“Nothing works and nothing matters.” This idea seems to auto-complete much that is in the atmosphere at this fraught moment. It is a kind of nihilism that has afflicted Democrats ever since the ascension of Donald Trump. “Nothing works and nothing matters.”
But: Is it just my eyes that tear up when I think of our wounded country? Despite things not working on so many levels, it matters mightily — not just to me but, I venture, to masses more. Rather than feeling numb or truly nihilistic, masses of Americans have never cared more deeply or agonized more anxiously about the outcome of a presidential election than the one nine days away. “Nothing works — and everything matters profoundly.”
The “Nothing works” idea signifies in two ways. One is the mechanical, the functional. Most notable example, of course: the dysfunctional federal response to the coronavirus pandemic, now claiming 225,000 American lives —that is, a quarter-million — with this Friday seeing the highest daily infection rate yet — almost 83,000; worse is to come with winter. Bollix is due to an incompetent President, but also to fellow citizens refusing to mask up. Even the vaunted Centers for Disease Control is rendered less functional: Its initial missteps, exacerbated by disinformation, have created a cloud over its pronouncements.
Another mechanical example: our voting “system” — pardon the scare-quotes, but we hardly have a system in the true sense. Instead, we have a fractionated network of vote-gathering that differs by state and county; in Republican-controlled states, the emphasis is on vote-disallowing. Add now the complication of the pandemic when mail-in ballots must be an option, an option Trump slams as fraudulent, and who has 100% faith in this “system”? If the count is close, there will be a legal fight, there may even be blood (also here). (See “Frontline” program “Whose Vote Counts,” with New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb, here.)
The other way “Nothing works” signifies is the moral and, again, it relates to Trump: how, no matter how egregious, salacious, or outright illegal an act he commits, nothing sticks to him — from the Access Hollywood tape in 2016 in which he brags of groping women and which would end the campaign of any other politician (Republican as well as Democrat), through a…