This may seem callous, but I’ll say it anyway: Steve Jobs’ death is less important to and telling about this country than the popular reaction to Steve Jobs’ death.

People die all the time. John Shalikashvili died over the summer. Some of you are probably wondering, who the hell was that? He was a general.  I had never imagined that I’d say his name in the same breath as Amy Winehouse’s, but they kicked the bucket the same week, so there we have it. John Shalikashvili is just as dead as Steve Jobs and Amy Winehouse, but no one gives a shit. Former commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Borrrrrring. Tech guru? Aww, the poor thing, gone before his time. Whiskey-besotted train wreck of a singer? Same reaction. (Be judicious with the coke and liquor, kids.)

Think back to the collective wailing and gnashing of teeth over the death of Michael Jackson. How was it a surprise that a tortured, twisted, disturbed soul like him died young? When he was on trial for child molestation, I had trouble imagining him lasting a month in prison.  (Be judicious with the propofol, kids. And the quack cardiologists. And the private amusement parks.)

The shock isn’t just because these people died young. David Halberstam died young, killed by an errant motorist in Redwood City. That registered here and there, but not a whole lot. Halberstam was just a serious, widely read historian. Bo-ring.

I’ll be interested to see the popular reaction when Jimmy Carter dies. There wasn’t much of one when Gerald Ford died. The guy was a fucking president of the United States of America and most people yawned when they heard of his death. (Gerald who?) Nixon got a bit more press that he couldn’t enjoy (at least from the known conscious realm), and rightly so; the country that ignores such a politician does so at its own peril.

Reagan got a huge send-off, but I hesitate to draw a line between the portion that was motivated by genuine respect or love and the portion that was motivated by personality cultism. Every bog-standard Republican demagogue takes Ronald Reagan’s name in vain because that’s what shysters do to honor their gods.

A good rule of thumb when listening to Republican stories about Reagan is to presume bullshit and adjust appraisals accordingly as evidence of accuracy surfaces. These stories are hagiographies, but more so. Many religious hagiographies have the purpose of describing something resembling the mighty and worthy deeds of the saint in question; political hagiographies more often describe what the hagiographers wish the saint had done, not what he actually did, because their real purpose is to give an unauthorized blessing to any number of agendas, usually devious.

This is why it is heretical in Republican circles to speak of the Reagan who was one of the proudest and most effective diplomatic presidents in history, or the Reagan who was in the right place at the right time for the collapse of a structurally rotten Soviet Union (I would argue that both statements are true and not contradictory), or the Reagan who unapologetically granted amnesty to illegal immigrants, or the Reagan who as governor of California signed what was then the nation’s most liberal abortion bill into law. Describing that historically documented Ronald Reagan dishonors the Reagan who dropkicked the air traffic controllers’ union and threw a bunch of bones, mostly empty platitudes, to the theocratic fringe. Sarah Palin doesn’t like it when lamestream liberals question her understanding of Ronald Reagan’s good American exceptionalism and his love of the Christian nation that he knew we were. That’s the same Sarah Palin who spent her governorship pursuing a cenrist agenda, usually with the lockstep support of the Democratic legislative caucus and to the disgust of the Republican caucus; just don’t tell the disturbed people she’s trying to deceive.

We Americans like us a good cult. Lenin would have had a stroke just to behold the mass of useful idiots that Barack Obama attracted to his presidential campaign. With language like “we are the change we believe in,” you’re going to attract cultist freaks, which might be a problem if you’re Eugene McCarthy, but if you’re Obama in 2008, it’s harder to fuck up your campaign strategy, so the useful idiots become a very useful source of free manpower. They help to align the stars all the more perfectly. Obama didn’t have to tell his idiot brigade to be “clean for Gene;” the voters who disliked or distrusted longhair-grade cultists badly enough to vote against the politician they endorsed were all going to vote for the Republican anyway, and there weren’t enough of them to make a damn bit of difference.

Especially after Sarah Palin opened her mouth. But don’tcha know, Sarah Palin turned right around and got herself her own cult of personality. You betcha. Because we’re gonna make that good-old fashioned degenerate Weimar politics real sexy this time around. Voting for a demagogue because in an ideal world you’d be copulating with her nightly is Weimar-grade degeneracy, but do you think they were doing that in Weimar Germany? No. The hot Weimar ladies were too busy getting bad haircuts and working in burlesque shows to get involved in politics. So take that, Germany; we get American-exceptionalistic hardons from our politicians, not our cabaret girls and washed-up former Austrian grunts.

