The World as We Know It has ended several times over the eons and across the continents. I can count at least 3 for what we call Western Civ, beginning with William the Conqueror and going on through Christopher Columbus to the First World War. Each time, something (Saxon England, the Middle Ages, and what I might call the Golden Years of pre-Industrial Europe), began to run out of steam and concluded with a thunderclap. Sorry for the mixed metaphors. Lots more on the way.
I’m fairly certain it’s happening again, and has been happening for quite a while. When did it start? Well, I’m a dyed in the wool Democrat and I like to blame everything on Ronald Reagan, so I’m going to start there. I think it’s a fair place to start. It was Reagan, after all, who said that government was not the solution to our problems. Government itself was the problem. That pithy bumper sticker caught on like a house afire and the fire blazes to this day.
The problem is that, child of the sixties though I am, I recognized fairly early on that it was government itself that is the center around which community is built. Because in this country, we ourselves are the government. We found a town, we elect a mayor, we nudge a select few into the major offices, and then we organize around them, blaming them for everything that goes wrong but also believing that they could always go right if we worked them hard enough. Saying that government is the problem, period, suggests that we can do without it. That the rules aren’t for us. Rules, from far right to far left, are seen as nothing more than oppression. We don’t need no stinking rules.
Our Big Bang came on 9/11. I don’t know that we still recognize that awful day as the Battle of Hastings, Discovery of the Americas, or Trench Warfare of the 21st Century. But it was, because on top of mistrust of government and other institutions, we now added fear. And I think a good case can be made for the current victory of resentment and fear in the person of Donald Trump. And while we are busy trying to understand the reasons behind this travesty, his minions are deconstructing government, with the blessing of all those convinced that government can never be a solution. It is always the problem.
Why else are Trump supporters in and out of Congress not up in arms about poisonous runoff seeping once again into their water supplies. Why else are “Christian” communities afraid of children from Guatamala? Why are both adults and children in the backwaters and small towns of America overdosing on opioids? Why does there seem to be a consensus in both white and black America that there isn’t really any future coming for them?
I think it may be because there isn’t. Not the future anyone had envisioned, anyway. The future is inevitably on its way, and some of our leaders have made attempts to prepare this country for that future – and even they don’t have a clear idea of what that will be. Not only did no one expect the Spanish Inquisition – nobody expected the English to take up speaking French, nobody expected two entirely unknown continents, and nobody expected a little civilized fight among family members with horses and sabers to turn into fields and ditches of mud and barbed wire, tanks and machine guns, and bombs dropping out of the sky blowing up the “civilized” world.
So today we talk about the changes that that will come with technology, with climate change, with “jobless economies,” and corporate globalism, but I don’t think we have any idea of what’s really coming down the pike. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I don’t either. All I know is that we have no way of knowing.
But as things stand now, it doesn’t look good for us, as in U.S. We had a chance to build some new infrastructure with a few newfangled ideas. We had a chance to lead the world in alternate power technologies. We had a chance to become a nation that put its money and resources into the health and education of its people – I heard this morning that the Trump Administration is telling insurance companies they no longer have to cover pre-existing conditions. Bill Clinton tried a few things, but gave up too easily. George W. Bush got sidetracked with a war he didn’t need to start. Mitch McConnell (may he forever rot in whatever hell that might exist) decided not to let Barack Obama do anything that could redound to his credit, even if it served the country well. And Trump – well. Here we are.
We are becoming a shoddy nation of ungovernable, hateful people who are terrified of whatever is waiting on the road ahead. I’m convinced we can’t actually turn the ship of state around. But maybe, if we try real hard, we can take the wheel and go in another direction. Not back, but, if you watch The Expanse, into the Ring. Into the unknown. With determination and curiosity. Wish I could live long enough to see just a glimpse.