There’s a CALVIN AND HOBBES strip from way back when, wherein Calvin asks his father how they know the weight limits on bridges. “Well,” says Calvin’s dad, “they drive heavier and heavier trucks over them, and then when the bridge collapses they weigh the last truck, and rebuild the bridge.” “Oh,” says Calvin. “Oh, yeah, that makes sense.”
I’ve been wondering about the weight limit on American democracy. I felt the first flutters of concern when John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, and then she made her debutante debut at the RNC and showed herself to be extremely, obviously unqualified to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency. She looked good, she sounded feisty, she fired up the morons, and she couldn’t name a magazine. ANY magazine.
I didn’t care about her messy family life, or her lack of national credentials. But her ignorance terrified me. And more than her ignorance, her lack of CURIOSITY terrified me. She was—and is—an idiot, but she was serene and satisfied to remain so. And Senator McCain just nodded and grinned and said ‘ain’t she great?’ And there we were with the most ludicrous national candidate I can remember, talking about lipstick and pit bulls, and pallin’ around with terrorists, and trotting out ‘say it ain’t so, Joe,’ as though it was the cuttingest line in debate history.
After President Obama was elected, the stresses on our democracy grew stronger. The Tea Party and all its concomitant weirdness suddenly appeared on the scene, and quickly swelled into a tricornered tumor on the body politic. You had fringy febrile bunker-dwellers all of a sudden strapped up and strutting on the Mall, carrying AR-15s and waving pictures of the President with a bone through his nose. You had fascists winning elections over normal Republicans. You had vague conspiracy babble about birtherism and ACORN and Saul Alinsky.
And ten years later, Palin had morphed into Marjorie Taylor Greene with her Jewish space lasers, Lauren Boebert and her obsession with public pissing, and George Santos, the jellyfish Zelig. Worse, you had Donald Trump hawking canned beans from the Oval Office and refusing to walk in the light rain to a French graveyard for American soldiers on the anniversary of the end of World War 1, because dead soldiers were suckers and losers. You had him changing hurricanes with a Sharpie, staring into an eclipse, and hiding in the basement when there was a protest outside.
All this sideshow shit was embarrassing, and still is. But we can survive embarrassing. We’ve survived economic crashes, the Dust Bowl, Sputnik, slavery and the Civil War. It hasn’t always been pretty, and we’re still nowhere near where we need to be, but the bridge has groaned and juddered, shook and settled, yet still stood in spite of the stupidest, most venal and worthless human I can imagine sitting at the Resolute Desk for four years. In spite of the plague toad Bill Barr. In spite of all the tongue-kissing of Putin and Kim Jong Un and that Saudi bastard and his bonesaw. In spite of Muslim bans and kids in cages and a million Americans dying because their commander-in-chief thought toughness and bluster trumped science and facts.
But I’m honestly worried now. In Tennessee, the majority fascists have removed two Democratic state representatives from office—two Black representatives—for joining student protests against gun permissiveness. The fascists didn’t censure them for standing in the Capitol with bullhorns and demanding sane gun laws. They didn’t reprimand them. They REMOVED them.
In Florida, the Mordor of modern America, the governor and wannabe-president put out a statement last week saying he would defy the Constitution if called upon to extradite an indicted trump. It took me hours to get this through my skull; he flat-out said that the Constitution didn’t apply if he disagreed with it. I mean, Trump’s been there forever, and all the fringe Kari Lakes and Joe Arpaios and Doug Mastrianos, but we’re talking about a sitting governor of an American state. This is George Wallace bullshit. This is, basically, treason. And there’s no pushback.
Justice Clarence Thomas, it turns out, has been lapping up luxury trips and luxury gifts from a far-right donor for a decade—island-hopping vacations, rare books, gifts and grease and grifts—and there’s no pushback.
Red states are frantically passing bills banning all abortion, demonizing trans kids, restricting youth voting, sweeping books off library shelves, putting unregistered guns into the hands of unregistered people, barring talk about menstruation, inspecting genitalia to make sure bathrooms are pure, HURTING people over and over and over again. And driving bigger and heavier trucks over the bridge, testing the strength of the rickety two-centuries old structure until it collapses.
There are so many good things happening right now. We’re sending humans back around the Moon. Young voters in Wisconsin just struck a huge blow against gerrymandering and for women’s rights by electing a progressive to its supreme court (and the fascist loser said “I wish I could concede to a worthy opponent, but I do not have a worthy opponent to which I can concede”). Ukraine, against all odds and predictions, is getting ready to kick Russia’s ass. Finland just joined NATO. The three largest insulin producers have capped the price of the lifesaving drug. Employment is at breathtaking levels, and Donald Trump just sat, scare-eyed, in a Manhattan courtroom while charges against him were read (and more were being readied in Georgia and D.C.). And President Biden’s infrastructure law is going into effect across the country—lead pipes are being replaced, broadband internet is springing up in former dead zones, new transit lines are being built…
And bridges are being strengthened.
They need strengthening. For all our sakes.
John Philip Sunseri II
John Philip Sunseri II is a horror writer from Portland, Oregon. As well as writing traditional horror fiction he also writes Lovecraftian horror. John spent two years at Yale University studying a major in English.
Writing since 2001, John has published over 50 short stories. 2007 saw the release of his first novel, The Spiraling Worm co-written with Australian author David Conyers.