Some limited consolation came from Delaware when Christine O’Donnell, who is hotter than Fukushima but a bit on the hedonistic side for election to Congress, lost to Chris Coons, who to understate the matter did not win by being a solar-powered sex machine.  Delaware is a dodgy little onshore tax shelter and duPont family estate, but at least its electorate is grounded enough to know that it was voting for a senator, not a mail-order bride.

In his defense, Steve Jobs wasn’t a political hustler like Obama or Palin, or an inarticulate ditz like Palin, or a lazy hedonist like Palin or O’Donnell. He was also a somewhat better looking bald guy than Chris Coons. He was a very savvy businessman who introduced a long series of very innovative, popular products. But the notion that he was admired for his leadership or perseverance or imagination or competence per se is just rubbish. No one would have given a rat’s ass about him had he been a street cop or a detective, or a nurse, or a petroleum geologist, or a metallurgist, or an epidemiologist or research pharmacologist. I could go on. In probably ninety-nine percent of the lines of work that he could have pursued, including those involving entrepreneurship or corporate management, no one would have thought to consider him a role model.

Americans accord Steve Jobs a level of respect usually reserved for political shysters, sanctimonious movie stars, musicians and athletes. These aren’t the sorts of people we respect or admire. These are the sorts of people we idolize. As in Old Testament, worship-not-that-carving-of-wood-lest-God-smite-thee, from-thence-cometh-not-true-providence idolatry. I’ve previously posted rantings on Jim Kunstler’s Clusterfuck Nation to the effect of “all power and honor and glory be to the One in the turtleneck!” That’s about how Steve Jobs was viewed by his followers. Thou shalt not live by bread alone, but by every word that cometh from the mouth of thy God incarnate, thy Zeus of the 1.7 amp current, the current that rechargeth thy blessed Devices.

Did I mention that we worship electronic gadgets? By Steve Jobs we do.  And Apple is as straight-up a cult as there is in the universe of electronic wizardry. If Microsoft devotees sing songs of praise and worship to Excel and the Word of Gates, I’m missing something, because I certainly haven’t heard of it. Nor have I seen fitting praise lifted up to Mark Zuckerberg, the Boy-King garbed in His Royal Hoodie who bringeth together all Friends to mine their Data, to bring forth abundance from the Data Mine of Ages. (This is one of the reasons that I limit the information that I give the bastard and don’t let him pigeonhole me. Facebook is like a parallel-universe version of the Stasi Archives, run by a guy who hasn’t had to shave yet.)

The One in the turtleneck is dead; long live the One in the turtleneck! For he has brought us good tidings of advancements in personal electronics! Hosanna in excelsis!

Steve Jobs’ death was all over my Facebook profile tonight. Thanks to that pubescent creep Zuckerberg’s datamining operation, I learned that at least eight of my “friends,” including real ones, posted material about Jobs. The last time I saw such a send-off on Facebook, if I ever have, was when Michael Jackson died. As Grandma said, “I think he’s a sorry case,” and I’m going to leave it at that, not because I disdain prurient scrutiny of such badly lived, unexamined lives, but because I don’t have the time or energy for that particular sick diversion at the moment. I will, however, say that Michael Jackson proves this much: once you go black, you CAN go back. And I’ve already broken my promise to be succinct. Oops. At least I didn’t promise to be tasteful.

Now for a serious question: what does it say about us as a nation that we so admire Jobs and Jackson but don’t know Eric Cantor’s ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to politics? (Sorry for that image; well, not really, although I usually prefer the image of Cantor’s shit-eating grin, which is timeless and archetypal.) Alma Mater had a relatively politically knowledgeable student body, but even there I met a political science major who didn’t know who I meant by Pervez Musharraf. This was a few weeks after 9/11. I amazed people, sometimes intelligent, well-read people, by being able to name half a dozen Congressmen or the mayor, police chief and assistant police chief of New Orleans. I’ve blown away people who could name and describe a hundred athletes offhand. Even the lurid details of the Chocolate City hurricane freakshow didn’t interest most of my peers, and that worries me. Americans are all about prurient interest, but if it’s considered weird to take a semiprurient interest in the doings of a disoriented police chief named Eddie Compass (some things you can’t make up), how fucked are we as an electorate? My guess is, mighty fucked. Bad people do bad things to electorates like that.

Step up to the plate, Millennials. We’re at bat.