Fear and loathing in high summer


Last updated 8/1/2023 at 10:22am

It’s getting weird out there.

The Vice President of the United States was in California recently claiming that the average American is only $400 dollars from declaring bankruptcy, while on the other end of the continent a delusional, dizzy, and clearly scrambled President was claiming that “Bidenomics” has created the greatest economy since—well, ever.

They can’t both be true, can they?

Mixed messaging from the great Head Shed in Washington seems to be the order of the day, though the origins of this bizarre situation are murky. It probably has something to do with the late pandemic when we all got to enjoy people of extremely low character and extremely high ambition exploit a virus to cement their own power. It wasn’t that long ago, you may remember, when we were arresting schoolchildren for refusing to wear masks, slapping pastors in bracelets for holding services in parking lots, sealing people into their houses, wrecking small businesses, fistfighting over toilet paper, and firing people from their jobs because they refused to take an experimental vaccine. Covid-shaming was an actual thing, a vile behavior that exposed the surprising number of closeted witch-hunters who live amongst us. Things got weird very fast, as they often do when human beings allow themselves to be governed by fear and propaganda, and it isn’t clear that we have returned to anything resembling normalcy.

Or that we ever will.

In a less weird world we would not, probably, see conservatives suddenly championing the opinions of Oliver Stone, and liberals embracing government officials wherever they find them. In that world we wouldn’t spend much time discussing the idea that men can have babies, and we probably wouldn’t be asked to accept the hilarious claim that the Secret Service was unable to determine who, exactly, dropped their baggy of blow in the White House. We might even react with legitimate outrage, in the manner of French farmers, to learn that our allegedly representative government was colluding with Big Tech firms to censor opinions it didn’t like. We might be furious, and harbor great reservations about the integrity of the FBI, when we learned that they didn’t investigate information from their own “best and highest paid informant” because it might dirty up the president.

But we don’t live in that world.

Instead, we are headed into yet another dreadful presidential election season, a moment of urgent consequence, with what is shaping up to be the very worst slate of candidates imaginable.

Hollywood couldn’t write a script this bad, even if they weren’t on strike.

You may be wondering how it is that in this nation so full of people with talent and vision and, dare I say it, uniting principles, that the best we can find are a demented octogenarian bigot, who is probably a felon, versus a whack job narcissist who is also, probably, a felon. Whatever the outcome, we can only blame ourselves, because much like crazy people we keep voting for corruption and expecting a different outcome. There is no shining city on the hill, whatever they may say about it, and for the next two years we are going to get a loathsome earful of promises from people who simply aren’t credible human beings.

Optimism was, of course, once the defining characteristic of Americans. We were known around the world as a forward-leaning people with a “can-do” approach to problems. It was at once our most admirable and — if you happened to be British or French — annoying attribute. Perhaps that was merely a function of a younger, eager nation still maturing on the world stage. I’d like to believe it was something else, something fundamental rather than accidental, but that’s a hard vision to maintain in a country that can’t win any of the wars it goes off to fight, where the institutions are under constant assault and are, frankly, their own worst enemy, and there is a pervading sense that the entire experiment is about to run off the rails.

For as long as we have existed, the United States has done an admirable job of using its institutions to self-correct. The list of course corrections is long, and while it may be yet imperfect, the challenge is to find any nation on earth that has done so much in so very little time to improve itself and the conditions of its citizens — and increasingly those who aren’t citizens at all. But something strange is in the air these days, and it isn’t unfair to ask if the people we have been putting into office are up to the very serious challenges in the offing.

But we shouldn’t despair. It isn’t helpful, and there are plenty of other places to put our energy. In a podcast interview shortly before his death, the novelist Cormac McCarthy was asked if he was pessimistic about the future. He thought about it for a moment, then said: “I’m pessimistic, but it’s nothing to be gloomy about.”

Which has the generous ring of wisdom.


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