On Donald J. Trump, fast food, and the end of the world

Ben Roden
Asst. Arts & Culture Editor

Sometimes, despite my most meticulous planning, I end up with extra french fries at the end of my combo. Over the years, I’ve developed a system that ensures burger and fries cross the finish line in unison. This may seem like a trivial achievement, but there are variables at work here that go far beyond the understanding of the layperson, from the diameter of each fry to the number of toppings on the burger. Barometric pressure is a small, but vital consideration. I may be the most talented burger-fry coordinator of my generation, but I’m no superhero; sometimes the challenge proves too great. On the rare occasion when my algorithms fail, I am forced to cope with a handful of shriveled, starchy orphans who’ve long since lost their ability to entice. A lesser man might simply cut his losses; Not I. Though all enjoyment has passed, I soldier on, choking down each fry with an ascetic’s discipline.

The joyless experience of wolfing down unwanted fries is a surprisingly fitting representation of my relationship with AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” For the first couple of seasons, I was all in. It was a show with great practical special effects, constant melodrama, and hordes of drippy, groaning zombies; I was a college-age male, desperate to avoid responsibilities and drown out persistent existential questions with a constant stream of media. It was a perfect match. Over time, however, the showrunners have simply run out of beef. “The Walking Dead” has confronted its central question so many times, and in such heavy-handed style, that it’s beginning to feel like a parody of itself.

With the narrative drowning in repetition, the show’s increasingly silly devices bob prominently to the surface. How many times can Rick go to the VERY EDGE OF SANITY and then return just in time to save the day? How are zombies still managing to sneak up on people? Why is Carl still periodically moping away to mysterious locations like a post-apocalyptic Carmen Sandiego?

The real problem with the “The Walking Dead,” and the reason why I struggle to forgive its other flaws, is its sensational, fatalistic estimation of human nature. I’ve never been able to connect with any of the characters, because the world they occupy has always seemed so inauthentic in its eagerness to believe the worst about people. At least that’s what I thought before Donald Trump starting winning caucuses. That Trump isn’t being laughed off the stage, let alone that he’s now odds on for the Republican presidential nomination, makes me wonder if “The Walking Dead” didn’t have it right all along.

From their frantic xenophobia to their willingness to be manipulated by fear-mongers, Trump supporters are perfectly equipped for the zombie apocalypse. Following in the footsteps of the arch-demagogue, these are the type of people who will ensure the survival of mankind long after the weaknesses of compassion and reason have been overcome. They’re willing to do whatever it takes to survive – to slight others for personal gain, to sacrifice the last of their humanity for the promise of security, and whens urrounded by shambling hordes of problems they don’t understand, to simply build a wall.

I’m not sure whether to chide Trump or thank him – sure, he’s divided people, put lives at risk, and contributed to one of the most poisonous political races of all time, but in rallying thousands of spiteful idiots who will someday be administrating roving cannibal warbands in the wasteland of North America, he may have ensured the survival of the human race.

At the very least, Trump’s ruined the last of my soggy-french-fry enjoyment of “The Walking Dead.” Despite its flaws, I could always count on Rick and co. for the occasional bout of bloody, numbing escapism. With each passing week, though, “The Walking Dead” feels less like schlock and more like prophecy.

*photo from AMC

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