In New York, you are constantly faced with this very urgent decision that you have to make, about every twenty minutes…you have to decide, immediately, you have to go “Ohmigod. Do I look at the most beautiful woman in the world or the craziest guy in the world?” — David Cross
I agree with Cross, with one or two changes. For “New York,” put in “The World” and replace “beautiful woman” for “funniest moment.” That is literally every day for me now.
My first thought while watching the Comey presentation was, “Here we go again; thanks a lot, God.” Another lawman telling us about what the President had done wrong, and absolutely nothing changing because of it. I wanted to shut the laptop screen and be done with it, mostly because there seemed no real reason to watch any longer: this was right after the news that Trump had cheated cancer kids of necessary funds. There was a bizarre, sitcom, immovable-rock quality to the entire procession of ancient Senators posing riddles to America’s top cop. What did Trump care? Would this even effect anything?
But at the same time, I couldn’t look away. Not just because my duty is to report as a journalist and be informed as a citizen. I watched because it was terrific, in both the newer sense of “something outstanding, remarkable,” and in the old sense of “causing shock.” And there was a third feeling, which anybody who has watched these hearings will be familiar with: “Wow! But I’m not at all surprised.” You know what I’m talking about.
Watching Comey lean into the Trump Presidency—and by extension, the whole state of political affairs—was like watching the Hindenburg reassembling itself and then smashing into the Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, over and over again, a film on eternal repeat. What a miracle, and what a tragedy at the same time.
This testimony had all of America’s weirdness on display. From McCain’s bewildered, free-associating spoken word poetry to the sad attempts of Tom Cotton to wrestle the proceedings back to normal ground, the day unfolded just as the entire Presidency of Trump has: drunkenly. We are living in a kind of middle ground between the waking work and dream universe. There is a strange, half-asleep quality to the entire hearing. I have written here and elsewhere of the increasing absurdity of everybody’s favorite planet, Earth, but I wish to propose a unified theory of reality during the Trump Years.
The unreal part of human life began to increase in the Nineties. But the Wonderland aspect of existence really kicked in when Trump entered the race; it increased speed during the election, and The Weird became flesh when Trump beat Clinton in November. The NSA leaker’s name, Reality Winner, is merely the evening edition of a long-running trend. There are at least a dozen theories to explain why the world is becoming more fictionalized.
MCCAIN: But I would think it would intensely arouse my curiosity if the President of the United States said “we had that thing, you know.” I’d like to know what the hell “that thing” is, particularly if I’m the director of the FBI.
COMEY: Yeah. I get that, Senator.
Let me meekly, rationally suggest the most likely explanation for what is happening. We are living in a version of The Fast and The Furious reality.
The Fast and the Furious (TFATF) is a Universal Pictures franchise of action movies based on the adventures of a crew of car thieves who run big heists. TFATF flicks are not like other pictures. Every single movie is a sheer, gland-emptying escalation from the one before. The series began with in 2001. The first movie was a conventional story, adapted from a magazine feature about drift racing … and the last movie saw Vin Diesel fighting a submarine with his car.
TFATF is unique in cinema history. The films are so singular that I had to reconfigure my understanding of aesthetics to appreciate their achievement. I suggest that TFATF has leaked over into our reality. We can only appreciate the Trump Presidency if we accept that the canons of TFATF reality run our lives now. It is said that art imitates life. But it’s actually a two-way street: life imitates art. Life and art influence each other in surprising ways. In the Twenties, gangsters would go to theaters and ape the actors they saw on the big screen. Gangsters took tips from actors who were pretending to be mobsters. Life imitates art, and the reality we currently live in is deliberately imitating TFATF.
Human cultures have varying ways of understanding how time, meaning, and progress work. Ancient Hinduism believed history was circular; the Greeks believed that the human estate had decayed since a Golden Age; Christian Europe thought history was shaped like a U, with the Fall at one end and Kingdom Come at the other. The 18th and 19th centuries invented the idea of progress, a gently inclined ramp upwards. This was the deep lore of those times.
In the 21st century, we live in a very different era. Our speed is so much greater; our lives are longer but somehow more manic. My ancestors would have scoffed at energy drinks as the work of the devil, and now I quaff several hundred of them a day, like an Instagram model trying out for the Amazing Race. As our existence is different, so our philosophy must be too.
It is not coincidental that the Age of Donald Trump and the TFATF coincide, at roughly the same time that the last boundaries between fiction and reality have crumbled. The world is a mirror of my beloved TFATF: we live in the timeline of Infinite Escalation. The strangeness, and the unreality, will go ever-upwards, and they will increase exponentially from day to day. No matter where you are or what you think has just passed, I assure you the next day will be crazier and wilder than the one before. Watching Trump do his thing is not emotionally draining or emotionally numbing—it is some new dimension of emotion I am not clear of, as if you told me a new flavor had been discovered in the taste rainbow, or if the factories of the world had just invented a completely new color.
Russia-gate turned out to be a real scandal, and now the former head of the FBI is testifying on Capitol Hill. The oddity of the Trump years is that there is no tangible way to categorize what is happening and why it is happening—you just go with it, a bachelorette party where hard drugs are being handed around. What can one really say? There was an Illuminati Orb in Saudi Arabia. The President is a thinly-veiled monster of chaos who may not be fully literate. Every newsbreak of every moment of every day brings news which is somehow more surreal and more stupid than the news which preceded it.
And today was the same. Today topped the previous day, and tomorrow will top today. It’s like a funhouse mirror-version of the American Dream: I firmly believe my grandchildren will live in a far more bizarre world than I do. Ride or die.