The opioid crisis, the frequent mass shootings, the rising rates of suicide, especially among middle-aged white males, the morbid obesity, the obsession with gambling, the investment of our emotional and intellectual life in tawdry spectacles and the allure of magical thinking, from the absurd promises of the Christian right to the belief that reality is never an impediment to our desires, are the pathologies of a diseased culture.
White men, more easily seduced by the myth of the American dream than people of color who understand how the capitalist system is rigged against them, often suffer feelings of failure and betrayal, in many cases when they are in their middle years. They expect, because of notions of white supremacy and capitalist platitudes about hard work leading to advancement, to be ascendant. They believe in success. When the American dream becomes a nightmare they are vulnerable to psychological collapse. This collapse, more than any political agenda, propelled Donald Trump into power. Trump embodies the decayed soul of America. He, like many of those who support him, has a childish yearning to be as omnipotent as the gods. This impossibility, as the cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker wrote, leads to a dark alternative: destroying like the gods.
Hannah Arendt said the rise of radical evil is caused by collective “thoughtlessness.” Desperate to escape from the prison of a failed society, willing to do anything and abuse anyone to advance, those who feel trapped see the people around them as objects to be exploited for self-advancement. This exploitation mirrors that carried out by corrupt ruling elites. Turning people into objects to be used to achieve wealth, power or sexual gratification is the core practice espoused by popular culture, from reality television to casino capitalism. Trump personifies this practice.
A society convulsed by disorder and chaos, as Voegelin pointed out, elevates and even celebrates the morally degenerate, those who are cunning, manipulative, deceitful and violent. In an open society these attributes are despised and criminalized. Those who exhibit them are condemned as stupid—“a man [or woman] who behaves in this way,” Voegelin notes, “will be socially boycotted.” But the social, cultural and moral norms in a diseased society are inverted. The attributes that sustain an open society—a concern for the common good, honesty, trust and self-sacrifice—are detrimental to existence in a diseased society. Today, those who exhibit these attributes are targeted and silenced.
We will not bring those who have fled a reality-based world back into our fold through argument. We will not coerce them into submission. We will not find salvation for them or ourselves by supporting the Democratic Party. Whole segments of American society are bent on self-immolation. They despise this world and what it has done to them. Their personal and political behavior is willfully suicidal. They seek to destroy, even if destruction leads to death. We must organize our communities to create a new socialist order and overthrow the corporate state through sustained acts of mass civil disobedience. We must achieve full employment, guaranteed minimum incomes, health insurance, free education at all levels, robust protection of the natural world and an end to militarism and imperialism. We must create the possibility for a life of dignity, purpose and self-esteem. If we do not, the idiotes will ensure our obliteration.