Something to keep in mind here is that he was a numbers guy…
We were soldiering through spotty bandwidth to get some good baby laughs through the WhatsApp video call with A’s brother and sister-in-law in Australia when it all added up.
In between the sequestered parents holding up their youngest in a hand -me-down onesie, A’s brother asked us how the hell it all happened. He was referring to the simple fact that the world’s self-proclaimed only super power and keeper of moral authority; the bastion of the oppressed and land of the free / home of the brave could ever become the epicenter of this global pandemic.
Like I said, he was a numbers guy; making his living doing advanced maths for a government sanctioned online bookie. He wanted to know why the infection rate affected us so disproportionately as compared to pretty much every other nation situated with enough lead time to take the necessary measures to protect their citizens and, more importantly, the means to implement those measures in sweeping fashion.
Tangentially, he was also referring to how He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named could even get elected in the first place and that so many people could continue to support him.
I didn’t know how to answer.
He continued with the concession that, of course, he can understand an anomaly of a certain percentage of fringe elements in the body electric, demonstrating once again that he was a numbers guy, but the unspeakable truth remained a statistical impossibility in the mind of any rational mind.
I jumped in and grabbed the white elephant by the fake-news horns. “So it sounds like you’re saying, and correct me if I’m wrong, you want to know how it is even possible that anywhere close to fifty percent of the people in the ‘supposed greatest democracy’ this side of Alpha Centauri could vote for a reality show host, racist, con man, and misogynist who stole money from a kid’s cancer charity and once bragged about grabbing women ‘by the pussy’ …? How can there possibly be that many nutsos who would willfully exercise their right to vote and cast their ballot for such a candidate without having to do so because their child was in a hostage situation or something… and still, even now, support the man. With the law of averages and all…?”
This is the question that remains. Even after all the pundits and the articles in Atlantic we pretend to read the whole way through in between checking our eBay bids… the haunting question hangs. Hangs like a shiny noose: The world wants to know.
I still couldn’t answer. Beyond the breakdown of critical thinking, the hallowing out of basic governing institutions, the cementing of binary thinking, and the distrust that has been fanned by a news media that can no longer call itself the fourth estate– I had nothing. All I could do was wait for the baby to get lifted up to the camera again and chuckle at seeing us on the other side of the ocean in real time. I was as speechless and dumbfounded as little baby B___.
Where could I start? Even if I could cut through the video lag, would I be able to talk about the rise of nationalism, and disintegration of what it means to be patriotic, the loss of the individual, ritual, and unspoken systemic fear… I was hogtied.
A. jumped in and reminded us all that America is yet a tween-ager and pointed out the obvious problems of living in an increasingly global community in a traditionally isolationist society where international news is so hard to come by despite there being twenty-four hour access on a variety of platforms. I woke up from my logic-freeze where my conscience was buffering like a spinning rainbow wheel and said what my friend David always says, ‘Americans aren’t very good at remembering their history’ and we all agreed that it doesn’t help most Americans are no longer taught to think critically. But if I was to be honest, all the answers felt insufficient. And still do. Any way of understanding this un-reality-reality fails me. Except that, we took it for granted. It, being the social contract of what it requires to live in a healthy democracy.
Maybe the can-do-America is melting down and needs a time-out because we are finally being told we can’t. We are learning about real limitation. And confusing prudence with an attack of personal liberty. I mean, what the fuck does wearing a mask have to do with freedom…? I don’t know. But something.
Maybe it is simply the logical endgame to a democracy fallen to entropy that no longer requires active citizenship with unfiltered access to information and the ability to interpret that and make informed decisions to function. In the end, it is we who outsourced The It, the thing that led us here. We have ceased to participate in our democracy. In a sustained way, despite being woke, because, well, we like being comfortable. Like any institution that rests on its laurels and lives by reputation only – our privilege, like a third generation beneficiary of self-made family wealth, we can’t help but burn it all down. Perhaps, and I may be wrong, we may secretly feel like we don’t deserve “it,” because we not only did nothing to earn it, we are reminded on a daily basis (or were) that we are shadow copies without fidelity compared to the moral amplitude of the supposed Greatest Generation.
Disaster capitalism, born in some U. of C. Nobel laureate economics lecture, that some have visited upon any unstable neighboring democracy grandfathered into the Monroe Doctrine — teetering on disaster and economic collapse and ripe for the cult of personality exported there as the only thing we still make besides cast-iron skillets — now visits us.
We reap what we have sown. It’s no wonder half of America wants to get in a time machine and selectively remember when. Even if that “when” has no actual resemblance to what was. Especially for anyone other-ed by either class, pigmentation, or orientation.
Setting aside the crazy rapture joyous fuck nuts who get off on this time of plague, when you compare the trajectory of empires as they decline, the days ahead don’t look good. Empires don’t fade well. Nor do they recede. They crash in brilliant fashion. Like a rotten tree grown beyond its means to support its height; a giant at one time succumbing to internal rot.The only thing one can really do is get out of the way when it falls, pack up our house hold gods and carry the only thing that maters with us as we move from the flames – the stories of how we got here and what life was like along the way.
Of course I didn’t say any of this. I couldn’t. These thoughts and feelings were barely words then. And words mean less and less now as they are used, commandeered in the name of untruth. It is a hard time for us who employ language to forward truth. Even in simply maintaining faith that it matters. That speaking the COMMON SENSE like an old former corset maker named Good Tom Paine once did still fucking matters. Or should we all open our windows wide and scream “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” like Peter Finch, the anchor in Network, proclaimed.
So, although I couldn’t really answer his question to any satisfaction, I had to recognize that the entire world sees us as a liability and really does as the Irish Times writer, Fintan O’Toole, pointed out, not only fears us, but pities us now, too. And that is a dangerously unstable cocktail.