By Michael McCord
A few years before the grotesque political mutation we call Trumpism stepped onto center stage, I was honored to be the keynote speaker at the NH Progressive Summit in 2013. I talked about the roots of my then new satirical novel The Execution Channel: A Political Fable and why I believed the worst was yet to come in America politics.
I was a skunk at this proverbial garden party as most folks (including many of my readers) were basking in the afterglow of President Obama’s reelection. There was hope aplenty to break the Republican Tea Party fever. I even attended a workshop that promised a wave of blue was coming, even to Texas, in 2014. That was a possible outcome only if you ignored the 2012 Supreme Court Holder decision gutting the Voting Rights Act. Who would have thought that Republican-dominated states would unleash the most systemic wave of voter suppression laws since the Jim crow era? Anyway, the emerging Real America of my book was kooky and darkly funny but surely, such Alice in Wonderlandish nonsense couldn’t happen here, right?
Actually, it was. It is. It will continue.
In my just released sequel, End times: More Great Adventures in Real America, the leader of the resistance Penelope (a transplanted German) tells a British secret agent what happened as America fell apart without much of a fight:
“Only this was different — this was the violent political pot that had been simmering for years, suddenly boiling over. They never imagined anything could change as they commuted to work and drove their kids to soccer practice or cozied up nightly at home with their digital toys. The clues were as clear as day to me but I am predisposed to detect political disaster. I’ve lived it. These typically complacent Americans assumed stability and democracy were a given like oxygen. By the time they paid attention, it was too late.”
I’ve been asked numerous times in interviews and in speaking to groups how the Real America of my fevered imagination came about. I have said repeatedly anyone paying close attention to the dark roots of American politics since say 1980, or at least since 1994, would see something seriously amiss. In particular, in case you haven’t noticed, the Republican Party intentionally abandoned the idea of governing and embraced wholesale nihilism. They replaced it with a maniacal dedication to the snake oil of cutting taxes for the already filthy rich, filling the federal judiciary with as many unqualified and ideologically stupid judges imaginable, driving up federal deficits to science fiction levels, and generally mucking up the fragile nuts and bolts of democracy on a daily basis.
Remember the famous Obama speech in 2004 about bringing Blue and Red states together because of common aspirations and an “awesome God” worshipped by all Americans? There is a redemptive “Better Angels” gene among Democrats and Obama was preaching to the choir. With enough reason and calm persuasion, we can bridge divides. Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s campaign Svengali, knew deep in his dark, demented heart this was silly and there was a real Red-Blue divide. To ensure the reelection of George W. Bush, Rove pushed to get anti-gay marriage measures on the 2004 ballot in swing states. Like it or not, Rove understood the real electorate and how to manipulate it.
So did Satan’s spawn (aka GOP Senate leader) Mitch McConnell and Congressional Republicans in 2009 when they told the country: we want to destroy Obama and have no desire to help him or the country in the process.
Back in 2011–2012, I combined my own experiences as a journalist covering this political devolution in style and content with a series of questions that could explain the collapsing political climate and set the stage for a Real America:
* What if voters supported elected politicians who hated government and promised to give them a government worth hating?
*What if political majorities were stifled because their votes didn’t count due to a new mathematics of democracy?
* What if destroying the economy became a political virtue?
* What if lawmakers strove to privatize government to benefit their financial benefactors?
* What if a major political party gave up on the idea of governing and strove for ever greater heights of intentional incompetence, ignorance, and codified corruption?
* What if the mainstream political media became a reality TV industry, tallying up the winners and losers of the political day?
Sound familiar? The rot has only accelerated since then. Though the remarkable political nihilism of the Republican Party (matched often by the self-inflicted ineptitude of the Democratic Party) has been building for decades, the book igniting spark for me came in 2009 with the Tea Party vehement backlash against health care reform, a combination of profound ignorance and hatred for anything rational. Like millions, I watched a 2011 Republican presidential primary debate when some of the audience cheered the idea of letting people without health insurance die. When madness takes hold, minorities matter. The House GOP kamikaze squad (i.e., Tea Party irregulars) later threw a fit and held the world economy hostage over a routine debt limit measure. It didn’t take 20/20 vision to see the levels of stupid and lunacy rising like a tide that wouldn’t recede — or to be outraged how it was becoming increasingly normalized by Beltway media sloth. And this was before Trumpius began his Sherman-like march to destroy the country as a courtesy gesture to his Russian BFFs and because he’s, well, insane.
