The rise of American Idiot

Donald Trump: an example of American idiot?

On 20 May Donald Trump said that having one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks was a “badge of honour.” What kind of idiot would think that having the highest death toll in a world pandemic would be a point of pride? Quick, someone give this moron a medal!

The American Idiot is a figure the world has come to know all too well — he’s a world famous celebrity by this point. Brad Pitt has nothing on him. And the world, these days, so far as I can see, is laughing at America, horrified, astonished, bewildered — asking a very simple question. Or at least one that I think is very simple. Only it doesn’t appear to be, because so far as I see, Americans of a certain kind just don’t even seem to get the question. Of course, perhaps you do, and maybe I’m wrong. Still, let me name it.

The chaos, death, and depression we’re seeing in America today are needless.

When I sit down with my European, Asian, Canadian friends — anyone that’s not American — the one thing they can’t seem to understand is why Americans, in turn, don’t seem to grasp this. Now, ‘needless’ means just what it implies. None of this had to happen. Or almost none of it. Does that matter to Americans? Or is everyone, more or less, an American Idiot now?

You see, when my European and Asian friends imagine the figure of the American Idiot, they don’t just mean the Trumpist, the bleach-drinking shouter, the one who attends Trump rallies and rails against Mexicans, while voting against his or her own healthcare. They also mean the other kind of American. The one who goes to Democratic rallies, and votes against his or her own healthcare. That, after all, is what Democrats just did…during the inception of a literal global pandemic…vote against better healthcare…not to mention everything else…rejecting Liz and Bernie for Joe. Who wants less healthcare while a pandemic is raging? What on earth?

What everyone from around the world who’s not American that I talk to really means is this. There are two kinds of American Idiot. The dunce, and the fool. The wilful one, and the negligent one. There’s the Trumpist — who doesn’t know any better, who’s only known hate, ignorance, fear, and rage: the dunce. But there’s also the fool. The Democrat who votes against healthcare, retirement, education — and should know better. The sophisticated elite — who doesn’t see that America’s an imploding society in every possible way right about now. The New York Times columnist, the CNN anchor, none of whom ever really question if any of this is vaguely normal.

Now, when you understand that, you end up bewildered. Which one of these is really the malicious one? Who’s the Bigger Idiot? Which one is actually the one anything can be done about?

Hence, both of these kinds of American Idiots have long baffled the world — but right about now, they horrify the world. They drop it’s jaw. What the hell have Americans let themselves become? What kinds of people want worse lives for themselves…on both sides of the political divide..over and over again? What the? It doesn’t make sense, at all. It’s breathtaking, especially to those who live in civilized modern societies, like, say Canada.

I tell my European and Asian and Canadian friends, in return, that America really is different. It’s a place where death stalks people breathing down their necks every single day of their lives. What else do you call a thing hospital bills in the hundreds of thousands? “Medical bankruptcies”? A lack of healthcare is a very real form of violence, too.

What does living amidst omnipresent violence — the very real fear of death, otherwise known as trauma — do? It shuts your brain off. It triggers your fight or flight response. It fills you with adrenaline, fear, anger. You’re on a hair trigger. Rational thinking shuts down. The frontal cortex slows to a halt.

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Is it the endless brutality and cruelty of American life that’s made Americans Idiots, then? There are the other forms of violence — the more visible ones. School shootings became just another normalised, accepted part of American life. America is the only country — the only country — in the world where masked men burst in, pretend to shoot little kids, and they have to pretend to die. What on earth? This doesn’t happen anywhere else — not even, say, Pakistan or Iraq, places where there’s religious violence, sure, but not regular school shootings.

