MAFA! (Make America Fun Again)
Nothing is fun anymore.
And this isn’t nostalgia, some 1500 words which amount to get off my lawn. Lawns used to be fun. You’d sit on them, play lawn games on them. Now they’re part of the defensive perimeter around your home to help protect your family. But having a family is no fun; America ranked second to last among industrialized nations, behind even Bulgaria and Chile, as a place to raise children.
Maybe it’s more fun where you are. I don’t know because like in the Middle Ages travel is no fun. America is the world’s largest leper colony. What’s open? Is the local custom masked or unmasked? Can a stranger find a place to eat inside if it’s raining? States restrict travel with quarantines which must violate the boring commerce clause parts of the Constitution somehow. We rely on the odd sojourner to bring us information from the outside. Is the Middle East still around? Check the news.
The news hasn’t been fun for a long time. Now even the old standards like the Washington Post just grind out tattle fodder for social media outrage. Op-Eds opinion were fun before they all flopped into undergrad quality work announcing it’s Wiemar, or Rome, or Hitler, or 1984 when at worst it’s closer to a bad Fellini movie. We’re treated to tales of what Trump says on the phone, inside the Oval Office, in private to his wife, as if the reporters are fused to the man’s back (what Trump says seated in the bathroom is on Twitter.) Nobody seems to ask “how could they possibly know that?” Of course the reporter made it up, or they allowed themselves to quote the friend of an intern who made it up and call that journalism.
Journalism is no longer fun because the Joker’s on us, the same people who sell us the panic sell the pill. “Journos” see their job as manufacturing reasons for Trump to resign, to fail, or to quit, or to persuade slack-jawed yokel voters they otherwise hold in contempt that they don’t know what’s good for them.
After four years of the sky not falling on either the yokels or the reporters, it is exhausting to still have to wade through articles headlined with words like bonkers, meltdown, owned, trolled, canceled, boycotted, destroyed, shames, and sociopath which bark about defeats and collapses and failures. Everything is about fixing the blame on someone (Trump, usually) and little about fixing the problem. Apocalypse Now articles such as “We Do Not Have a Real Democracy,” which warns “Trump and his regime are engaged in a white supremacist counter revolution against the civil rights movement,” are repetitive resistance porn. There are only so many positions, so many scenarios, and they no longer impress, never mind shock.
Where it was once shocking the NYT senior staff had to remind reporters they were “not part of the f*cking resistance,” NYT editor Bari Weiss’ resignation letter confirms the Times is now indeed part of the resistance. “Truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else,” she writes of her former colleagues. On the slightly hopeful but not fun side, the editors of the Wall Street Journal announced to their whining staff “We are not the NYT… our opinion pages offer an alternative to the uniform progressive views that dominate nearly all of today’s media,” including social media.
Social media isn’t fun anymore. We used to complain it was too much of someone’s aunt posting cat pictures. Now it’s work for many; someone has to be staying up photoshopping Jeffrey Epstein into shots of politicians they don’t like. That’s what bots do, make all the bad stuff for other bots to forward around until it bumps into a real person and makes that person into a unfun Russkie zombie who must vote Trump. “You suck” is now an allowable thesis defense and end to any argument.
Arguing used to be fun. We once enjoyed staying up late arguing politics with other actual living people (our ancestors referred to them as friends. Friends used to be fun, people even, not a scrolling list of unknown followers.) Once you could talk about ideas without having to swipe the smudge off your face of being called a fascist by a complete stranger. So we clam up. Some 62 percent of Americans say the political climate prevents them from saying what they believe. It’s especially true for conservatives, 34 percent of whom are worried their political views could get them fired. Which is why political polls aren’t fun anymore.
The statistics behind polls make the results inaccurate by representing the world in a way that does not exist in reality. POC really means black folks with a couple of “Hispanics” thrown in as statistical garnishes. The word Hispanic seems about as racist as they come but it’s no fun talking about the cultural goosestepping of lumping people from Puerto Rico, Bolivia, Salvador, Cuba, and a dozen other places but not Spaniards (who were racist conquerors) together as if various Pantones of brown skin and a common enjoyment of spicy food negates everything unique.
Never mind the “Asians” who are dipped in and out of the POC hopper as needed. Look at New York, where the best of the magnet public institutions, Ivy League procurer Stuyvesant High School, is seen as a racist demon because it is 73 percent “Asian” and only one percent black. Isn’t it fun enough there are only a few white kids? Not that the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, and Thais who make up the bulk of the student body have much in common except they know the black kids call them all chinks. We’re ungovernable.
Government and elections used to be a lot of fun. You had rituals like rich Elderly Caucasian candidates being forced to eat corn dogs at the Iowa State Fair and talk about hogs before spiking Purell right into their veins. Now elections are just a referendum on which candidate is less in cognitive decline. They used to at least try to distinguish themselves other than by drooling less; now Biden’s entire campaign is based on him being one of several billion people who are Not Trump. No Morning in America, no Hope and Change, just Not Something, all the appeal of the smell of dead insects.
Election Night itself also used to be fun, years of campaigning coming down to one big tally. It was fun to stay up late. Now we know we won’t have results for days or weeks because we cling to an 18th century balloting system because in the 21st century we don’t trust computers. We’ve also been acclimated to one or both sides insisting the results are unfair because the Post Office is part of a vast conspiracy, so that actual voting is only overture, raw material for the propaganda fight that proceeds the court fight that ends with half of the country insisting the popular vote counts for something because they all failed 8th grade civics. The kids who didn’t pay attention in 8th grade civics weren’t any fun, even back those years ago.
Years ago it was fun when my wife said she wished I looked like Billy Joel and, fat and bald, now I do. Robert De Niro and Johnny Depp used to be fun. Working from home used to be fun, like a snow day from school. Human Resources used to be fun, calculating your vacation days, before they became the Diversity Daleks waiting to get you fired for mispronouning. Thanksgiving used to be fun, a holiday without expectations that devolved into a yearly political Thunderdome. Groundhog Day used to be fun before it became real, summerbating away months. Everything was more fun before community organizer, activist, social influencer, and YouTuber became actual jobs. Sports was fun when it was about sports. America was more fun when the national pastime was not “raising awareness.” Tequila used to be fun before it became an obligation.
I accept America has suffered from a four year episode of PTSD and we all need to weather out another couple of months. But we’re the only nation who wrote pursuing happiness right into our foundational documents. You don’t see that from, meh, Canada or Sweden, so how come they’re happy and we’re not? If Biden wins in November, can we agree to just forget this whole ugly era like a drunken makeout session? Or if Trump wins, will it be another four years of being told democracy is dying, every day day-to-day in Code Red until you just give up and have to laugh at it all. And that would be no fun at all.
Peter Van Buren, a 24-year State Department veteran, is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent.