AT LENGTH - If you were looking at things from the outside over the past four years, it would look like the plot of a crazy movie that only a genius screenwriter could concoct:
A celebrity narcissist gets elected president with the help of Russian trolls, and then nearly destroys the economy through his self-indulgent incompetence and mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic — failings for which he frequently blames non-white people and science via his habitual use of social media. Through it all, the only consequence he suffers is impeachment, but is never convicted.
The plot becomes increasingly bizarre after he attempts to rig the system in such a way as to allow him to hang on to the presidency, whether he won or lost the election. He refuses to concede, pressures Congress to decertify the results. He even goes as far as to incite his followers to storm the capital in an insurrection threatening to hang the vice-president. When this fails, he’s impeached a second time, but his loyal party again refuses to convict despite the voluminous evidence of his guilt.
He leaves office in disgrace, but the “big lie” continues, allowing him to raise millions of dollars for his discretionary use in challenging the vote results in the already certified elections in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Georgia. In Georgia, the disgraced former president faces a range of possible charges — including conspiracy and election fraud. His followers, still donning signs and t-shirts claiming, “he won” and “stop the steal,” are blind to his corruption.
Dozens of books are written about the fall and decline of this president. In one it is reported a senior military advisor says he was deeply shaken by the assault, and he was certain the president “had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election, now all but manic, screaming at officials and constructing his own alternate reality about endless election conspiracies.”
Meanwhile, back in Congress, the majority party starts an investigation into who, how and why the assault on the U.S. Capitol actually happened. As they dig into the evidence, they find a trail that leads back to the former president’s inner circle of operatives, several groups of white nationalist militias, and the stunning revelation that social media has been profiting from fanning the flames of hate speech and dissension all the while. The former president was the perfect protagonist for the social media algorithms that inspire hate speech around the world that are now being exposed in Congress by a whistle blower about one prominent Silicon Valley tech corporation.
In the aftermath of the insurrection, the pandemic and economic decline caused by it, the new president is sworn in under heavy protection promising bipartisanship to “build back better.” And yet the very party that supported the aborted coup attempt finds the new president and the nation at a divide that seemingly cannot be bridged.
Out west during this time there are massive wildfires, drought and a resurgence of the pandemic while some of the opposition party refuse to wear masks or get vaccinations that have proven to be effective against the disease. In California, the resistance is so virulent that they initiate a recall of a most popular governor and succeed in getting a special election called. It loses by nearly two to one but has the effect of nearly creating one more crisis just as the next one begins — the supply chain congestion at our ports.
I could end this twisted story here, but as you know it is yet unresolved. The pandemic is still with us, and the ex-president is still not indicted and still in denial. The opposition party is still hell bent on stopping any reforms or indeed governing with any sense of urgency to address climate change, voting rights protection, infrastructure, police reform, immigration reform, and in various states are doing their best to reverse civil rights, deny access to women’s health care and abortion and impeding the battle against the COVID-19 disease. Unfortunately, this isn’t a far fetched movie plot but the strange reality we’ve lived through.
From a distance, I see this as a monumental failure of our political and economic systems to plan for just such a crisis. The term “systems” is kind of a stretch. The pandemic exposed the lack of coordinated efforts from the very beginning from the federal down to the states and counties. From the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health to various private hospital corporations — none were prepared for a delusional president. None were prepared for the “just in time” delivery model to not function. It was however through the resilience of the American workers and a few dedicated leaders that brought courage, food and comfort to people during this crisis.
However, the legal mechanisms that have been in place for centuries, the economic model and the new media technologies that have evolved rapidly in the last decades as well as the politics of the past seem to have all betrayed us.
At one point, back in March of 2020 when the country shut down and shipping ground to a virtual halt, there was a certain pause that revealed a truth that couldn’t be denied — that when the American consumers stopped spending their $13 trillion annual consumption everything stopped economically. That ultimately is a lot of power in the hands of the majority of the people, not the billionaires nor politicians. This and the shock of 700,000 U.S. citizens dying because of ineptitude is perhaps the only thing that awakened enough of us to the threat posed by a celebrity narcissist bent on destroying our nation.
Perhaps in retrospect he deserves begrudging thanks for showing us just how vulnerable and precious what we have actually is. But I’ll only be satisfied once he is indicted and convicted then put away.
The thing is systems are only as good as the people who run them and the world is still wondering if ours still works.
(James Preston Allen, founding publisher of RandomLengthsNews, the Los Angeles Harbor Area’s Leading Independent Newspaper, 1979- to present, is a journalist, visionary, artist and activist.)