For all the po-faced, high-church sentimentality and stentorian sententiousness of the quadrennial American coronation day, there’s something almost charmingly—and disarmingly—tacky about our great national junket jubilee, a certain plastic tablecloth, fire-hall wedding, warming-tray ziti trashiness that makes the fact that we are ultimately celebrating the ratification of one more dude’s right to once more screw the poor and bomb the fuck out the rest of the world slightly more tolerable. “I wasn’t sure if I’d like it without the turntable stage,” I overheard one woman say to her husband as they left Les Mis the other night, “but that music!” Yes, that music. If inauguration has a cultural counterpart, an art that expresses its gaudy artifice, it’s the Broadway musical; it’s the Broadway mega-musical, which, like our own imperial habits and attitudes, usually premiered in London before metastasizing here in the God Bless the United States of America. The music isn’t very good, and the singers are atrocious; the whole thing is big, brassy, and somewhat incomprehensible. But, you know, you dreamed a dream and all that. You left humming, and you bought a tee-shirt on the way out.
Among the many tonal contradictions of all this gala pomposity is the relentless self-reassurances we seem to require that what’s special, what’s unique is how regular our elections are, how our uninterrupted history of electing lawyers, rich guys, and Indian killers every four years, come war or come war, is business as usual. Well, if that were the case, what’s with the flyovers and drum-and-fife bands and floats and the presence of Beyoncé? In fact, we seem slightly shocked as a nation each time we manage to pull this off, a shock that we then sublimate into a grotesquely puritanical Washington bacchanal, which suggests to me at least an underlying ambivalence about the whole system. The President-elect then gets up and praises the national bylaws: “Fourscore and a bunch of other years ago, our forefathers brought forth this corporation based on a pre-cash valuation of ten million to be issued as follows: 3,000,000 Series A preferred shares to . . . Please see non-dilution language in Appendix A . . . Board of Directors to be composed of . . .” And so on.
Then they all drink crap wine, eat an underdone steak and overboiled lobster, and tomorrow the French will still be bombing Mali, the drones still attacking Pakistan, the Rockaways still a mess, the prisons still full, the Mexican civil war still raging, and the Congress still angling for jobs as Canadian Tar Sands lobbyists or whatever. It is futile to get worked up about these things. Your friends are all posting Proud to Be messages in their Facebook feeds, but you are bigger than that. Your soul is bigger. You walk into the kitchen. You put the music on loud and you get the nice fish out of the refrigerator. You give the dog some crackers, and you kiss your boyfriend, and you open a nice IPA, because you feel like a beer tonight. Martin Luther King, Jr. isn’t rolling in his grave, guys. He’s dead. And the dead have one up on us, for they are constitutionally incapable of giving a fuck. You kiss your boyfriend again on the lips, and you pay all those assholes exactly the attention they deserve, which is none at all.