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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Over the Cliff by James Vaughan, Kent, Ohio https://www.flickr.com/photos/x-ray_delta_one/
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