Monday, August 29, 2016

The Summer of the Body Snatchers


Something is happening this year that I've never seen before.

           The dog days of summer are here. The time of year I dislike the most is on us with its long, sultry days when it takes herculean effort to achieve any task and its short, sweaty nights that bring little rest.  It’s uncomfortable and people are cranky and short tempered, as they always are this time of year.  But there is something going on in 2016 that I haven’t seen before.
            I recently watched Phillip Kaufman’s eerie 1978 remake of the classic science fiction film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which invasive weeds from outer space grow pods that replace humans with perfectly emotionless, perfectly obedient replicas, relegating humanity to dry husks and gray dust, which is swept up and discarded with the trash.  In the film the dwindling number of survivors are overcome with paranoia and panic at the realization that loved ones are no longer themselves and the certainty that they are next.
            Something like the invasion of the body snatchers is happening in the United States this summer, but instead of being replaced by emotionless pod-people, we are being replaced by mindless automata ruled by fear and prejudice.  I feel rising paranoia and panic as I am verbally assaulted by strangers with fragile, outlandish opinions that are deathly afraid of disagreement.  People who have never laid eyes on me brand me with simple-minded labels, such as “libtard,” and rejoice in the fact that I will be dead soon.  People I have known and respected for years are suddenly venting their prejudice and showing themselves to be ignorant, violent bigots, impervious to reason.  It makes me wonder if any intelligent relationships will be able to survive this brutal summer.
            I blame it on the nasty Presidential election, our national Rat Race that is being fought out in front of our eyes and between our ears.  The Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, has tapped into the ugliest elements of American culture and appeals to the worst angels of our nature.  Like a spurting artery, he splatters the electorate with his hot, sticky opinions and calls us back to an imaginary era of “American greatness,” built on genocide, white supremacy and male dominance.  The urge to vote for Trump is a kind of national suicidal impulse.
Like a spurting artery the campaign spatters us with hot, sticky opinions.
            His opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic nominee is not much better.  A cranky, warlike old woman who appears to believe that endless warfare is the key to national prosperity, she pays meager lip service to the liberal ideals that made her Party great while she opens her arms wide to the weary, beaten refugees streaming out of the bleeding Republican Party.  The horrifying realization that Hillary Clinton, Hillary fucking Clinton, is our only hope for preserving the American Republic leads us further into despair.
            Sure, there are other candidates. Jill Stein of the Green Party, Gary Johnson of the Libertarians and a kaleidoscopic array of flakes and loonies enliven the debate, but they are nothing more than sideshow clowns and present little hope for “voters of conscience.” In the end Americans must reconcile themselves to a choice between impotence and irrelevance on the one hand and Hillary Clinton, just more impotence and irrelevance, on the other.  No wonder we are so fucking angry.
            As a student of history I am fully aware that curmudgeons like me have been lamenting the coming generations in despair for several thousand years and somehow mankind struggles on.  The fate of American-style democracy has always looked bleak, but as Winston Churchill (Winston fucking Churchill) said, it is the worst form of government, except for all the others.  Naïve fool that I am, I still believe in the U.S. Constitution – the only effective tool people have ever invented for liberating ourselves – and I have faith in the “genius” of American-style democracy – which holds that anyone, no matter how humble or limited, can rise to great leadership, with the support of the people. 
Where will this year's election leave us?

            We’ll see how long I can hold onto these frail hopes.  In the meantime all we have is our love for ourselves, our family and friends, and our country, along with faith in our gods, if we have them.  Hold onto that. Talk among yourselves. Listen to each other and try to hold your tempers in check.  Maybe we can make it through this summer that tries our souls.  Maybe we can preserve the ideals of self-government, equality and fairness. If we’re lucky. November seems like a long way off.

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