The Conscience we Lost
When “we, the people” became “me, the people”
Scammers ‘make bank’; desperate folks attempt to make ends meet.
Lexicon and register matter. Bragging about money is in, whether you have it or not, as long as no one questions your allegations. “The beauty of me is that I’m very rich,” one Donald J. Trump said two years ago.
Under predatory capitalism, there’s no success without sacrifice, you always lose something in the process, be it ethics, self-respect, or hope.
How can we respect anyone else if we don’t first extend this common courtesy to ourselves? When ‘making bank’ involves spin, alternative facts, and antagonizing, there is no basic common decency left. How much of the content we consume reads like it’s coming from some prophet of profit, greed evangelist, or money messiah and spouting the same hackneyed phrases ad nauseam?
Disinhibited cruelty, voyeurism, and greed have led to inescapable empathic distress. We’re all worn out, despondent, fed up. The mood is sponsored by something that sounds, looks, and behaves like depression.
American democracy is much sicker than exceptionalism allows us to admit: In Trump’s hands, it is yet another sham, a fraud, a scam.
The zeitgeist is a script written across the political spectrum by greed and grift.
Scammers know that the perfect storm brought on by Trumpism and a pandemic will not last forever.
They’re cashing in on human desperation while they still can, with the tallest tale of all: You, too, are on the cusp of internet mega fame and fortune. The reason you’re still broke and unknown? You probably ran out of space on your credit card, or you don’t even have one.
Those scams run themselves, attracting a loyal following of desperate people whose talent and voice end up being erased by what they are being forced to do in the name of survival.
The trials of life are on trial on the page where, instead of taking a stand for our values, we perform the spectacle of our sorry existence with as much overwrought pathos as the age of sensationalism and schadenfreude demands.
American democracy is gasping for air but let’s talk about that funky smell you exude. Does greed have halitosis or have you been wearing your mask for too long? Even the most mundane of mishaps can be used as seed material for the most epic of productions, cue a turgid think-piece about the trauma of forgetting your phone in your car overnight.
Mediocrity is the dominant discourse, it has been the official dominant discourse for four years. It didn’t have to be, it doesn’t have to be, but it still is.
Can mediocrity give democracy whiplash? We’ll soon find out, hopefully without much additional loss of life. The essence of predatory capitalism is the exploitation of disempowerment on every level, turning it into hard cash by offering products, services, and platforms promising, pledging, or predicting they will eradicate what they exist to perpetuate.
Before Trump, scamming used to happen by design.
Now, it is the default.
We cannot, in all conscience, justify this is all there can ever be when the spirit of the moment is, by definition, temporary.
The era is finite but words — as defined by the dictionary — endure. Then again, when honesty is the very quality that makes Trump’s repetitive rhetoric so powerful, what if reality were only a matter of perspective, or, rather, of opinion?
If several people share the same perspective or opinion, does it make it true? Can words ever be contagious insanity made manifest? Now imagine algorithms amplifying schadenfreude and sensationalism for four years.
What might happen then?
This. All this: Crassness at the helm of everything, including the most powerful country on earth and the internet.
For another few hours, days, perhaps weeks, spectacle will still prevail. We’ll be too busy being entertained by the absurdity of it all to take our eyes off the greatest show on Earth, starring ourselves.
As long as the self remains center stage, our feelings will remain ‘valid’, we will continue to ‘deserve’ whatever we want, and we will also be ‘entitled’ to whatever we damn well please.
Because the online guru says so.
Trumpism and self-helpery are two sides of the same coin: Help yourself… to everything. Immature, spoiled, entitled grown-up toddlers attempt to “adult” and fail because they have too many big feels of the “gimme, gimme” kind.
As a result, America has failed to disavow Trumpism. ‘We, the people’ is now ‘Me, the people’. The moral rot runs much, much deeper than we were willing to admit but we can’t put it back in the box now because it keeps expanding, growing, getting bolder.
Is there any point in bleating on about how tech sponsored this mess or harping on about how the democratization of self-expression has turned our shared humanness into a freak show? Is there any point in trying to hold greed accountable?
For now, the best we can do is patiently await the collapse of the house of cards as greed and grift self-destruct in slo-mo.
And when it has, we can help sweep away the debris.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For everything else, deets in bio.