In my youth, I was promised a future in which Japan would take over the world.

In its stead, I received a future in which Japan is dying.

That’s OK. The Japan that would have taken over the world was not that Japan that I wished would have. It’s better this way.

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“The beasts talk,” Grandmama said. “While we’re down in the village at Midnight Mass, they talk. God grants them the gift of speech. Because they were there when Jesus was born, the beasts, they nuzzled him and loved him and the babe touched them with his hand at that sacred hour, and ever since, at midnight at Christmas Eve, the beasts talk.”

Every year Grandmama told him this, but not this year. Now Grandmama was buried, in the graveyard next to the little church in the village where everyone else on the farm was right now. Josef was not with them; he had told Mama he felt sick and managed to convincingly cough up a gob of vomit (really just old cream from the Christmas Eve cake) and she left him.

Josef was twelve, on the brink of boy and man. Next year he would be too old. He missed his Grandmama, and he would know the truth of what she told him. The midnight hour was near, he could feel it, tucked under the thick feather bolster. He crept out into the freezing room and dressed. He would see if it was true, hear their words with his own ears.

The kitchen was empty, the ovens banked after their Eve feast, preparing for tomorrow’s gorge. The Christmas tree, whose candles had been brilliantly lit an hour ago, sat dark. He skirted through the empty kitchen, though the empty house. Out to the barn.

The smell, the smell of rich manure, the smell of hay he helped cut. The snow stung his face. He plastered himself to the east side of the barn, and listened.

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Go back to 8000 BCE. Agriculture is just beginning to come together. There are are maybe 5 million human beings. Sumeria, Egypt, Harappa, the Olmecs, the Xia dynasty–all these belong to the distant future. 10000 years ago. The utter beginnings of human civilization.

Now take that and multiply–everything, from the most distant reaches of what we might call history to our own day-ONE HUNDRED TIMES OVER

And you get a million years. 1/65th of the way to the end of the Age of Dinosaurs. Which lasted 186 million years.

We are less than a blip. We are a blip on a blip. And anything you or I might recognize as something we were accustomed to is a blip on that blip, a microblip.

Had a dream. Little hard to describe since the dream had not a plot, but a place: The River.

From the air, I could see the River, curving fat and slow across a great plain, the sun glinting off the turbid water. At every curve you found a town, centers of the surrounding farmland. In between the towns swam the boats choogly.

Choog-choog-choog.

I saw the steamboats, not like sidepaddlers of our own history. I saw a line of them: barges with boilers on them, looked like furnaces, with great bronze screws, choog-choog-choog, half-in and half-out of the water. Which makes for massive cavitation and poor performance (hence the choogly sound), but that was not a problem. They were slow, but they connected the towns. No one was in a hurry.

Between the towns the steam-boats carried goods and passengers, choog-choog-choog, and the boat-men got a little change in their pockets, singing in the sun.

On the river ran the boats, town to town, and I saw the River, the people of the River. They were happy. It was a lovely dream, because they all were happy.

I don’t like what’s about to happen to the United States. I’m scared. But when I look at it, at the great arc of history, I have to admit that there is something deeply on target about Donald Trump coming to the presidency. It is only what could be expected. And a phrase keeps popping to mind: the Gatsbyean Doom. Trump is the Gatsbyean Doom. There could be no other. There are no ifs in history. All of American history has been aimed at this. The Gatsbyean Doom. Like a bobbing styrofoam cup at the brink of Niagara Falls. There could be no other.

I will say this: in 1990, with the ending of the Cold War, America lost a raison d’etre. We have not yet managed to find another one. We have wandered in malaise. In Trump we find a thicker, richer, new & improved malaise.