Where Do We Go From Here?

Nothing in my life or readings in politics and history prepared me for the mounting despair I feel for the future of our country. This is something in many ways more disturbing and profound than the basic existential dread all humans experience at one time or other in their lives, or the grief they feel at a loved one’s loss.

That’s because it involves the very future itself, and one’s participation in a free, democratic society where laws, customs and norms matter, where they are able to hold fast against the forces of chaos, aggression and darkness.

The kind of darkness that has given rise to Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, Matt Gaetz and Madison Cawthorn, Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan and Elise Stefanik, all prominent voices in a political party and congressional delegation that is utterly unrecognizable from just a decade or two ago and has given up even the pretension of sound, thoughtful governance.

So much about the state of our political culture is now flowing unimpeded into our social and familial and even medical lives that I fear setting it all aside amounts to placing my hands over my ears, stomping my feet and yelling ‘wah-wah-wah’ to the heavens until I can let the revulsion pass.

The moral bankruptcy of that party is epitomized not only in the ravings of the figures above, but even more so in the fact that its leader, an ex-president who led a violent revolt against the peaceful transfer of power less than a year ago, still reigns supreme as its kingmaker, ready to make himself the kind of king he wanted to be but lacked the wiles and experience to pull off from 2016-2020.

Rather than being convicted in last January’s impeachment trial for his profound offense against our very system of governance and prohibited from ever again holding office, enough of his party’s jurors in the Senate excused or trivialized his crime to let him go free.

“Putting the past behind us,” many of their apologists claimed.

Now, the presidential nomination  of his party in 2024 appears to be his if he wants it, which is—or should be—a terrifying prospect for anyone who gives a damn about the survival of this country in anything resembling its historical form.



Donald Trump, darkly wiser now about the misuse of power, will not be cowed once again into employing at least a few experienced and country-first professionals who are not prone to idolatry and might deign to rein in his base instincts, which are legion and the only instincts he truly possesses (or which possess him…).

Donald Trump, more unhinged than ever, unfettered for another four years as gatekeeper and commandant of an administration to which only absolute sycophants need apply.

Where all bets are off, all laws, customs and constraints cast aside, where the one and only goal and qualification for any job is to serve the master with blind, unwavering loyalty in what amounts to a civil war triumph in which there may not have to be a single shot fired.

All done instead at the ballot box and legislatures, with congressional districts gerrymandered to death and non-partisan election commissions under assault with the goal of abolishing them in multiple Republican-controlled states and replaced with party-controlled bodies.

And most despairingly, the real possibility that Democratic Party incompetence (see: “withdrawal, Afghanistan”) and internecine warfare (see: “3+ months for the House to finally pass the infrastructure bill”) will combine with relentless, Bannonesque “Flood the zone with shit” disinformation campaigns and the extremely limited attention span of enough voters to invite an obvious madman who nearly finished off this country politically during his chaotic first tenure back for another go-round.


So I find myself entertaining the long-running, no-longer merely rhetorical question: Could I live in a country that for all intents and purposes is run by a dictator, with an entire party of yes-men and women not so much in his thrall as they are cynically going along for what they perceive as their personal or party’s gain, despite the virtual destruction of our democracy it is already beginning to entail?

I’m not sure yet one way or the other.

The pull of family and friends, history and home, remain powerful. And the specter of quitting rather than fighting oppression as so many noble souls have done in far more dire circumstances than these is unsettling, and leaves many open questions. (A crucial one: Where would I go?)

But so much about the state of our political culture is now flowing unimpeded into our social and familial and even medical lives that I fear setting it all aside amounts to placing my hands over my ears, stomping my feet and yelling “wah-wah-wah” to the heavens until I can let the revulsion pass.

Until it resurfaces again, that is, as it always does in a society shrouded by darkness, as in:

• Widespread calls for violence and even death for the few remaining Republican politicians who do not toe the MAGA line, and for school board members across the country tasked with navigating the tortuous shoals of a deadly virus and our country’s troubled racial history.

