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The Soul of a Nation


Joe Donnelly

Into the steaming pile of hot takes on the election, enter this one. Biden will eke out a win today or tomorrow. The existentially required change in administration will have been borne on the backs of Black women with a hockey assist from righteously pissed off Wine Moms. Call it a win if you must, but this sure as hell is no victory.

There will be a lot of slicing and dicing of the electorate, the demographics will be parsed and spun and confused, but the hard facts will remain: Americans stared straight into the maw of four years of criminality, cruelty, death, desolation, and climate emergencies, and almost half of American voters said, more please.

The Democratic Party had everything to run against—four years of historic ruin—and may barely squeak into the White House while failing to flip the Senate, which is the real game of thrones in this political theater. Think about that.

This election was supposedly a referendum on a lot of things.

On the criminally negligent national response to the coronavirus, closing in on 300,000 deaths by years end, with no end to the illness or death in sight.

On the economic pain resulting from that criminally negligent response to the coronavirus.

On a regime of gaslighting and mendacity the likes of which we haven’t seen since the days when men wore knickerbockers to go with the ridiculous haircuts and beards you see signifying these days.

On the sadism that takes children from their parents, locks them in cages, and then tosses the contact info of the parents into the dumpster.

On self-dealing and corruption at the highest level.

On turning the Justice Department into a hit squad.

On choice, healthcare, misogyny, racism, white supremacy, policing...

This was to be a reckoning—a big, blue reckoning. But America looked at all that objective reality and pretty much scratched its head, shrugged, and voted along party lines. No consensus, no referendum, certainly no mandate.

Instead we lurch further into the funhouse mirror of cultural identification and broad-spectrum toxic masculinity. We immerse ourselves in the fertile phantasmagoria of white grievance and supremacy, bathe in class rage, anti-Communist hysteria, and strongly felt feelings that grow increasingly unsound. Everything staring us in the face, we twisted and distorted into something other than a reckoning.

The election will be autopsied, of course. J.D. Vance will probably get another cringe-worthy bestseller out of it and Nate Silver, god willing, may finally be put to rest, but the chattering class will continue to act like mediums for the rest of us, telling us stuff we supposedly can’t discern for ourselves.

They will talk about the disappointing youth vote (yes, they will). They will talk about the surprising allure of the incumbent to those he’s literally killing (Black and Latino men). We will ask why the noxious brand of masculinity this inveterate coward cosplays at is so beguiling to angry white males and the many, many white women who love them (and him—and there are even more this time.)

Have at it. In the end, though, this is us: a country in an unsustainable epistemological crisis. One that is unable, or unwilling, to deal collectively with reality, even when that reality delivers illness, death, climate catastrophe, and economic pain with the efficiency of Amazon.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris may claim the White House by the end of the day, but no one can look at this and declare victory. Not when the incumbent wins more of the popular vote than he did in 2016. Not when the Senate is going to remain in the hands of the vilest practitioner of political dark arts that supposedly august body has ever known.

I’m sorry, but all this election does is kick the can down the road to a place where there will be no holding to account, no justice served, no reckoning, and little or no substantial reform. If anything, Trumpism comes out stronger and if the Democratic Party avoids purging careerists and apparatchiks, the Schumers, Pelosis, and Perezs, it will come out weaker. The pitch was tilted in its favor and it won on an own goal. You can shout scoreboard, but this is no victory. Morally, culturally, historically, it is a staggering loss. It shows us who we really are, a soul-sick, terminally confused people staggering on the brink of full frontal kleptocracy, late-stage Yeltsin-era Russia. We lost the Cold War, too. It’s just taking longer to show.

broken image

David Hammons, Injustice Case (1971). Photo by Colony Little.

Joe Donnelly is Visiting Assistant Professor at Whittier College and the editor of Red Canary magazine.

Joe's essay on California seceding from the United States was written 16 years ago. We're running it today, with a preface by the author, because we all need to believe there's a Golden State.

When This Battle Is Over ::: Aretha Franklin

Go Away ::: The Raincoats

Everybody Loves A Winner ::: Delaney & Bonnie

Dear Mr President ::: Fitz & The Tantrums

Beiba (Go Away) ::: Andy Palacio

President Blues ::: Jack Kelly & HisSouth Memphis Jug Band

Voice Your Choice ::: The Radiants

Ratface ::: Michael Hurley

I’m Sick Y’all ::: Otis Redding

If You Don’t Know Me By Now ::: Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes