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Image by Andrew Neel

By Maria Behan 

Awkward title, I know, but Idiocracy is already taken. That movie and this, my final Spotlight column, take aim at the same massive target: postlapsarian America.

I use that term because I’m pretty sure the United States has already fallen. But instead of the knowledge that precipitated Adam and Eve’s tumble, America’s fall is due to ignorance—a whole lot of it. That probably isn’t a surprise to many, though a fair amount of folks in the United States are tenacious when it comes to holding on to smug American exceptionalism. And guns.

Both those tendencies have been catastrophic. And of course, they feed one another. At this moment, when it’s pretty undeniable that Trump has succeeded in tearing the country in two, people who are ignorant, indignant, and armed could literally end our democracy.

Let me be clear: When I say “literally,” I understand the term. (Unlike Trump, who recently wailed that the very few witnesses who testified on his behalf at his porn-star hush-money trial were “literally crucified”—making me even sorrier that no cameras were allowed in the courtroom.) For the first time in my life, I can envision my home nation turned into a full-on authoritarian state, with violence a part of both enforcement and resistance. In my darkest moments, the thought crosses my mind that their side has way more guns—and is undoubtedly better at using them—than ours. And, thanks to the conservative majority that has turned the United State’s highest court from Supreme to kangaroo, American citizens’ firepower can once again be boosted with bump stocks, which effectively turn already deadly semi-automatic guns into fully automatic weapons that can kill many people in mere moments.

America Gone Feral

I’ve always been a pessimist, and one of my youthful nicknames was “the Queen of Hyperbole.” I hope I’m overreacting or exaggerating now, but I fear I’m not. And I’m not conjuring spectres out of my fevered liberal imagination. I’m just listening to Republicans who served in Trump’s first term and are auditioning for a possible second one. And what they’re saying is terrifying.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, vying to be Trump’s running mate, broke out the flame emojis when opining on social media that President Joe Biden is “a demented man propped up by wicked & deranged people,” adding that in light of Trump’s recent conviction on 34 felony counts in New York, it’s time to “fight fire with fire.”

Trump advisor Stephen Miller was also fired up by the outrageous act of holding Trump accountable for law-breaking. Miller went on Fox News, the most influential megaphone for far-right would-be authoritarians, and asked: “Is every House committee controlled by Republicans using its subpoena power in every way it needs to right now? Is every Republican D.A. starting every investigation they need to right now? Every facet of Republican Party politics and power has to be used right now to go toe-to-toe with Marxism and beat these Communists.” (Quick primer for those lucky enough not to know already: By Marxists and Communists, Miller and MAGA World mean President Biden; every Democrat holding federal, state, or local office; most judges not appointed by Trump; and librarians who think teens should have the option of checking out George Orwell’s 1984, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.)

House Speaker Mike Johnson used Fox News to call on the Supreme Court to “step in” and reverse Trump’s guilty verdict, creepily noting that he was confident the Court would be open to overturning the unanimous decision because “I know many of them personally.” In fact, even those of us who don’t pal around with the conservative justices that make up the majority of the Court feel like we’re well acquainted with them. We know them by their recent raft of retrograde, anti-democratic decisions. We know them from the bribes they take from xenophobic plutocrats. And by the flags waving (sometimes upside down) outside their homes.

Last week a Texas man (a term that may soon outpace “Florida man” as the subject in headlines describing dopey and dangerous doings) was arrested for threatening an FBI agent who’d worked on the Hunter Biden investigation. He left the agent a voicemail that summed up the “thinking” going on in crackpot craniums across the country: “So here’s how it’s gonna go: Trump’s gonna win the re-election, and then we’re gonna [expletive] go through the FBI and just start throwing you [expletive]s in jail. Or, you can steal another election, and then the guns will come out.” He followed up by texting: “How’s the family? Safe?” and “Did you [expletive] really think you were going to disenfranchise 75 million Americans and not die? Lol.”

As if all this weren’t enough, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Year In Hate And Extremism 2023” report, there’s a new threat on the block: the New Apostolic Reformation, “a new and powerful Christian supremacy movement that is attempting to transform culture and politics in the U.S. and countries across the world into a grim authoritarianism.” NAR adherents believe it’s their divine duty to seize control of every political and cultural institution and remake them in accordance with their freaky fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. A decree put out by NAR leaders claims “legal power and authority from Heaven” and says members are “equipped and delegated by Him to destroy every attempted advance of the enemy.” (Not sure if “Him” refers to God or Trump, but I doubt group members see much of a distinction.)

Ladies and Gentlemen…Our Electorate!