Since this political insanity was a fever unlikely to break anytime soon, I started imagining a uniquely American parallel political dystopia evolving in the future. Americans of all stripes since 1776, have fought over the definition of Real America and I decided to update the ideal with some satirical teeth (after all, did the country really need another non-fiction book analyzing what’s wrong with Kansas, Texas, or Pennsylvania?). The first idea that took hold was the concept of a Congressional “Imbecile Caucus” and then I needed an incoherent and ignorant savant to lead them. This led to Congressman Lawrence C. “Demon Seed” Bowie of Texas who would go on to become the governor of the Real America Republic of Texas. His career path would eventually lead to a Real America secession and glory as Emperor Supreme for Life of Real America. Bowie keeps the public stupefied with cruel spectacle and the excitement of secession and Civil War — which came to fruition in End Times: More, Great Adventures in Real America.
In the first book, The Execution Channel: A Political Fable in 2013, the nihilistic theme menu grew organically with the central idea of a public execution television network that produced high ratings — and a chance for cash-strapped states to join the circus for easy revenue burst. Also: there was an irresistible Ponzi scheme that shattered the economy; the cult rebirth of Ayn Rand & John Galt; incoherent hyperbole and pathological, no shame lying as political virtues; an economic religion worshipped though no one understands how it works; media pundit enforcers to protect the powerful; language debased; the primacy of sperm; backyard rocket launchers; militia protection rackets; and reality TV mortgage foreclosure shows in which predatory bankers are heroes. Political debauchery had found a loving home.
The totally immoral Bowie arrived to take advantage of a cynical climate ripe for a rabid minority to worship a truly corrupt leader. This pied piper would mock and degrade his followers while demanding their total loyalty and calling it love. He promised the best traits of a national crime syndicate and a death cult. He would keep them entertained with blatant racism, lies, fear mongering, conspiracy theories, and embracing ignorance. Bowie, a true pathological narcissist, would be the first to tell you, he made his mark before Trump in part because there was no shortage of marks in Real America for his political con.
The arrival of Aspiring Emperor Trumpius in our universe has accelerated the political disintegration by quantum leaps. Trumpius also knew there were plenty of marks for his con. What allowed both satirical fiction and real carnage to succeed was a complicit media normalizing the lunacy and, most importantly, a cowed, indifferent or passive majority that can’t see the forest through the trees — they too see politics as spectacle and are tired of it and see no point. Exhausting us is exactly what Trump and the GOP want. In my books, Bowie does the same.
Unlike my satirical books, the consequences we face are real and catastrophic (rampant corruption, willful ignoring the ongoing catastrophe of climate change, dismantling of the rule of law and democracy, and migrant concentration camps to name a few). As many intelligent commentators have observed, don’t fool yourself: it is worse than you think.
A few years before the start of World War II, the great social critic Walter Benjamin (who was hounded to suicide by the Nazis) made this prescient warning about the spectacle of fascism: “All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war.” Trumpius has turned government into a daily aesthetic feast of intentional outrage, distraction, pathological lying and lunatic ravings to disguise just how bad the corruption has become. Trumpius didn’t capture his Republican Party enablers: they surrendered without a fight. Bowie pulled the same trick in Real America.
In End Times, a 23-country Rational World coalition fights back against the feudal age darkness of Real America (shockingly, the Russian Oligarchy League is the only country fully supporting Bowie’s Real America); Penelope leads the resistance war against Bowie with a brave band of talented young folks who take information warfare to a new level; and there are victories and setbacks amidst the constant spectacle of death and social decay.
At the risk of being a skunk at the garden party again, folks may laugh at the End Times absurdity menu of the secession, Civil War, economic carnage, a Joseph Goebbels’ level of media complicity, the intentional destruction of institutions that benefit social and political cohesiveness, and slavery revival themes but, like it or not, we are approaching a Civil War-like footing. What Penelope said fictionally applies today:
The Trump/GOP/Putin/Plutocrat/Racist collusion coalition of madness and bad intent is boiling in the pot right before us. A national nervous breakdown is taking place and the battles now are between Sane America and Insane America. Make no mistake about it: Trump and his ilk are counting on insanity prevailing while they loot the temples and destroy the country.
Michael McCord is a former political journalist and political editor of The Portsmouth (NH) Herald. Find out more at: michaelmccordauthor.com