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Nobody for President: This absurd election choice should have us thundering in the streets

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Members of a sane society would grind everyday life to a halt given the choice between a smouldering ghost and an aspiring Nazi monster, the writer says. Picture: Wikimedia.Commons

By Phil WIlson

In Eugene Ionesco’s 1959 play “Rhinoceros”, a staple of the post-war absurdist repertoire, the cast of characters discuss the sudden news that one or more rhinoceroses have been seen running through their small French town.

In the play, the local villagers parse trivial, speculative and tangential points — the rhinoceros, seen on two occasions, might have been two different animals (a two horned or one horned variety — Asiatic or African — although no one is quite sure which is which), or it might not have been seen at all. It may have escaped from a zoo or a circus, but we are told that this town has no zoo and banned circuses ages ago. One character deems it to be a creation of the press as a means to sell papers — a “flower of some journalist’s imagination”. When witnesses report that a rhinoceros trampled a cat, the same sceptic proposes that this might be a hyperbolic report of a mouse running over a flea. All this casual banter, some of it set in a town market, weaves in and out of small talk — inquiries about the price of wine and cheese, and fragments of local gossip.

European surrealism and absurdist literature have often juxtaposed fragile human perspective with ominous threats. Kafka’s Gregor Samsa — the protagonist in “The Metamorphosis” — ruminates about how to get to his bureaucratic job while lying immobile on his back after being transformed into an enormous insect.

We are not holding absurdity at bay, but kicking and screaming to pretend that it has not swallowed us up. Fascism is not a future threat, but our current reality.

The foils in works by Kafka, Ionesco, or Beckett dependably underestimate the horrors that rain down on them. Banal digression becomes the default response to apocalyptic ruin. People confront malice with various forms of denial. Of course, the rhinoceros symbolize fascists — the people in Ionesco’s imaginary town miss that point, even as townspeople become rhinoceros one by one.

We might argue about whether last week’s presidential debate most resembled a vignette from Kafka, Ionesco, or Beckett — our pundits and political interpreters have brought a wheelbarrow full of facile explanations to give us perspective on an event that cannot easily be digested for mass consumption. One can reflexively claim that Biden suddenly and surprisingly lapsed into senility, or that a more agile Democratic replacement might dismantle Trump’s idiotic lies, but that is to mistake a bizarre moment of truth for a resolvable problem. Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” opens with an iconic line uttered by Estragon: “Nothing to be done”.

And that might just be the statement that we have to come to grips with — the presidential debate was not an event to wrestle with, not a challenge to send us madly tinkering with our democratic options, but a gauge of horror. There is nothing to be done — at least nothing that the media pundits and Democratic apparatchiks suggest. We are not holding absurdity at bay, but kicking and screaming to pretend that it has not swallowed us up. Fascism is not a future threat, but our current reality. In Ionesco’s terms, half of us have turned into rhinoceroses. A new Democratic ticket won’t change that.

Let me run through a particular moment — imperfectly recalled in my memory — from last week’s debate:

The moderators had asked Trump what he would do about climate change, and he eventually said, after dodging the issue – I am paraphrasing, or nearly quoting verbatim (it doesn’t matter which) — “we will have the most beautiful clean air and clean water, too”.

Biden stood mouth agape – uncomprehending or wandering aimlessly about the corridors of hallucinatory dreams. The moderators were frozen, mute, dumbstruck. Who was Trump speaking to?

I translate, “we will have beautiful clean air and water” into recognizable discourse:

“F**k you and everybody else. I will take a wreaking sh*t on the environment and there is nothing you can do about it.”

In what universe might Trump promote beautiful air and water, or, more pointedly, what barrier have we breached in order for fifty million people to hear Trump – the environmental befouler-in-chief – mock our collective suffering without most of those 50 million skulls exploding and spilling torrents of boiling grey matter across the nation? Trump’s bullsh*t is a unique gauge of our collective demise, and we hear it with a habitual manner of mass indifference.

We have become, by the tens and tens of millions, deeply removed from nominal reality. Trump can say virtually anything, and we will not flinch. If he came out with an executive order (after being installed to power) criminalizing public statements affirming the theory of evolution few would be startled. If he denies voting rights to the unemployed or gives two votes to gun owners there might be a muffled response of dismay, but no sustained outrage.

Trump’s bullsh*t is a unique gauge of our collective demise, and we hear it with a habitual manner of mass indifference.

The issue most confronting the US is not Biden’s senility, but the fact that we live in a rhinoceros infested land. All that stands between the US and a consolidated fascist state is a senile, morally defective man who never had more than average talent to begin with. Are we okay with that?

The whole point should not be Biden’s cognitive capacity (he is f**king senile and was barely capable in his mediocre prime), but the lost ability of self-scrutiny. Why do we sleepily gaze at herds of fascist rhinoceros and pretend that we see nothing? The members of a sane society would be thundering angrily through the streets given the choice between a smouldering ghost and an aspiring Nazi monster.

Who chose these two? Why are 50 million people curled up on couches, wrapped around plastic bowls of popcorn while these terrible, inept, and heartless fools cough up lies and trivial asides? We reflect upon levels of dementia and Nazi wannabe evil as if they were existential givens. Of course, we all must decide on November 5 which genocidaire we prefer, the one who bombed the children of Gaza or the one vowing to deport up to 20 million innocent people. Do we pick the one who can barely remember his own name or the guy with a swirling vortex of hatred orbiting his eyeballs?

Who in the press watched the debate and screamed “What the f**k?!” Which pundits ask the public to take to the streets and demand a do-over? This election is a farce — the dying throes of a criminal society, the death spasms of a plundering oligarchy that once devoured most of the world and now cannibalizes its own.

Phil Wilson is a retired mental health worker who has written for Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Resilience, Current Affairs, The Future Fire, The Hampshire Gazette, among others. Wilson’s writings are published regularly at Nobody’s Voice

This article was published on Common Dreams