You see, America has long normalised and accepted mass death on a scale that would have ruined any other society. Can you imagine school shootings regularly in, say, France or Canada? The government would have fallen in weeks. Americans shrug — and make their kids do “active shooter drills.” So maybe it’s no surprise that Americans don’t get that this wave of mass death is needless because they live in an ultra-violent society of it anyways, and have become resigned, apathetic, blind. They don’t even see, anymore, that mass death is an aberration — not a thing to be tolerated, normalised, shrugged away. That’s what my European and Asian friends hint at — but can’t quite say. Violence of a kind that exists nowhere else in the world by now has left Americans incapable — perhaps genuinely physiologically — of rational thought, of anything but responding in kind, brutality met with brutality, cruelty with cruelty. How else do you get to “lunch debt” and daily school shootings?

Then there are my black, gay, minority friends. Do you know what they say? Americans seem inured to this wave of mass death — I’m going to use the words they tend to — because not enough white people have died yet. How’s that for an explanation? Painful. Too true, perhaps. America’s the original slave state — the only rich country left with a constitution still mired in the poison of slavery. Did you know that black people today are in fact poorer than when segregation ended? That’s how little progress has been made in America with regards to what’s euphemistically called “the race issue.” For my black, gay, minority friends — American violence began long ago, and never ended.

That’s another grim characteristic of both kinds of American Idiot: they’re racists, bigots, supremacists. Sure, there’s the obnoxious kind — the Trumpist, who cheers on putting kids in cages. But what about that Democrat — who just as reliably votes against healthcare for all, over and over again? Isn’t that, too, driven by the long shadow of racism? If we’re honest, the reason that Americans deny each other the things people everywhere else enjoy as basics of civilised societies, whether healthcare, retirement, education, is that doing so carries a certain stigma with it. “I won’t pay for those peoples’ kids! Those lazy people’s retirements!” Even the Democrat says this indignantly enough, predictably enough that America now resembles a poor country.

Answering a question like this — why don’t Americans seem to care about mass death to the point the rest of the world thinks they’re idiots — is like trying to carry water in your hands. You don’t get very far, and yet every step counts. There are so many facets to this question that it seems almost unanswerable. On some level, America seems like a cursed society, a place that’s destined to be haunted by death, and instead of exorcising the ghost, the American Idiot seems to go on living amongst the dead. Consider yet another way mass death stalks America.

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How many brave young men and women have died in the endless wars? I don’t know, but the answer is certainly: too many. What have they been fighting for? Saddam didn’t have WMDs. Iraq wasn’t behind 9/11. Why did the crack epidemic arise — remember that plague of yesterday? Because the CIA was running guns to Latin American fascists. What the? Yes, really. Did you know that most of the countries America’s bombed simply committed the cardinal sin of wanting to be…social democracies? America’s not liberating them. It’s still fighting a world war against communism, which never ended. But much of the world didn’t want to join America in predatory capitalism. Can you blame it, looking at the plight of the average American today?

Yet who even knows how many countries America’s currently bombing? Anyone? I don’t, and you don’t, because it’s “classified.” All we know is that America’s a country that seems to revel in violence to the point that nobody much questions: what are these wars for, and how many are there still? The banality of mass death, yet again.

There’s the American Idiot. Still cheering on all this violence. If you ask him about war, he’ll tell you that communism is bad. He’s never once understood the point above — the world didn’t want to join America in it’s capitalist empire, and that’s why America had to bomb nation after nation, from Latin America to Asia. All he thinks is that America’s been giving people freedom for the last fifty years. And if a few million or so around the world had to die — so what? The America Idiot thinks of death as the price of freedom. He doesn’t understand maybe freedom is not having to die in the first place. Living free from violence, brutality, cruelty, and ignorance.

So is it any surprise that the American Idiot also thinks the price of freedom — now, at home, during a pandemic — is a hundred thousand dead? See the resonance, the link, the logic? Hey, shrugs the American Idiot, if I give up on my freedom, then maybe freedom itself comes to a dead end. Therefore, I’m not staying put during a pandemic. It’s my constitutional right to have a beer and infect half the town!! So what if they get sick and some of them die? Free-dumb!!

That’s how freedom became free-dumb in America. It’s why America is one of a dismal list of nations with the highest death toll — where the infection hasn’t even peaked yet. Who else is on that list? Britain, Brazil, and Russia. What do these four nations now have in common?

