I’ve struggled recently with the individual and collective response to the Trump administration. The level of inaction and unconcern feels nothing short of pathological given the material harm that’s being caused. And I’ve been unable to construct the right internal model in order to understand it until the past few days.
On the whole, people are responding to our current hostile government as if it was a somewhat incompetent alien takeover. Largely what gets expressed is annoyance and consternation but muted by abstraction and distance; confusion and curiosity but mostly in a distracted sense. We’re too busy marveling at the alien technology and the stupidity of their pilots, wondering how they stay aloft driven by fools. We spend our time coming up with theories and projections instead of beginning to huck big goddamn rocks at them.
We’re too busy trying to translate the blinking lights on the ships, divine the propulsion mechanism and direction from their exhaust fumes, to consider climbing up the bean stalk and smashing things. And perhaps this is purposeful.
It’s easier to adopt a slightly dim, confused Mark Wahlbergian expression at the killers on the horizon. We get to pretend that the day-to-day is relatively normal in spite of this hostile presence. And we get to later pretend that there was no way we could have seen the death ray coming.
In HG Wells’ War of the Worlds the first alien weaponry shown is a mirror rising from the sandpit in which the first of the alien craft landed. Perhaps the mirror reflects our image too clearly to do anything but look away, in the sense that we get lost considering the construction and maintenance of such a shiny object rather than borrowing something as simple as a slingshot to shatter it.
The thing about the Wellsian mirror is that it reflects the precise moment that we realize our uncomfortable inaction has directly led to disaster. The shiny, overengineered object immediately precedes the moment that everything is suddenly burning. The mirror projects a beam that lays waste to the entire park in a 360 degree circumference all the way to the tree line, including and especially the “deputation” — a group advancing on the pit with a white flag and intentions of “productive dialogue.”
The massacre on the common is followed by the ominous rise of the machines — massive tripod-esque weapons platforms that not only carry the mirrors but stalk the landscape releasing toxic black gas to devastate the environment and effectively silence opposition. The corollary here to EPA regulatory rollbacks is obvious but it’s worth considering a second, more oblique reference: that the massive self-propelled structures crashing across the landscape also represent FCC and FTC regulatory rollbacks regarding fairness in communications technology, and the Trump administration war on the media. Troublesome human artillery threaten the tripods only once, knocking out the leg of a single machine before the aliens begin prophylactically poisoning the landscape before advancing. The Trump administration approach to the press should need little explanation here.
The inauguration was our mirror moment; the public green has been burning since. And yet deputations still arrive as people try to placate the Idiot Invasion. Collaborators try to mollify them by assisting or accelerating merged agendas, both political and technological; centrists try to appeal to some never-evidenced sense of fair play or decency; people who consider themselves “uninvolved” resolve to stay that way, and convince themselves that if they stay “uninvolved” the gas won’t reach their doorstep, and they won’t see themselves reflected in the Wellsian mirror for that single awful moment before everything they have is burned, poisoned or stolen.
Too much time has been wasted trying to divine some brilliant strategy from their clumsy tripedal stomping across the horizon. It’s time for us all to start finding rocks to throw. Moving to a platform of direct opposition and disruption doesn’t guarantee immunity, of course. But you’ll be able to look yourself in the eye in whatever mirror you come across.