• The Kyle Rittenhouse verdict, setting aside even the legal innocence question but considering its aftermath.

A 17-year-old crosses state lines with an illegally obtained weapon of war, shows up at a protest, kills two people and paralyzes a third, and is hailed as a hero across the Republican firmament.

Donald Trump: ““It’s called being found NOT GUILTY – And by the way, if that’s not self defense, nothing is!”

North Carolina Representative Madison Cawthorn: “Be armed, be dangerous, be moral.” He then added a note publicly offering Rittenhouse an internship in his office.

Ditto on the internship offer from Florida Representative Matt Gaetz.

Arizona Representative Paul Gosar: “Should #KyleRittenhouse get a congressional Medal of Honor for selflessly protecting the lives and property of the people from an armed mob of arsonists and criminals?”
He then tweeted:I will arm wrestle @mattgaetz to get dibs for Kyle as an intern.”

“Arm wrestle.” “Dibs.” Let me repeat: Two people dead, another paralyzed.

Finally, Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert: “Today is a great day for the Second Amendment and the right to self-defense. Kyle Rittenhouse is not guilty on all counts! Glory to God!”

God, “glorying” in 17-year-olds killing and maiming other human beings. The mind and the heart reel.

What has happened to the soul of this country, that such people can be elected to serve as its leaders in a body borne of such wisdom and regard for both the frailties and the most noble aspirations of human nature?

Increasingly, I fear we are heading toward a truly existential choice: disaffected citizens emigrating en masse, or some type of orderly secession and new alignment of two different countries, citizens take your pick, or else we descend to full-on civil war.

Might there be yet another way? Right now, it looks lost in the fog of an unofficial but, make no mistake, already declared war on all we hold most dear. With the people discussed here among its vanguard.



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Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.

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13 comments to Where Do We Go From Here?

  • Dennis Ahern  says:

    I’d alway thought that song was mostly about aging and the rise in cynicism it often brings. It’s well chosen for this context. The personal journey turned into the archetype for a nation.

    But, I digress before I even get started.

    Yes, what the hell should we, can we, do in these ominous times? Go Zen? “It’s all falling apart! Isn’t it wonderful!?” Should I really apply for Irish citizenship since my grandmother hailed from there 100 years ago? I’ve mulled it. Right now, I’m inclined to stick it all out. ‘22 and ‘24 promises to set us further back, if not see the collapse of the democracy we have taken for granted all our lives. I rode the wave up, I’ll hang on for the wave down long as I can. In the mean time I’m looking into a political strategy which in part supports clear thinking, morally intact Republicans to stabilize a run-away GOP. There are few good ones left. Perhaps they can help stave off the collapse. In the mean time I just try to stay focused on the good I can do in my own small sphere of influence, try to stay informed without being overwhelmed, and show a little courage. Wait for the pendulum to swing back. What else can I do, really?

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      I’m glad you caught the Dylan piece in that way, too, Dennis. I never had until I was about halfway through this post and it suddenly came into my mind from nowhere, wasn’t even thinking about music, but knew I had to listen to it in this light. Great song, just with added dimension now.

      As for the “What shall we do?’ question, focusing on actual conservative Republicans rather than the radicals who currently own the party seems prudent; question is what form that takes. I know lots of died-in-the-wool Repubs voted and donated to Dems last election: what sayeth you, neither of us living in Wyoming in order to vote, whether we’d consider, oh, donating to Liz Cheney’s campaign? A bridge too far, mebbe??

      • Dennis Ahern  says:

        Living in Idaho, there is something constructive I can and will do. During the last election for governor, a sizable number of liberal voters registered Republican in order to vote in the closed primary. Our intention was to vote for Brad Little not because we thought he would make a great governor, but to help him beat Raul Labrador, who certainly would have been worse. We will do the same in ’22 to vote AGAINST Trump endorsed wing-nut, and current lieutenant governor Janice McGeachin. In our solidly red state we won’t be seeing any state wide progressives rise to office, but perhaps we can do something to limit candidates who are a threat to democracy. In these desperate times, one sets aside ideology for a dose of realpolitik.

