There is no central air in my apartment. There is just a cylindrical fan, two feet tall and six inches in diameter, that wheezes and growls as it marches toward its third year of maintenance. There is no other defense against the summer heat, and when you live on an upper floor, like I do, you are very vulnerable indeed. This was the scene as set by Mother Nature for the next installment of the Democratic Party’s presidential debates, as I just couldn’t justify flying out to Detroit to watch the horror show in person. I probably could have found a “watch party” somewhere in town, or at least in Manchester, hosted by some bar where there might even be a functional air conditioner, but for some reason, this seemed more appropriate: with a tall glass of Boston rum punch at my side and my notepad and pen ready to work, I would sit in the dark, struggling to breathe, and watch a gang of psychopaths describe their strategy to suffocate us all.
Don’t misunderstand me: not everyone onstage is a psychopath. It’s just that the great majority of them are. Malice tips the scales in the presidential race, and the guilty pleasure of weighing seems to diminish every four years. It’s becoming harder and harder for these politicians to feign empathy or even sincerity, and in the absence of earnest enthusiasm, a televised debate becomes less of a pageant and more of a funeral. Then again, that might explain why the spectacle is growing all the more profitable for CNN and the other hosts of media conglomerates: maybe the audience prefers the desperate adrenaline produced by the sense of impending doom.
Last night, at least, I did not share their anticipation, even for much less ethereal reasons. Simply, I knew that only Marianne Williamson was capable of offering a thoughtful critique of American social structures, but I had very little hope that she would be permitted more than five minutes to speak. This is what I mean when I speak of the basic joy that is draining from our political rituals: the networks of mass media cannot acknowledge Williamson, not even to exploit her existential ruminations for ratings, all because she might raise an uncommonly solemn point about inherent faults in our social, political, or economic systems. It’s all well and good when Elizabeth Warren refers to “real, systemic change”, because she never endorses a specific change to the system, but as soon as you find a legitimate critic, then the media powerhouses pull out all the stops.