pissed and rightfully so. We’re going to get ours. Yes, this election cycle is our recompense for Florida ’00.
No one’s taking any chances this time. Now that Scalia has rejoined the other reptilian overlords in their off-world observation deck, the Supreme Court is at an ideological draw. It’s no-one’s game and there isn’t a soul alive (except maybe Vladimir Putin) who wants to see another 1,000 vote race head to John Roberts© chambers.
The carnival barkers are working over time at the fairgrounds. Likeability, fear of a variety of futures and consummate media fireworks jockey to win your attention. So much at stake! So much to look at! Trust your gut! Vote your religion! Get your fear here!
Every loud mouth with a campaign sign and a talking points memo is trying to sell you the most American thing there is: fear masquerading as morality. In our heart of hearts, there’s nothing more terrifying to the average American than the loss of status and comfort. In the most self-righteous ways we can, the electorate marches into the fairgrounds with all the appearance of stout defenders of the American way of life. If you can see past the clouds of flying bald eagles and the processions touting out the immaculate corpses of our dead political saints, you’ll see 350 million people who are just praying they don’t get rolled.
Liberals walk around with their hands on their wallets so their ACLU card doesn’t get picked, worrying all the while that they’ll turn the corner and find a giant cross adorned with corporate logos where they’ll be forced to recite the lord’s prayer and get fucked by a Duggar to breed Christian children to die in the coming crusade against the Middle East.
Elsewhere, conservatives are also clutching at their pocketbooks for fear that the tricksy, thieving gub’ment is going to steal one red cent to give a negro a school lunch that will forever upset the hierarchy their white sheet forebears worked long and hard to instill. Meanwhile, Bubba Dipshit from the gun club is white knuckled in outright terror that the jihadi parachute brigades will drop from the sky to force his kids to read the Koran and worship Obama — all ideas he got from watching too much Fox News in the hours he would ordinarily spend at the job that got shipped to Mexico in the 90s thanks to Bush and Clinton’s little NAFTA experiment.
Elsewhere, young and doe eyed liberals demand the nation de-fund its military industrial complex because the balance of trade that provided them with insanely cheap laptops and Levi’s jeans will certainly remain in America’s favor after she no longer possesses the death machine deterrents that make being a rabble-rousing consumer in Pax Americana such a joyful stew of cognitive dissonance.
Everybody has a hot-button issue that somehow involves the circumstances of their birth and upbringing being changed in a way that isn’t that objectionable in the long run, but seems to them like a trespass over the Rubicon of their enshrined freedoms. So we do the American two-step. Every politician tries to sell us on the idea that we’re two steps away from the demise of the nation as we know it. If blank then blank. If we get another Dem in office, everyone’s going to have to get abortions and a health care bar code on their forehead. If the Christian right takes over, it’s Bible study at dawn then a full frontal assault on Iran, Russia, North Korea and Canada because enough’s enough.
The barkers keep screaming, “it’s up to you!” Which is smart, because the only thing Americans can agree on is that we are all capable, intelligent and moral people. We’ve all come up with any variety of excuses to legitimize our entrenched privileges and, damn it, we will fight to the death to protect what we see as a logical arrow pointing directly from the founding fathers to us here at the shitty fairgrounds in 2016. Without even a trace of irony, we citizens mill around in a society that has gutted itself time and time again and rebuilt the whole dog and pony show just so we could continue pretending we serve a righteous patriotic duty.
Then we get inside the Big Top and see the candidates.
Holy fuck are our prospects grim. First and foremost, there’s the Great Toupee, a fully functioning hairpiece whose roots appear to have colonized an actual human body that spews rancid diarrhea from its mouth. We’ve got Hacksaw Jim speaking soft, gentle verses about his own deliverance from Black America. His voice warbles slightly when his mind drifts to ghoulish fantasies of stealing cadavers from medical vaults to perform odd, never successful surgeries connecting parts of the brain to random sex organs. Then you’ve got the Siamese Vampire Twins who claim to identify with hard luck Latinos because their parents immigrated here, but really they’re just trying to ingratiate themselves with the children of huge families who can afford to lose an offspring or two to wild blood lust so the twin shysters can rejuvenate their sinister powers.
On the left, meanwhile, we’ve got this desperate pedagogue whose attempts to seem authentic and approachable always end up with her inadvertently rolling her eyes in disgust and extending a too tight grip that breaks the bones in every unexpecting peasant hand it clutches. Though the pantsuit and hair are immaculate you can see the bulge of a basic prison shiv beneath her jacket. Her hand keeps tracing the outline of the handle, waiting patiently for someone to suggest that she’s been anything but forthright with the American people and DON’T YOU DARE MENTION WHITE WATER.
So you begin to hallucinate because you’re at the same point you are every four years where you wonder silently if these fucking clowns are the only viable options. You politely excuse yourself and head outside where this mystical swami appears out of thin air and speaks truthfully for what seems like the first time in forever. He confirms your suspicions: the game is rigged, this is all a distraction. There’s good news, though. We can still fix this. It won’t be easy. In fact, we’ll have to give up a lot of the bull shit, including the once every four year cluster fuck down at the fairgrounds.