        • Andrew Hidas  says:

          That makes a lot of sense to me, Dennis. You have probably seen the snide, rejecting comments some Dems have made about Liz Cheney deploring what has become of her party, and just over the weekend the two Fox News reporters who quit in protest of the network airing Tucker Carlson’s crazed “documentary.” My feeling is the real change and maybe the only chance we have for it will come not from Dems critiques but from those Republicans finally willing to take a stand. Not supporting them in that and not welcoming them aboard, however much else we may disagree on, seems the height of liberal insanity.

  • Robert Spencer  says:

    Claire and I are asking ourselves similar questions. Do we really want to move? We’d be leaving friends like you who’ve I’ve known now for close to sixty years. We have five children living here in the States and nine grandkids to boot. Where would we go? A cottage in Provence. A condo in Porto overlooking the sea. Valencia, Spain didn’t sound bad, either. A villa in Tuscany was high on the list. A Montreal rental overlooking the St. Lawrence made the cut, too. One high school friend even mentioned Dildo, Newfoundland but added it sounded too Republican. Nevertheless, in most places, although there were expat enclaves, my monolingualism would rear its lonely head. Unfortunately (perhaps fortunately),my communicative skills are primarily limited to menus: croissant, tiramisu, pasteis and potine. Moreover, would our present health plans be valid outside the U.S.? In many places, they wouldn’t. However, when half of the country equate Trump and his twelve cohorts [Gosar, Boebert, Rittenhouse, Greene (meaner than Joe), Gohmert, Hannity, Jordan (not the river or Michael), Gaetz, McCarthy, Bannon, Carlson and McConnell] to Jesus and his twelve disciples, perhaps it’s time to make a change. No matter which way you cut it, it’s tough. It’s already tragic, and I doubt it will get any better in the near future.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Your questions about where one would go and the gravitational pull of family will likely greatly complicate any even urgent desire people may have to just give up on a country they may feel has given up own its own founding ideals, Robert. It also highlights how much we don’t know, how much we can never know, about how history will unfold. Once that roulette wheel starts spinning…

      I sure don’t feel optimistic these days about what we’re facing, but I’ve been surprised by events and my own responses to them before, and I have previously written in this space about hope as a “moral imperative,” so I will find it where I can, no matter that its “supply lines” might be all gummed up for the foreseeable future. But does that mean I would never leave? Can’t say that, either. A year from now should tell us quite a bit more, and if it goes as fast as these recent ones have—yikes!

  • Robby Miller  says:

    Dearest Andrew- What concerns me about your column is the suggestion that there is something new about these dark forces we are experiencing. They have always existed and, I suspect, they always will. But then, I know you know that. Only forces of light can defeat that darkness. (Sorry if that sounds like dialogue from a Harry Potter movie!) So I’m with Dennis. We have to stick it out and resist in whatever way we can. For me, it’s just a matter of figuring out the best way to do that. Since, I believe – as do so many others – that fear of the other is the driver of so much of our present discord, I think that is the place where I will focus my attention.

    I’m certain, this, too, shall pass.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      I think you’re right on the historical-global front, Robby—Lord knows we have seen and continue to see appalling behavior and events engineered by the worst of us—and the worst part of every one of us, which we seem to at least touch on with surprising, unwanted frequency! I’m not so sure the same can be said about our national history, though. 1776 and on was a rough go, for sure, and then of course the Civil War. But an attack on the capital by an outgoing president, now approved of, defended or at least winked at by almost all of his party’s legislators and upwards of half the party’s voters? I don’t think we’ve seen the likes of that, and I would feel a lot more confident that “This too shall pass” if that person was in jail now or at least banished forevermore from electoral politics rather than hailed as his party’s consensus pick for a return to the Oval Office. Doesn’t the very real prospect of what a second term for him might mean greatly concern you?

