Friday, November 16, 2012

post-election musings on politics and apocalyptic language

Last week was yet another election, another election billed as the most important one of our time (they probably all are which is sort of like saying that "everyone is special" which can often mean, as a certain kid in a certain movie put it, that none of them are).  I've seen laments that America is no longer the land of the free or the brave because Obama won.  Who thought Romney was going to win?  Apparently a lot of people but those people may well have been wrong. 

But each election cycle somebody manages to fret about how terrible the times are.   Before Clinton's final year played out I heard via spam that Clinton was going to suspend the Constitution, declare martial law, and appoint himself leader for life.  That, obviously, did not transpire.  When the 2000 election came along two men from what sure seemed like political dynasties steeped in some big business ran and the election became a tipping point for many.  For years after there was talk of how the election was stolen.  When 2004 came along I knew people who were sure Bush 2 was going to declare martial law, suspend the Constitution and maybe invade Iran, too.  Maybe even invade Iran within a few weeks.  That, too, never transpired, though some folks were sure those problems were around the corner in 2008.  I recall seeing actual pieces in local papers where Methodists were discussing how Bush 2 could really, truly be thought of as an antichrist. 

Then in 2008 folks told me I had to vote for McCain or else a guy as bad as the Antichrist would end up in power.  Seeing as in 2000 when I expressed more support for McCain than Bush 2 I was dubbed another college-educated flaming liberal it was a bit weird to be told by the same person that I had to vote for McCain or dire consequences would come to pass ... but political memory can be the shortest memory of all.  Whether it's people I know leaning left or right the paranoia is the same, if you don't have things going exactly the way you want at all details the land is doomed.  Libertarians aren't really any different, either.  The United States of America is no more or less doomed now than it was before.  Every nation is doomed in the end.  Electoral politics is simply the process by which you employ your best rhetoric and statistics to make the case that if someone doesn't choose your platform and you as their candidate that the doom will come swiftly and probably swiftly enough inside of your lifetime that you can pre-emptively include "I told you so" rebukes into the campaign.

I got spam declaring that Obama was going to dissolve the dollar and replace it with the Amero.  I got warnings that Obama was a Muslim/atheist/communist sleeper agent president, that the Obama administration was preparing concentration camps to send all Christians to.  None of these things transpired, though the encroachment on civil liberties seemed comparable to those that people who spammed me with these missives weren't complaining about when Bush 2 was in office.

While people may discuss how the religious landscape of the United States seems less and less overtly religious the quasi-religious fervor of politics will likely retain what it so obviously has retained, an apocalyptic idiom.  When you see people saying the United States of America died with the Reagan administration or with JFK this is nothing if not apocalyptic language.  Some were going on about how if Bush 2 was in power women would lose the right to choose (abortion).  That hasn't transpired any more than those who backed Bush 2 have seen Roe vs Wade reversed.  Changes have been made, of course, but both advocates and opponents of abortion have, at times, employed apocalyptic urgency and the language of zero-sum games during elections. 

What is so strange about the apocalyptic idiom is that it manages to permeate even the most apparently "heathen" or non-Christian or a-religious polemics.  Alan Moore invented his own religion, perhaps, some time after his apocalyptic scenarion in Watchmen, but the apocalyptic end of all life is presupposed unless you're so sold out to the idea that Veidt actually saved the world you refuse to consider how deliberately unresolved Moore left the narrative and how the breaching of the fourth wall implicates you as a reader who has discovered Rorschach's journal revealing Veidt's plan retroactively (in case you weren't paying attention to this narrative detail on the first page). James Cameron could make not one but two Terminator films with a "Judgment Day" of atomic holocaust, an apocalyptic scenario of a similar order to the doomsday scenario Veidt created to avert the global doomsday he foresaw through the Comedian's macabre joke. 

But it's not insignificant in that alternate universe that Nixon was still president.  Paranoid dystopian alternate worlds belong to everyone, left, right and center.  If free-thinkers and secularists want to find a way to discuss political outcomes and possibilities decoupling those outcomes from an apocalyptic idiom might be a good step.  After all, apocalyptic scenarios and imagery originated in religious thought, right? The world will not really end if global warming goes unaddressed.  In fact the world will go on perfectly well, the question implied in a discussion of global warming will be what life there will be and whether that life will look something like us (and whether or not it even "needs" to is another matter).

But there's no reason to suppose that anyone will give up apocalyptic language to describe how terrible the other candidate is or how amazing your pet candidate will be.  This seems no less idiotic to me now four years later as this seems idiotic now. If we lurch from point to point employing apocalyptic screeching this makes sense, I suppose, within a religious milleu but in a state such as the United States the apocalyptic idiom seems to seep into even the most secular realms.  As paranoid fears that a cowboy president will annihilate all life on the planet Bush 2 wasn't even the first, Reagan was greeted as someone who would bring forth nuclear winter and acid rain with his "morning in America" approach.  That Obama got elected does not mean America will recuperate or that Obama will sink America.  America may well have simply been sinking itself with generations of fiat currency, deficits, and global interventionist projects inspired by a combination of imperialism and anticommunism.  Everything comes to an end at some point.  If the recently departed Russel Means was right then America was simply on a trajectory to becoming one gigantic American Indian reservation.  Maybe, maybe not but whether you agree with what Means considered the trajectory of the United States of America as a culture we can at least say that he managed to articulate his ideas without framing them in obviously apocalyptic terms.

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