More than religious maniacs, frightened racists, or even cynical politicians, America’s dumbed-down electorate is the root cause of what may become our democracy’s demise. Sure, right-wing media and leaders want to keep the U.S. electorate as clueless as possible, but the enthusiasm with which some embrace that role is remarkable—and depressing. Almost every night, supposedly responsible media outlets stick microphones in people’s faces and ask for their take on recent events. Reasoned, well-informed responses are a snooze, so colorful know-nothings tend to get starring roles. One that sticks in my mind was a young woman from one of the battleground states that will decide this year’s presidential election. Her face scrunched up with the pleasure of sharing a canny insight as she announced that she disagreed with Trump’s conviction in N.Y. because “There are two sides to every story.” After a pause to relish her own clued-in cleverness, she added, “That’s why I stay away from all news.” You go, girl…who needs facts to form an opinion?

Sadly, she isn’t an outlier in the American electorate. Polls last month showed that 49% of respondents believed that U.S. unemployment is at a 50-year high—though it’s actually at a 50-year low. Almost one in five voters in battleground states held President Biden responsible for ending the nationwide right to abortion—despite the fact that he supports women’s right to choose and it was Trump who appointed the three justices who made it possible to overturn Roe v. Wade.

I prefer the succinctness of “dumbass,” but the media has come up with something more polite: “low-information voter.” Whatever we call them, if these people are deciding the nation’s future, God help us. (Though if they’re right and God’s on their side, we should consider making offerings to Baal or Beelzebub—pronto.)

It’s not just run-of-the-mill dopes undermining the future of the United States—it’s clever people with big bucks and even bigger clout. Salivating at the thought of the perks they’d get from an authoritarian regime, or fearful of what might happen if they pick the wrong side, many of the nation’s movers and shakers are preemptively kissing Trump’s prodigious posterior. It’s not just lickspittle Republicans in Congress paying homage to their spray-tanned sun god (despite the fact that he called their their wives ugly, their fathers assassins, and pronounced them “worse than Hillary”—and that’s just Ted Cruz). The obscene obeisance reaches further, and its tentacles are spreading. Just this week Trump met with about 80 or so industry titans, reportedly including the heads of many financial institutions and tech heavyweights like Apple CEO Tim Cook. Even supposedly liberal and all-powerful Hollywood moguls have been too scared to distribute a Trump-displeasing film called The Apprentice for fear of boycotts from MAGA heads and even stronger retribution if there’s a second Trump administration. The Apprentice was a hit at the Cannes Film Festival, and has been picked up for distribution around the world. But so far, no American studio honcho has summoned the stones.

My first column in The Wild Word’s February 2016 inaugural issue had a jaunty title that in retrospect, hurts my heart: “Step Right Up and See the Show!” That fledgling foray as a pundit was full of misguided cockiness, though I did share a niggling worry: “Confident as I am that the xenophobia and sheer dopiness of the Tea Party will bring down the Republicans by making plain what has long been festering in the party, I’m sometimes troubled by a squeaky voice in my head: What if the Tea Party brings down America instead?

“It’s like the tail end of a horror movie. You’re congratulating yourself on weathering all the shocks, but then you catch yourself, because you’ve seen enough scary films to know that you can’t relax until the credits roll. What if an arm pops up from Carrie’s grave? Or far worse, Donald Trump?”

And that’s pretty much what happened. The refrain that keeps popping into my head lately is, “I thought I was cynical enough; apparently not.”

How bad will things get if #45 becomes #47? Author Thom Hartmann offers a succinct and terrifying glimpse: “If Trump becomes president this fall, he and his Project 2025 allies will transform America in ways that go far beyond FDR’s New Deal or Reagan’s war on working people. The Christian Taliban that has surrounded him will take over public school instruction and birth control policy, racist militias and skinheads will be running elections and immigration policy, the media will be finally and fully seized by rightwing oligarchs like in Russia and Hungary, unions and equality movements will be functionally outlawed, and Trump’s ‘enemies’ (including reporters and commentators like yours truly) will end up in prison. Each of those things are already promised explicitly by Trump himself or part of the Project 2025 program for the next Republican presidency.” Whew.

In January 2017, I flew from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., to join millions of others at the Woman’s March to protest Trump’s occupation of the White House. (Here’s a link to the naively optimistic article I wrote about the experience.) If Trump wins a second term, I’m hopping on a plane going farther: all the way out of the country. The first time around, I was determined to stick around and fight. But if America is misguided and frankly, hateful, enough to elect Trump a second time, I’m outta here. To paraphrase REM (and show my age): “It’s the end of the world as we know it. And I don’t feel fine.”

(Putting aside anxiety and bile for a moment, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank superhuman editor Kusi Okamura and The Wild Word team for keeping the lights on for eight years. Putting out a quality ad-free publication hasn’t been easy. And I deeply appreciate the support, insight—and deadlines—you’ve given me since the magazine’s debut.)


Maria Behan writes fiction and non-fiction. Her work has appeared in publications such as The Stinging Fly, Huffington Post, The Irish Times, DailyKos and Northern California Best Places.


  1. Anonymous

    Well said. And you were right to be a pessimist. Things got even worse!!!!!

  2. Anonymous

    Absolutely well said and I share much of it but I have to be optimistic for my sanity!


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