The American Idiot — he’s gone viral. Coronavirus is one pandemic. But so is American Idiocy. In Britain, I saw it happen. First the think tanks rolled in, with their propaganda. Then politics turned American — austerity began to rule. Then media became American, too — and instead of all those wonderful BBC nature documentaries, now there were a hundred channels playing Ancient Aliens and police state TV. Bang! Brexit. Brits turned their back on their best friends and allies — gentle and wise people who’d hadn’t harmed them. Those dirty Europeans! It was their fault Brits were getting poorer!! Just as it was Mexicans’ fault in America. America Idiocy spread to Britain, and the results were as disastrous as they were predictable. Today, The British Idiot has made sure that Britain has the highest death toll in Europe, through indifference, stupidity, greed, malice.

You can extend that example, too, to Russia and Brazil. Who’s Bolsonaro’s biggest — only, really — fan on the International stage? Trump. Who’s does Trump admire and want to please? Putin.

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The idiots of the world are forming an idiot army. Its shock troops are the American Idiot. It’s infantry and artillery, marching not too far behind, are the the idiots America’s helped create, with crackpot thinking, propaganda, and brutality. I could also speak of the Indian Idiot, the Arab Idiot, and so forth. They all adulate Trump. The world’s idiot army is rising, led by the American Idiot. What does it want?

Who does the army of American Idiots see as the enemy? The press is the “enemy of the people.” So are minorities, intellectuals, critics. Of course, liberals are much hated, and anyone further to the left despised. The world’s idiot army wants much the same thing that the one of the 1930s did: purity, vengeance, supremacy, retribution. This army is cannon fodder. It is quite happy to die, as long as it’s told that it’s wonderful and strong and pure, like any suicide bomber.

Trump once said he could stand on Fifth Ave, shoot someone, and get away with it. Turns out that was an understatement. He could let a hundred thousand people die, and one kind of American Idiot would collectively shrug — and the other kind would cheer and drink bleach.

The world’s idiot army is being desensitized, habituated, to mass death, to violence on a surreal scale. The world’s demagogues — Trump, Bolsonaro, etc — they aren’t letting death on a mass scale happen and regretting it. They’re revelling in it. Why? Because they know if they can get people to cross this last line, then anything is possible.

It’s one thing to get people to vote against their own healthcare, retirement, education, income, savings — as Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro, Farage all did. It’s another — much greater one — to bring people to the point that mass death doesn’t register anymore. Then, if you’re a demagogue, you can manipulate and twist a country any way you like.

Once people have accepted the level of degradation of mass death, there is no further kind of degradation left. They have been dehumanized fully, finally. That is why the demagogues of the world are letting the pandemic rage. Just as any abuser knows that his victim being hurt is good for him, so too the demagogues know that a pandemic is a powerful weapon, too.

That’s how I think of the American Idiot these days. As a person who’s been fully dehumanized. Do you know the look? The look of the American Idiot? When you say: “But why don’t you vote for healthcare?” and their eyes go dead, their face goes blank, their jaw sets into a rictus grin. They want to kill you. They don’t understand why you’d want that. They can’t believe you ask it. Both kinds of American Idiot — the dunce and the fool.

That is the face of a person who’s come to enthusiastically believe in their their own degradation. It is the grin of someone who’s accepted living without dignity, worth, or purpose, and therefore thinks of everyone else as their rival, enemy, adversary, in an endless, brutal contest. It is the smile of the one who, treated as an inhuman commodity for too long, exploited, has lost their humanity, too.

How do you give people back their humanity? Sometimes, you don’t. Maybe the world’s Idiot Army needs to eat itself before the rest of us can breathe easy again. Maybe that will also bring about the downfall of our civilisation — just like it caused America to collapse. One thing’s for certain, I think. The two kinds of American Idiots have formed a suicide pact. They think they’re enemies, the dunce and the fool. They’re more like Romeo and Juliet. Counting down the days to the bitter end.

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