In 1986 we paid to watch the decline of the american empire. A gaggle of elite academics drank heavily and sifted through one another’s scat. Recall the adulterous braggadocio? The self-cancelling embrace and disregard for infectious disease? The pandering to feelings while nailing one another to the wall? Denys Arcand was one smart cookie. The film reads like a Tao of Demise. “Maybe,” it seems to ask, “the darkness is a precursor for an unbearable lightness of being?”
In the 1980s we witnessed political machinery run out of gas. We saw Soviet military might dissolve (warehouses of unsorted Stasi surveillance records exposed to the elements and stripped of their coercive powers). We saw the Reagan administration withhold NIH funding for HIV (shame and silence being its anti-bodies of choice), and we read one dick – now at Stanford – proclaim the end of history (invoking an Hegelian dyspepsia that quaked and crumbled collective memory).
Lacking state sanctioned oppression, institutional capacity for compassion, and a dialectic for enlightenment, ferment in the field of human freedoms produced vinegar rather than wine. Today’s grim situation has been a long time coming and its ascendency is formative at best. I’m afraid that the only correspondence between Donald Trump’s recent election and global societal malaise is that his initials suggest a Delirious Tremens that we’ll only stave off with more drink.