Even just saying the number out loud makes bubbles of dread rise through my system. I know it’s a point oft-repeated that we are not actually living in objectively more damaged times, it’s just that we now have far more means of communicating and assessing the damage. That we have found ways of keeping trouble always in our line of sight. Trouble out of sight is trouble out of mind, after all; but as technology advances — and our age with it — it becomes harder and harder to look away. Countless metrics exist that could be spun as proof of our time being the best of what we’ve had so far, many undoubtedly true. Occasionally, however — when the shit really flies; when you have to bob and weave like Ali to avoid the almost daily pronouncements of doom — it feels like the opposite is true. Like a corner has been turned and we really are living in the dreaded ‘interesting times,’ with 2016 being a towering totem to the imminent collapse.
How could it not feel that way?
This is after all the Year of Death, which has seen so many beloved heroes slip through our fingers like delicate grains of sand.
This is after all the year that scientists have officially recommended that we rename the geological epoch in which we are living to a term that better reflects our undeniable, destructive influence. The 12,000 years of post-Ice Age climate stability that allowed our civilisations to flourish is apparently no more. We have crossed into a new world of our own making: the Anthropocene, and it is in this epoch — in less than half a decade from now in fact — that the planet will have lost two thirds of its wild animals thanks to us. When it comes to climate change, the world has passed an irreversible threshold, and no-one seems to care.
This is the year after all where out of the two candidates for the President of the United States, the more reasonable choice is the one that risks taking us into Cold War-levels of antagonism through her reckless devotion to an almost cartoonishly aggressive foreign policy. There is no price apparently too big to pay to appease the military industrial complex.
It is a common trope in fantasy literature to begin the story proper just as the ties that bind the old world are failing — as the pillars crumble and cracks in the foundations start to appear. It feels increasingly like we are living in that world. 2016 feels like the year that Roland of Gilead would remark upon as having been the tipping point in the fate of the world that had moved on.
Now, it would be remiss of me to not mention at this point that all this doom-mongery comes from a fundamentally selfish and Western-centric point of view. To be born in this world is to play the lottery of power, and while we spill a whole lot of ink about the respective levels of power in our society, we sometimes tend to forget that the spectrum of privilege extends far beyond our borders. Sometimes, well-meaning though we are, we forget that the concept encircles the whole globe and encompasses the whole of humanity. As such, this feeling of impending doom that seems shocking and worryingly novel to us is anything but new for those who live, and have long lived, on the opposing end of the great global capitalist chain of consequence. To be worried about celebrities dying — talented and important as they may be — is a privilege that is unimaginable to the multitudes that live in constant fear of poverty or war. Nevertheless, for those of us on the fortunate end (which so callously feeds off the less fortunate one), this can all feel alarmingly fresh, this world of impending ruin.
This post-Lemmy world.
This world of Trump.
Because the ‘Anthropocene’ is not the only label that applies here. We are also living in a post-Lemmy world. The Postlemmycene. And one of the signs of the Postlemmycene is the rise of Donald Trump.
Donald Trump has been, for what now almost seems an eternity, an inescapable spectre. A permanent scarring on our retinas. A malevolent apparition that has somehow rallied millions to his cause (should you be inclined to call his half-articulated non-promises a cause.)
But Donald Trump, dangerous and disgusting, did not emerge out of a vacuum, a lone primordial pioneer of evil. No, he is a manifestation of a festering ugliness in our culture; a direct consequence; a reflection of the hypocrisy of our narratives, and a damming indictment of what we have sleepwalked into considering normal. Donald Trump is a very loud and obvious symptom of a disease, but he is not its cause.
Donald Trump is a parasite, and like any parasite, examining him can tell us a lot about its host. Here is a man who we despise, who embodies all the traits that we tell ourselves — rightfully — that we abhor. His egotism, his toxic masculinity, his avarice, his racism, his narcissism and his callousness — Donald Trump is an avatar of the worst of what we can be as a species. But he is not as much of an aberration as we would like to tell ourselves. The values he vocally espouses — wealth, ‘winning’, taking what you want — have been inculcated into us as undeniable virtues. We don’t question their innate goodness. We are subject to a perverted cradle-to-grave assembly line of atomising consumerist propaganda, insidious in its efficacy and terrifying in its ubiquity. Donald Trump is not just a demonstration of what happens when things are taken too far, he shows us that the ‘virtues’ we are taught to admire might only be regarded as such in a society that is in some fundamental way very ill. He is a highly visible orange mirror in which we can see a reflection of the culture that has created it: a twisted landscape of money and hypocrisy.
Donald Trump is a supremely ugly manifestation of white, male, capitalist id, but like a stopped clock he occasionally tells the truth. Just as so many right wing demagogues before him who rose in times of economic disenfranchisement, Trump has hijacked socialist rhetoric to talk of crooked capitalists and weighted political systems — to greatly resonant effect. The fact of the matter is that Donald Trump, racist wankstain that he is, would wield a fraction of the power that he does if he didn’t occasionally use the language of class consciousness. The irony of a man so emblematic of the worst facets of capitalism speaking as he sometimes does would be hilarious if it wasn’t so fucking depressing.
Of course, this in no way excuses or explains away the racists and the bigots who he has empowered and legitimised. And herein lies the rub: even if Donald Trump, the person, loses in November, the disease that gave rise to Donald Trump, the symptom, is not going anywhere without a fight. Sooner or later there will have to be a reckoning. We will have to reckon with the people who thought he might have been a good choice for the highest office in the land. But the racists and the misogynists are by themselves but the tip of the iceberg. We will also have to reckon with a press that claimed to despise Trump while still seeing fit to heap upon him millions of dollars’ worth of free publicity — who hung on and reported every word because they knew it would sell; who judged the two Presidential candidates by wildly, almost comically skewed criteria. We will have to reckon with a Democratic party so divorced from the people it claims to represent that a right-wing maniac like Trump could even attempt to wield its ostensible message. We will have to reckon with the scale of the influence that money wields over our political systems. We cannot afford to stick our heads in the sand if Hillary Clinton is elected, trusting in words and promises of a brighter tomorrow. We have to take the reins ourselves. We have to get involved in politics. We have to remove from it the sheen of detachment and apathy that makes winners of the elites and losers of the rest of us. It starts locally. Those who claim to represent us must begin to understand that we are paying attention. A progressive fire must be lit and maintained. The ugliness that Trump has given voice to has always been there and to an extent will always be there, but the conditions that have allowed it to flourish must be addressed and fundamentally altered. Justice, accountability, representation, diplomacy, social mobility — if we do not ensure these become more than just words then what we’ve seen play out this election cycle will not just stick around in a post-Trump world, it will get worse.
It starts, and ends, with us. This is our world, and only through our collective efforts can we make it better.
Petr Knava lives in London and plays music