This year the pit under America sent something back.
I’ve been nervous since late last night. Folding my laptop shut for bed, its calendar icon jumped out at me—reading, in tiny script, Nov 8.
I’m not from the US, but I have enough contacts there to have picked up the mood. Friends on Facebook have been posting all day, few of them really saying anything. Chatter like this must fill bunkers before bombs fall: having by now done all they can, people have nothing left to do but wait, and anything hurts less than the quiet. For the first time I can recall, the Internet sounds like a bunch of people on their phones. If everyone tweeting furiously were put in one hangar, you could hear a pin drop.
In the sequel to the first Ghostbusters, there’s a river of phlegm beneath under New York; venture too close and it’ll make you a danger to yourself and others. Throughout the film, the slime seeps up through pipes and pavement cracks, steering prams into roads and starting fights; eventually it coats entire buildings, a great reservoir of hate rising from under Manhattan. In the video for the movie’s theme, a certain billionaire strides out of his own tower. ‘Trump’, remarked Obama last month, ‘didn’t build the building himself. He just slapped his name on it and took credit for it. And that’s what’s happened in [his] party. All that bile—all the exaggeration, all the stuff that was not grounded in fact—just bubbled up.’
The Trump campaign is not best understood as politics. As successive debates made clear, politics isn’t what Trump is about. For his most hardened core of supporters—those who retweet their leader’s rants and were positively enthused by boasts about pussy-grabbing—Make America Great Again is about something deeper than goings-on at Washington, namely the urge to exhume every necrotic idea presumed to have been laid to rest last century. Trump is only the electoral face of a movement with many more, most of them equally bleach blonde; a byword for the promise that soon, very soon, no one will mind your confederate flag. You’ll be free to cheer the shootings of unarmed black kids and firebomb mosques, to drive women from public space in person or online, to call a cunt a cunt and a bitch a bitch and to resist the encroachment of faces unlike yours on TV and video games. In great-again America, no one will be prevented from speaking their mind—only from frowning when you do.
That movement won’t retreat after tonight. Even if Hillary Clinton routs Trump, you can’t kill an idea—or, if you can, someone can bring it back. When Trump’s supporters mounted a campaign against the Ghostbusters remake, it happened in the comment section of YouTube—till recently, a place where the net’s basest urges went to die. This year the pit under America sent something back, poison bubbling to the surface once more. In a few hours, we’ll know whether the slime has risen to the top.