I originally envisioned this column as a space to provide nuanced analysis of the political nonsense of today’s world, but I am finding it increasingly difficult to analyze what’s left.
Satire has been more or less dead for several years. The spectacle becomes almost too absurd after a point. The act is too bold, too brazen, too vulgar to bear, much like the “dirtiest joke ever told” that comics for decades only shared backstage – until a 2005 documentary film pulled back the curtain.
My version of our new dirty joke opens on a meme I recently doom-scrolled upon featuring an image of fighter jets that read “Russia is about to find out why Americans don’t have universal health care.”
We sure as hell don’t. What we get instead are Twitter “news alerts” about how masks are safe and effective against the spread of COVID-19. They’re followed up a few minutes later by news announcing states and municipalities are dropping mask and vaccine requirements while the BA.2 variant builds momentum like a trapeze artist getting ready to fly.
We, spectators, peer through our media binoculars as Congress spends $768 billion of our tax dollars on the military when we’re “not at war.” Mysteriously, they are completely unable to come up with $15 billion to fund continued testing, vaccines, and treatments while the seven-day average continues to hover around 1,000 COVID-19 deaths per day.
It’s a brilliant sleight of hand bit. At that point in the show, we are too exhausted to wonder why we need to allocate $15 billion dollars to pharmaceutical companies reaping record profits after being heavily subsidized by taxpayers to find tests, treatments, and vaccines in the first place.
Unlike economic gains, negligence really does trickle down. I try to combat it by frantically testing myself as my partner gets chewed out for leaving work after finding out they spent hours indoors with people who tested positive. Even kind, thoughtful friends no longer think to mention a COVID-19 exposure before agreeing to hang out. The absurdity blossoms in the feeling I get every time I weigh entering a room against the likelihood that doing so will result in my severe, prolonged illness. The risk floods out like clowns from a tiny car – too numerous and contorted and running in too many directions to trace.
The pies to the face don’t stop at war and pandemic, either. Even progressive municipal efforts that triumphed with 60 percent of voters (despite being outspent 40 to 1) are still being torpedoed by a “too progressive” Portland City Council doing acrobatic backbends to prioritize business interests over the will of the people who elected them.
Silver-tongued snake oil salesmen convince otherwise smart people that building “affordable” housing for people making around $75K a year will do something to resolve the housing crisis. In a city that claims paying $37,000 a year to employees forced to face a deadly pandemic in person is an unbearably high cost, it’s gross-out humor at its finest.
The cognitive dissonance is so loud, but the finale kills.
It’s watching even the most devoutly anti-corporate politicians bow to corporate agendas, our stomachs knotted with the desire to believe they’re not done with the trick yet. Surely there’s a second act?
But no. They’re played off by the bone-deep exhaustion of fights that only get longer and harder and opponents that only get richer and more powerful.
Then it’s the casual horror of occasionally letting one’s mind wander and knowing it will always turn up in the pit of “it’s not going to get better in the time I have left on earth.”
It’s being 34 years old and weighing my desire to bear a child against my fear of the world they’ll inherit.
It’s a constant reminder to let go of the things I cannot change, despite feeling those things closing in around me with a crushing weight.
It’s feeling disgusted by the white fragility it displays for me to be wrestling so hard with these sentiments now.
It’s the way the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders pathologized prolonged grief after two years in which around a million people in the United States died of a preventable disease.
It’s the grief, it’s the grief, it’s the grief.
After reading all of this, you might ask: Is that all you got? What do you call it?
The United States beams back at you proudly. We call it “The Aristocrats.”
Bre Kidman is an artist, activist, and attorney (in that order), and the first openly non-binary person in history to run for the U.S. Senate. They would be delighted to hear your thoughts on the political industrial complex at [email protected].