The final Presidential Debate of the 2020 election season, the last showdown between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, was the terminal and ultimate piece of evidence for the theory that the year 2016 did not come to an end but in fact extended its lease into 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. The spectre of 2016 doesn’t haunt the United States of America; it has possessed it like a malevolent spirit.
In Phillip K. Dick’s wonderful and criminally undervalued novel VALIS the phrase “The Empire Never Ended” is repeated over and over as the protagonist (Phil K. Dick himself under the eventually-discarded pseudonym “Horselover Fat”) slowly learns that the Roman Empire still exists and flourishes today, that in fact he—as well as you and me and everyone else—are actually living in 70 BCE but with the illusion of time having passed laid over reality like a blanket. A Gnostic demi-urge was responsible for the illusion that time has passed since the first century BCE, but that illusion was beginning to fade as a friendly Vast Active Living Intelligence System was reasserting itself, thus causing Dick’s visions of a first-century Roman Empire superimposed over his own reality.
Phillip K. Dick was a brilliant writer who wrote thirty-six books and numerous short stories almost entirely under the influence of powerful and illegal amphetamines before dying in his fifties, and if you’re familiar with his work the comparison of his frightening and occasionally hilarious cosmology with the year 2016 will feel very apt. If you squint you can still see 2016 happening all around us, as if it never ended at all, as if we’re still living in that same year with a cheap shellac of change painted over us. I can see the same forces from 2016 here right in front of me, they are still very much present and still very much dictating the absurd events we witness each and every day. I, like Phillip K. Dick himself, acknowledge that this is an insane idea, but I, like Phillip K. Dick himself, acknowledge that sometimes going insane is an appropriate response to reality.
After all, both candidates are clearly still living in 2016, one by choice and the other by forces beyond his control. At this same time four years ago Trump was deflecting yet another scandal that would have immediately ended the presidential aspirations of any other candidate at any other time in history, a trend that began in 2016 and, just like that cursed year itself, hasn’t shown any signs of stopping. This week it was the revelation that Donald Trump, the President of the United States of America, had a secret bank account in China, where he has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes while pursuing licensing and real estate deals before and after winning the 2016 election (this came on the heels of the revelation that Donald Trump, the President of the United States of America, paid roughly seven-hundred and fifty dollars total in income taxes here in the United States in 2016 and 2017).
Trump is even still trying to have Hillary Clinton investigated, another trend from 2016 that hasn’t disappeared yet. Ironically, Hillary Clinton might be the only thing from 2016 that hasn’t been able to stay relevant (despite her best efforts to maintain a presence in the media long after everyone asked her to stop). Endorsements from Hillary Clinton are more often a kiss of death than any kind of boon, to the point where even a rumor that she had returned Joe Kennedy III’s 2016 endorsement saw Kennedy lose points to progressive opponent Ed Markey before following the example of Andrew Gillum and Eliot Engel, strong candidates who each received a Clinton endorsement before dropping in the polls and promptly losing very winnable races.
The Final Presidential Debate
Thursday night saw Trump go back to the 2016 Candidate Trump strategy that seemed so successful four years ago. Whereas the President Trump strategy is to tell insane lies as often as he feels it necessary, Candidate Trump wisely opts to tell insane lies as often as he feels it necessary and to tell obvious truths that most politicians, including his opponents, try to avoid on the ground that they reveal what a ridiculous sham all of this is. He used this strategy to great effect in the 2016 primaries against Florida Governor and failed presidential candidate Jeb “Please Clap” Bush by stating the completely undeniable (but simultaneously unadmittable) fact that the Iraq invasion was a “big fat mistake” and that “they claimed there were weapons of mass destruction…they lied. They lied!” forcing Jeb “Jeb!” Bush to deny something that, by 2016, was common knowledge.
