A few days ago, our dishwasher finally gave up the ghost. After months of intermittent malfunctioning, mysterious flashing lights, dishes half-cleaned if at all, a patina of old food on the inside of the machine, cleaning out the filter after every two or three washes—few jobs are more disgusting than cleaning out a dishwasher filter: at long last, the damn thing quit for good. After four years, for the last two of which it worked increasingly badly, it was long out of warranty; fixing it was way beyond my technical abilities, and anyhow it was certain to break again before long. So it was back to washing up by hand. One sink full of hot bubbly water, another of cold rinsing water, then the draining rack. The sensual pleasure of doing a job well with your own hands. The stacked dishes slowly dripping.
The machine is broken at last. Thank goodness!
There’s a moment when you finally come face to face with whatever shameful truth it is that you have been trying to push away, to ignore, to hide from. You knew all along, deep down, that this downfall, this nemesis, was inevitable; even though you did everything possible to avoid it, you knew that sooner or later, you were going to hit bottom. The drink-driving conviction, the horrific accident, the undeniable evidence of the affair… And until you did, there was no way you could clear away the rubble and start to rebuild.
When I was growing up, the world was divided in two by a wall. It had been in place for twenty-six years and then, one autumn morning, the ninth of November, 1989, it was gone, and that was that. Communism had been brought down not with arms but by its own internal contradictions, by Chernobyl and the Gulag and Afghanistan. In the long chess game of the Cold War—the white Free World versus the red Evil Empire—the west had won, history had ended, and a New World Order was going to bring freedom and prosperity to all. Or if not quite to all, at least to all those who were willing to play their part in the glorious global triumph of free enterprise.
It has taken us twenty-seven years precisely to get from there to President-Elect Donald Trump. Once again we are living the moment when the sledgehammers start breaking down the wall, except this time, we—and by that I mean privileged, educated Westerners—are on the other side, watching the enemy break in.
Yes, Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States of America is a complete disaster. His policies, such as they are, are founded on bigotry, fantasy and exceptionalism: building a new wall around a Pleasantville version of America, once upon a time, back when it was “great.” He is a liar, swindler, conman, bullshitter, narcissist, totally lacking in self-awareness, a creature of gross appetites, greedy, lecherous, vicious, abusive. Mythologist Martin Shaw says that we are no longer living under patriarchy, nor yet matriarchy, but rather in the era of the Trickster.
Yes, Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States of America is a complete disaster. His policies, such as they are, are founded on bigotry, fantasy and exceptionalism: building a new wall around a Pleasantville version of America, once upon a time, back when it was “great.” He is a liar, swindler, conman, bullshitter, narcissist, totally lacking in self-awareness, a creature of gross appetites, greedy, lecherous, vicious, abusive. Mythologist Martin Shaw says that we are no longer living under patriarchy, nor yet matriarchy, but rather in the era of the Trickster. And he’s been proved right. Trump is, in fact, no more nor less than the personification of the Trickster in his ugly, shadow side—not Coyote, mischievous creator of the world, but Loki, reckless destroyer of the gods. Donald Trump, backed by a Republican-dominated senate and house (who, mind you, will surely block any truly populist policies), is in total control of the world’s remaining superpower. The nightmare clowns have taken over the circus.
But let’s not fool ourselves, as the corporate media (aside from the extreme right) would have us do, that Donald Trump is uniquely evil or that President Hillary Rodham Clinton would have led America and the world into a promised land of freedom, peace and prosperity. Clinton is hated by the public almost as much as Trump, and for good reason: she is the epitome of an establishment politician who offers nothing but rhetoric, and unlike Obama she isn’t even any good at that.
It’s hard to know where to even start talking about Hillary’s corruption, because people only see what they want to see. That she’s best buddies with Henry Kissinger, started her own personal war in Libya, gave speeches to banks in exchange for huge sums? That her leaked emails show a staggering depth and breadth of cronyism and corruption? That the media and the Democratic party chose her as the “electable” candidate from the start (that went well, didn’t it), despite Bernie Sanders showing a big advantage in polls against Trump, and shafted Sanders in every possible way to ensure her nomination?
(An aside: As an Anglo-American expatriate, registered in California, I was proud to vote for Bernie in the primaries, believing that my ballot might make a difference for once. No such luck: Greg Palast has documented how the CA primary was stolen for Clinton, essentially by counting the votes of registered Democrat voters, predominantly Clinton supporters, and discarding those of no-party-preference voters. Fact or conspiracy theory? You see what you want to see. Does it matter whether Bernie lost because the vote was stolen or merely because he had the media, Democratic party, and big money piled up against him from the start? Maybe not, but unless a voting system is absolutely verifiable, it must be treated as corruptible and probably corrupt.
All of this only matters if you want it to matter. People only see what they want to see. There are plenty of people who will continue to believe that Obama was one of the greatest presidents ever. He was certainly one of the greatest orators. Remember the very first promise he made the day after his inauguration: to close down Guantanamo Bay? It’s still open. Now, in the last days of his presidency, Obama has the opportunity to issue a presidential pardon to whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. But mark my words, he won’t, because he is no more than the acceptable face of the national security state.)
In essence, then, the message of both sides in this election boiled down to two mirror-image statements:
Vote for Donald Trump! Only he can save us from that lying criminal Hillary Clinton.
Vote for Hillary Clinton! Only she can save us from that lying criminal Donald Trump.
And in the end the vote was split right down the middle. Clinton won the popular vote (just, with 59.3m votes, fewer than the 2012 loser, Mitt Romney, who got 60.6m); Trump won the electoral college and the presidency.
That, my friends, was the sound of the world hitting bottom. The Brexit debacle was just a foretaste. At last we can heave a sigh and admit to ourselves, once and for all: this system is broken beyond repair. It is decades out of warranty and spare parts are not available. This is an ex-system. Time to discard the dualistic, left-right thinking that serves only to divide and alienate people; time to withhold consent to be governed by either branch of a system that has brought us, unmistakably, to the brink of catastrophe yet again. Time to admit once and for all, that whatever real work that needs to be done in the world will have to be done in spite of the political and economic system, or in the best of cases, with its most begrudging and insincere support.
Time to haul the whole pile of junk out into the street, roll up our sleeves and start doing the washing up. The machine is broken at last. Thank goodness!