This week, a man logged onto Facebook in a state of existential dread and shyly asked the world to comfort him.
He had read a report, he explained, which revealed that Queen Elizabeth II was going to punish the US for electing Donald Trump by revoking its independence. He was alarmed about the consequences of this action. Could it mean nuclear war?
Someone tried to tell him that it was satire but he wasn’t reassured. What if it wasn’t satire?
I found myself surprisingly affected by him. His question had been asked with such polite fragility that I couldn’t bear to think badly of him. Instead, I saw an anxious human left exposed by his parents and the education system that failed to make him literate. I saw a frightened person asking for help because he’d been given substandard tools and they had broken.
I think I also saw myself. In the last week I’ve also asked questions that probably sounded naïve and uninformed to people who read events better than I do. I’ve also found myself struggling to form a coherent opinion. And at the end of it, I’ve had to admit that I know very little about the stuff that is alarming me.
I know that the queen isn’t about to march on Washington, but I don’t know anything about the people who are. I don’t know what to think about the rise of the white right when less than a third of Americans actually voted for Trump. I don’t know why they keep calling their country the “greatest democracy” when half of them didn’t vote and the electoral college decided it all anyway.
At the same time I feel mentally constipated, over-full of waste. Then again, given my diet over the last few months, I’ve got nobody to blame except me.
Opinion – written, spoken, Tweeted, sprayed on walls – is intellectual junk food. It contains very little information, and, as last week revealed, even less insight. It also doesn’t satisfy. It leaves one malnourished, wanting more; and so you go back to the familiar glow of the screen and the welcoming architecture of your favourite websites. The staff are friendly and affirming. Good choice! Welcome back! Can I supersize that think-piece for you? Have you tried our new combo deal, where you get two despairing polemicists for the price of one, that is, for free? And don’t forget: all columns come with a bottomless cup of beard-stroking!
I gorged, and now I feel sick
The 24-hour news cycle has been stuffing us for years, but last week the McMusing came off the production line faster than ever. I gorged, and now I feel sick. Maybe that’s why so many of us have turned into news anchors, endlessly leaning towards the camera of social media and announcing: “This just in!” Perhaps when there’s too much empty-calorie information going down, it can’t be processed and it has to come up.
Still, a few indigestible bits remain with me. They won’t come up or go down, because they’re not lubricated by creamy sophistry or sense.
Some of what I saw was simply bizarre, like a black South African feminist backing Trump because “that bitch” had “rigged the primaries” against Bernie Sanders. The rest, though less surreal, were no less confusing.
I saw Democrats getting furious that democracy had produced the wrong outcome, and I saw pro-lifers calling for Trump’s murder.
I saw the white right mock frightened minorities for being “delicate snowflakes”, the same white right that had just flocked to the polls in fear because it had convinced itself that the richest, whitest and most Christian country in the universe was becoming a poor, dusky caliphate.
Least palatable of all, I saw again how easily one becomes used to a post-Trump world. I saw my own surrender contrasted in the shocked faces of the Americans. It was still all so new to them. Nobody on the left had ever seen a proper Banana Republic El Presidente take power. Nobody on the right had ever seen their fantasy come true; a pouting Rambo taking a flame-thrower to common decency and the greater good.
South Africans acted out horror or triumph, but the newness wasn’t there. That’s because we’ve already had our Trump moment. We’ve got used to being ruled by a women-hating, insular cabal of dodgy businessmen who promise hugely and deliver nothing but division.
Right now, though, I don’t know a damned thing, except that it looks like literally anything can happen in this whacko universe. So I’m calling it right now. Trump gets bored and resigns in a year. Mike Pence appoints Sarah Palin as his Veep. He wants to watch a cowboy movie for foreign policy tips and accidentally rents Brokeback Mountain. He has a stroke, and, at long last, America gets its first woman president.
Lame satire, right? Couldn’t happen, right? Guys? Anyone?