In a similar fashion, during the final presidential debate Candidate Trump brought up the influence-peddling scandal around Joe Biden’s son Hunter and Hunter’s appointment to a $ 150,000 a month no-show job as a board member for Ukrainian-owned energy company Burisma which, while in no way illegal, is still a clear and blatant example of the exact same sort of influence-peddling that the wealthy and influential have always performed for their stupid or disappointing offspring. It’s why Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s child is a Facebook executive, it’s why Bill Clinton’s daughter sits on the board of numerous companies, and it’s why a talentless dunce like Megan McCain has a media career despite none of these nimrods ever having had a real job or even been qualified for one.
Naturally, in true President Trump fashion, Trump is even more guilty of this than his opponent, but that’s not the point. The point is to make Candidate Trump’s opponent try to deny something plainly obvious to anyone with half a brain. Likewise Trump brought up Biden’s inconsistency in regard to fracking and continually questioned why, since Biden had been in Congress for nearly fifty years and in the White House for eight, he had not already accomplished any of the goals Biden has for his forthcoming administration, two more topics Biden can’t comment upon with anything resembling the truth because the truth is that Joe Biden is a shameless liar with a truly horrendous legislative record.
Still, it’s hard to say if this was a successful strategy last night, or if it was even a successful strategy four years ago against Hillary Clinton. It’s widely agreed that Clinton won all three of her debates with Candidate Trump and it’s likely that Joe Biden will be seen as the victor of this final presidential debate as well, which just provides further support for my theory that these debates are empty, meaningless spectacles being performed for nobody at all, that they are simply the toxic by-products of the slight disagreements between factions of the same faceless forces of capital and the US imperial project that that we, in our own desperate attempt to deny the obvious, have mistaken for the dramatic clashes of opposing ideologies.
Let’s be real: Joe Biden isn’t here because he wants to be, though he may believe otherwise. He wanted to run in 2016 but was dissuaded by President Barack Obama, and for good reason. Joe Biden is an imbecile with a terrible record and a bad habit of losing presidential elections. Meanwhile Hillary Clinton was still a force to be reckoned with in the closing days of Obama’s presidency and the smart people said that it’d be better to have her inside the tent pissing out than the opposite. And to be honest, despite her noteworthy flaws as a candidate she almost certainly would have won in 2016 had not James Comey’s Frankenstein-looking ass decided, at the last minute, to unburden himself of the world’s smallest crisis of conscience and irrevocably sink Clinton’s campaign. Trump was a singularly unpopular candidate and it took a combination of the second-most unpopular candidate running a terrible campaign and James Comey to lose to him.
Had it not been for James Comey, Clinton would likely have won and the world would probably be a different place. Not if you live in Palestine or Afghanistan or Iran or Russia or Syria or basically anywhere in the Global South, of course, but America would’ve probably been different. All it took was a tiny little coin-flip in James Comey’s enormous head to radically alter the country, and it feels like the universe is trying to re-do that same election but without James Comey, almost as if strange forces put us on a repeating loop until they get the result they wanted. Joe Biden’s policy goals are no different than Hillary Clinton’s and his administration will be exactly as beneficial to you or I as hers would have been, which is to say, Biden’s administration will not make anyone’s life any less worse or alleviate the suffering of even one single person, merely that it will still not be as bad as a second Trump presidency.
The forces that put Biden where he is now are the same forces that put Clinton where she was in 2016, and they’re using the exact same argument to try and win the exact same election—Our Candidate Sucks But Not As Much As Trump. It’s a cruel thing to foist upon suffering people, made more cruel by the fact that it’s the same dismal choice these monsters have been offering for several decades now, but that doesn’t make it less true. The fact that it is true is what makes this ploy so god damn evil.
There is nothing about Biden that makes him suited for this job, he was simply the best weapon against the situation these forces absolutely couldn’t abide: a Bernie Sanders candidacy. Had Pete Buttigieg or Beto O’Rourke or Kamala Harris not been such spectacularly uninspiring duds they’d be where Biden is and Biden would be back in Delaware, sitting in a comfy chair and enjoying the rewards of a life lived in the service of cruel and terrible powers while he rots from the inside out. Which, given what all the polls seem to be saying, is probably what he’ll be doing in the White House until the day he dies. Perhaps then the universe will get back on its intended track and the Year of Our Lord 2016 will finally and mercifully come to an end.