  • Al  says:

    Thanks, Andrew. I’ve been chewing on this one for a while, or it’s been chewing on me. For months I’ve been feeling like I’m witnessing two cars about to crash and cause life-threatening injuries while being powerless to stop it. Perhaps my crash metaphor understates and your meteor metaphor overstates the situation but both feel similarly inevitable.

    My activist heroes are Gandhi and Martin Luther King. It is my hope that if we are faced with an even worse four years of small minded autocratic leadership, enough of my fellow citizens would join in passive resistance to ultimately reverse our course. We’re not to that point yet but perhaps our ‘60’s generation has a path yet to redemption.

    On the other hand, my mother was born in Canada and technically I’m therefore a Canadian. Tempting.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      I know that chewy feeling, Al—thanks for gnawing on these weighty matters with me! Our democracy underwent severe challenge during the Trump presidency, even more more so in its aftermath with the persistence of the Big Lie and the rolling over of most all congressional Republicans in support of it. But the far more serious test would come if Trump were to run and win again, or perhaps even run and lose, and then we’d see how Republican-led state legislatures would respond across the land. And that’s when we would all earn our serious Gandhi & MLK stripes, because we would need them and a whole lot more to turn the tide…

  • Loren Webster  says:

    I guess you didn’t fight in Vietnam, or you might have already seen this country from your present viewpoint.

    I think this element has always been in America. The founding fathers hoped democracy was possible, but also tried to ensure that populism couldn’t destroy the country because they didn’t entirely trust the common man. The Electoral College certainly failed that test, didn’t it? Checks and balances are supposed to counter movements like this, but “compromise” seems to have become a dirty word.

    Personally, I doubled down on trying to make the world a better place, working as a caseworker and then a teacher after I returned from Vietnam. I still identify with and emphasize with those who withdrew from society and got lost after their war experiences. I suspect that you, too, will double down and continue to try to shift the balance in our society toward the light.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      No, Loren, my student deferments and then low lottery number kept me out of Vietnam, but like pretty much everyone, I was acutely aware of all the unrest of the times. I think I’d only say as bad it was and as much questionable/shady activity as the government was involved in throughout the war, the thing that saved us when Nixon went rogue was that we had two functional political parties, decent people in both, and committed to democracy. And enough of his own party rejected him to see him out of office for far less egregious conduct than we have seen from Trump for years now. To see nearly the entire party still in Trump’s thrall and spouting the nonsense that they do is far more alarming to me than anything we saw from Nixon, who had virtually no enablers left after his impeachment.

      Very glad you could make a life of service and sanity after the war. I’m in a senior bowling league that happens to be full of Vietnam vets, all proudly wearing their T-shirts and hats. Survivors…

  • Kevin Feldman  says:

    I can absolutely relate to your dread filled ruminations Andrew as we watch the complete demise of a major political party, it is beyond comprehension… unlike anything in our lifetimes if ever in the history of our republic! The existential dread is palpable for anyone who is paying attention and how far this could actually go is anyone’s guess. We just had the chance to take a COVID delayed trip to Portugal and Andalucía (totally amazing I must add) and one night in the lovely little town of Evora 80 some miles east of Lisbon we happened to be up late having a nightcap in the garden of our hotel and met Kathy Stearman, author of It’s Not About the Gun; Lessons From My Global Career as a Female FBI Agent. We had a delightful and far reaching conversation about her experiences including how deeply she respected her last boss, Jim Comey (fired by Trump, another story!) and consistent with him she considered herself an open minded middle of the road Republican. Well, given the deep seated rot in our political system, especially the GOP, she and her husband were exploring Portugal as a possible locale for relocation since they considered life in the US as no longer tenable! Considering moving to Canada to resist the draft is the closest analog in my lifetime as noted by Loren’s response. I have nothing unique to add to the conversation beyond resonating with your post and all of the reader responses, other than to say the pull of family and close friends will probably dictate and we will remain and do what we can with the resources we have to resist this slide into the abyss of MAGA madness.

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