You Can't Rage Against The Machine (When You're, GASP, The Machine)

The moral of 2020: when you're in control of everything, it's smart business to pretend you aren't.
You Can't Rage Against The Machine (When You're, GASP, The Machine)

Four years ago, when the Earth was young and we all thought no one would ever believe what Facebook groups called Freedom Patriot Eagle Lover were telling them, one of the things to do online was gawk at Free Republic, the forum for people who complain that Fox News has been getting too pinko. But it wasn't their ultra-conservatism that was fascinating; it was their misery.

For eight years, their vision of Obama's America was one where crime ran rampant through cities flooded by filthy foreigners, where democracy was being dismantled by a secret Muslim Communist President, and where they alone represented the last of a dying breed of True Americans. They spent half their time calling for Democrats to be hung from lampposts and the other half complaining that the neighborhood kids played their hippity-hops too loud. America, according to Freepers, was circling the drain, and the only thing to do was go online and complain about it.

Free Republic has largely been forgotten in the wake of a thousand guys all named Argyle Coxswain III flooding YouTube with 140 minute rants about how Star Wars is destroying the sperm counts of effete American men, but they're still chugging along. They've been a staple of the conservative Internet since 1997, making the news from time to time for spewing slur-riddled vitriol over an 11-year-old Malia Obama's fashion choices, or leading a boycott of the Dixie Chicks for having the gall to suggest that the Iraq War was anything but a great time for all. In 2016 the site was purged of its Trump critics, turning the already insular community into an ouroboros screaming "Triggered much, libs?" from around its own tail.  

So you'd think the last four years would have been an extended victory parade, a celebration of everything Trump has accomplished for his most fervent supporters. Instead, America is apparently still the same. Liberals control the media, illegal immigrants run rampant through the country, corrupt Democrats need to be strung up in the streets for their treason, and dangit, the NFL just hasn't been the same since it got all political.  

They still want Trump to win again, but it's unclear what they think that would accomplish, beyond making everyone else as miserable as they are. At a time when Republicans control all three branches of government, America is apparently still an empire in irreversible decline thanks to cabals of secret Marxists, evil media elites, the general existence of LGBT people, and any other far-right bugaboos you care to name. Hell, within months of Trump's election they were worrying that the famously liberal CIA was conspiring against him. Like the President himself, they got everything they thought they ever wanted but still think they're under siege.  

The candidates and pundits who've lashed themselves to Trump's ship like the world's least erotic mermaids share this trait. The top priority of Marjorie Taylor Greene, who earned a Republican nomination in Georgia by openly embracing QAnon madness, is to "Finish the Wall." Haha, holy shit, remember the Wall? It's lurched along here and there, with billions of (American) dollars being pumped into a project that's so far only covered a tiny fraction of the border. Trump, apparently, "needs more allies in Congress now more than ever," because if there's one sure problem America has had since 2016 it's that not enough Republicans have discovered the taste of Trump's colon. But never mind four years of infinitesimal progress; this time it will totally happen for realsies.

If you value your time as little as I value mine you could sit down with Trump's 2015 book, Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America, and note that for all its rambling inanities there are at least a few scattered policy ideas, like revamping public infrastructure and reforming education. Sure, one of the book's running themes is that detailed plans are a hallmark of sleazy politicians, but at least there's lip service to the concept of having ideas. Everyone may be against him, Trump said, but thanks to his innate brilliance he will achieve vague goals in vague ways.

That set the bar so low that ants have to climb over it, but the book the Trump family has chosen to speak for them in 2020, Trump Jr.'s Liberal Privilege: Joe Biden And The Democrats' Defense Of The Indefensible, fails to clear it. In the opening chapter Trump Jr. implies that Congress considered executing him for treason, and it's all downhill from there. Trump II: Christ, There's Another One writes like he keeps eating the crayons he scribbles with, but the message is still clear: vote for Democrats and your cities will burn, your faith will be anathema, America itself may be destroyed. There's not a lot of talk about improving public transportation. 

Trump's 2016 campaign attracted disillusioned voters, but rage against the system doesn't work when you are the system. Even most Freeper types don't buy QAnon's ramblings about a second secret system lurking in the background, and so Trump Jr. rages against Twitter, expecting readers to remember every inane social media spat of the last four years. He's like that jackass neighbor who's still pissed about how Ms. Jenkins down the street left her jack-o'lanterns out until November 14 back in 2013. At one point he recaps his appearance on The View as though it were the Battle of the Bulge, because if there's one issue that voters really care about I'm sure it's how well Trump's large adult son held his own against Joy Behar.  

You would think that Trump Jr., the Grown Ups 2 of people, would be inclined to celebrate his father's ostensible accomplishments, if only so dad would perhaps remember to grunt at him at Christmas this year. But his book is just an enraged litany of how critics have been very mean, as though a Presidency is supposed to be treated with the same fawning approval as a child's drawing that gets taped to the fridge even though the stegosaurus clearly has an erection. The idea that governments are supposed to accomplish tasks feels like an afterthought, a reason to occasionally blurt out "Oh, and we made the Dow really big, or small, whichever the good one is," before we return to the true business of owning the libs.

Pretending that the last four years haven't really happened appears to be one of Trump's key policies, given his repeated warnings that if Joe Biden is elected America will descend into what's already happening under the Trump administration. So while Trump's 2015 book had a certain twisted optimism, 2020 is all nihilism, baby: instead of "Here's a childishly simplistic plan to fix America" we're at "Things could always be worse, and don't you forget it."

And so voters are being called upon to hold the line. But eventually you have to ask what it is, exactly, that's being defended. There's a jarring disconnect between seeing Trump bluster about how the economy is as great as it's ever been and re-electing him would make it even greater-er, then reading about, say, the 89-year-old who took up pizza delivery because he couldn't afford to live off his social security. GoFundMe, already a sad staple of American healthcare, has added a category for basic household expenses, because 50 million Americans are struggling to afford them. If that's worth defending because you can't imagine things ever getting better, well, maybe it's no wonder Freepers seem miserable all the time.  

There's nothing that can be said about Trump now that hasn't been repeated ad nauseum, no one scandal that will bring him to ruin. But 2020, it feels, is a decision between whether America will start putting a few fires out, or whether reducing more lives to ashes is admirable as long as the right people burn.

Mark is on Twitter and wrote a book.  

Header Image: Wikimedia Commons

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