You say, “whoa, whoa, whoa, give up the cluster fuck?” He says, “yeah, it’s really harming us as a people and the end results aren’t really indicative of a true democratic process.” You say you “have to think about it” and dear floaty swami says, “oh fuck it” and disappears in his best I-told-you-so poof of rainbow smoke.
The carnival is in full swing around us. Unspeakable depravities are occurring in the shadows behind the tent. Sinister cabals of dark wizards make blood pacts with the mutants on stage. The paranoid hear voices rich with ominous foreboding. Somewhere, someone is getting raped and it might as well be all of us. We’re trying to rationalize our way out of a situation where we’ve been made to believe a moral stand is all that separates us from destruction. But we’re fundamentally immoral people. Our morality can be summed up as such: “I have to get mine.”
We are the spiritual and genetic descendants of people who gutted an entire continent and now we’re antsy because there’s nothing more to steal from Mother Nature. The land is gone and the jobs with it. There are 7 billion people on this rock and there’ll be another 3 billion by the end of the century. We’re desperate for someone to tell us it will be OK. We don’t want to change though. We would prefer to shout and scream and insult and cower in our bunkers and then make some egomaniac shoulder the burden of our responsibility with promises of lasting reform that will come at no cost whatsoever to our precious prosperity.
Something’s wrong. The crowd has turned. The candidates are agitated. Cash falls in great buckets from the ceilings as little portraits of Grant and Lincoln rain down silent approval on their would be successors. Campaign representatives sporting brand new botched face-lifts and a lot of leg circulate through the crowds like 40s cigarette girls with trays full of hypodermic needles filled to the brim with glowing, possibly irradiated fluid. It’s some kind of new and special meth. “It worked for Adolf!” the girls try to scream through their newly taught lips. Bright eyed believers and old sagging sages line up to take a dose right in the ass. Things get out of hand quickly.
The ensuing frenzy will be cruel and divisive. It will pander to and accommodate our darkest fears of inadequacy, insecurity and inevitable demise. It will encourage broad strokes of distaste, malice, slander, envy, rage, greed and inchoate fascism. It will be a race to bottom in so many ways.
It’s a dog fight in the primaries and the general election shows all the signs of being brutal. It’s chaos. Because no candidate, party, caucus, Super PAC, pulpit, newspaper, blog, think tank or demonstration has a monopoly on morality. We’re deeply fucked, because a political system built to reward contention, bullying, stonewalling, graft, despair and perpetual discontent has to respond to a set of values the people can’t fully articulate anymore. We are in new territory as a nation and a state. A fresh century demands new perspectives.
America, though not always known for stunning acts of foresight or prevention, has thus far excelled at adaptation. The crises come and go. They always have and, unless we’re all subsumed by the end of history or a Michael Bay film come to life, they always will. This election has the potential to indict our entire system as an archaic tool. We will know so much more about the abstract condition of the United States in eleven months. The presidential candidates will be scoured and skewered. The national soul will be numbered, weighed, divided. Spaghetti Monster willing, all will be revealed.
In the new light, it falls on the American electorate and any number of lobbyists with well-funded market research capabilities to determine what values Americans of all creeds, ethnicities, genders, geographies and OB/GYN’s think are an essential part of what it means to be an American again. So good luck with that.
Me? I’m gone, baby. I fled long ago. I’ve been stashing emergency supplies and shotgun shells in a makeshift compound on the bluff overlooking the fairgrounds. I’m protected by a series of elaborate locks that require the use of opposable thumbs. The view is unrivaled and it’s mostly quiet up there. Except for the ghosts. Unfortunately, the only parcel of decent land nearby was long ago commandeered as a final resting place for the rotten corpses of presidential elections past.
The politically dead get into it. John McCain has been known to use his good arm to throw a punch at Eugene Debs. Rutherford B. Hayes and Alexander Stephens are perpetually sucking one another off while Paul Tsongas, in an act of contrition, climbs a ladder up William Jennings Bryan’s cross of gold to dab some water on that populist’s forehead and encourage him to come on down. John C. Calhoun whistles ominously at the ghost of Checkers while smacking his lips and staring at the Nixon girls’ darling pup with cold, unflinching eyes that glow with a lust for flesh. Somewhere William Howard Taft wrings his hands. That hefty jurist has left a doozie of a deuce in his porcelain throne. The ghost of Joe the Plumber is, blessedly, on hand to sort it out. Ted Kennedy and some Free Soil leftovers jerry-rigged a gallows and lynched the ghost of George Wallace so they could have a punching bag. Thomas E. Dewey weeps silently in the corner. Al Smith is perpetually drunk.
It’s better up here. Everyone’s over the bull shit. It is what it is. No matter what colorful explosion or mass foolishness rocks the fairgrounds below, the only certainty in America’s ballot box necropolis is that one or more electoral losers will be joining the dead come November.
All things considered, I’d say they’re taking it well. Except for Hamilton. He keeps coming by to offer this ominous if ambiguous warning: “you’ll see.”
Get over it, Alex. Enjoy the show.