America Sits At The Nexus of Fear, Rage, and Despair
There is no part of American society that has escaped the terror, fury, and sorrow that has engulfed our daily lives
There have been a few key moments since the 2016 election, where many of us seemed to be searching for a way to describe the complex emotions we were feeling. First, there was the traumatic result of the election itself that left everyone in a state of disbelief. Then the shocking but utterly predictable realization of what the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg would mean.
Finally, the reality of dozens of decisions made by people in power over the course of decades that have resulted in the chain reaction, so many of us predicted — the degradation of civil rights, the destruction of privacy, and the dismantling of the very foundations of democracy, and finally the overturning of Roe v Wade.
There is currently no English word that I am aware of, no emoji or meme, that sufficiently sums up the combination of fear, rage, and despair we are experiencing. These are emotions we don’t typically associate with one another. What does it say that so many of us spend our days simultaneously terrified, heartbroken, and apoplectic?
It’s beyond exhausting.
An Unlikely Hero Emerges
When we first heard that Russia had, in fact, begun its invasion of Ukraine, I was resigned that the almighty Russian Army would quickly take over, sending the Ukrainian government into exile or worse, and set up their own puppet administration. I scoffed at the nonsense I saw on social media concerning grandmothers and supermodels grabbing rifles and standing to post. A bunch of ragtag civilians was not about to stand up to the fifth-most powerful military in the world. It was a fool’s errand.
But a funny thing happened. A television comedian, who had become the unlikeliest of presidents, refused to go along with the narrative that the rest of the world had decided upon for him. He would not leave. He would, in fact, stay and fight. He traded in his suit for a pair of green fatigues and prepared to fight what seemed to be an unwinnable war.
Maybe martyrdom would help the cause of his country, I remember thinking. He was surely aware that he was putting his life at risk, but was it suicidal to think he could withstand everything Putin was prepared to throw at him in his pursuit of regaining the glory of the Soviet heydays? Maybe so.
But then something else happened. The people — his people — rallied around him. In a collective force of a will, they refused to be moved. They took up arms, created roadblocks using whatever they could find, and they began hunting the Russian invaders. Grandmothers did indeed tell them to go fuck themselves. They dropped sunflower seeds in the Russian soldier’s pockets, telling them that when they died on Ukrainian soil, at least they would become something of value.
The Ukrainians stopped the Russians, literally in their tracks. The unrealistic became possible, and the world turned from resignation concerning Putin’s whims, to providing substantial aid to Ukraine in order to protect their homeland. No one wanted to see an escalation to a third world war, but in the meantime, we would ship them all the guns and ammo we could get our hands-on.
“No, I will not go quietly. I will stay and fight.”
Events like this are complex, and there is no one cause or factor that drives the results, but I think it’s safe to say that President Zelensky single-handedly saved his country from certain ruin. The world was treated to a lesson in real courage, moral conviction, and true patriotism. He didn’t fire a shot personally. He simply stood his ground and said, “No. No, I will not go quietly. I will stand with my brothers and sisters against those who would see us subjugated. I will stay and fight.”
The Long Con
For the past half-century or so, the Republican Party has been trying to undo to New Deal-style of government that got us out of the Great Depression, but left so many corporate titans nostalgic for the days when they could be robber barons they desired to be. They lured southern whites and then evangelical Christians with promises of white Christian supremacy, all the while installing judges and politicians friendly to business interests.
In their latest phase, they did the unthinkable — they convinced white, working-class people that Republicans would, at the very least, make sure that poor whites didn’t end up at the bottom of the heap. As President Lyndon Johnson once said, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
They had a long game. They were looking beyond a single election. Their goal wasn’t temporary power, but a reimagining of society itself. They had a plan. Dismantle the federal government, return States to their “rightful place” as local guardians of racism and discrimination, subvert free and fair elections, cut taxes and social welfare programs, and finally, install Supreme Court justices who would pledge their undying loyalty to the cause, so that they could rewrite the Constitution without the pesky need to ratify amendments.
All the while, Democrats stood by and watched, clucking their tongues that the Republicans had surely gone too far this time, and would no doubt be held to account by the people this time.
Leading From Behind
The Democratic Party and its leadership have spent the past few decades trying to placate the right-wing by acquiescing ground a bit at a time in exchange for nominal gains, thereby moving the center of American politics further and further to the right.
They did so because they failed to believe in their own vision for America. They never really believed that they represented what Americans wanted because, unlike their Republican counterparts, they felt they had to lead from behind. Not since the 1960s have Democrats made bold decisions for the good of the country despite popular opinion.
“There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them.” — Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin
Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin, a French lawyer, politician, and one of the leaders of the French Revolution, once said of this type of leadership, “There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them.”
You hear it all the time, any time the Republicans do something reprehensible. “If the shoe were on the other foot, they would be screaming bloody murder.” What used to be the fringe of society is now part of the majority opinion of Republicans in Congress. Where members accuse their political opponents of being Satanists and pedophiles, and the Democratic response is to ignore it as frivolous and beneath contempt. Meanwhile, half of Republicans believe that top Democratic leaders are involved in pedophilia cabals.¹
Ignoring the issue doesn’t seem to be working.
Gutless and Toothless
There are bigger differences between America’s two main political parties beyond ideology. The Republican Party is much more monolithic, but also more willing to go along with the party as long as it means they’re in power. The Democrats, on the other hand, have had to rely on a diverse coalition of groups with a variety of interests and priorities. They can’t have just one message or goal because they don’t have a single constituency.
This has caused Democrats to be hesitant and cautious — afraid to disturb the careful balance of power — and has resulted in gutless leadership and toothless responses to every attack on democratic norms and the constitutional rule of law.
We could have elected Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren as president. Someone who was passionate about changing the status quo, who wasn’t bought and paid for by corporate America, who understood the dangers we faced, and who was willing to make the tough choices for the future of America whether we were ready or not.
Instead, we got Grandpa Joe, whose main goal seems to be to get everyone to come to his backyard for a BBQ and a beer. Joe Biden seems like a genuinely good guy, but as they say in The Godfather, he’s not a wartime consiglieri. He was never the man for the current hour of our need, he is a product of the last century of bipartisan government. He ran as the transition president, and he just may be; it’s just not clear what we are transitioning into.
While Rome Burns
America is a dysfunctional mess. There is no doubt about it. We’re not the only ones who are frightened about it. The entire free world is looking at us in horror as they watch the world’s remaining superpower self-immolate. By the way, if you’re one of those non-Americans worried about what a shit show we’ve become, we’re well aware of the situation. We don’t need you telling us we’re fucked. We know.
America is in trouble. After decades of erosion, our civil liberties are slowly being taken away, our democratic institutions are hanging on by a thread, our infrastructure is crumbling, and our democracy is in danger of being reduced to a theocratic oligarchy.
For nearly a century, America has been the leader the world relied on because we were stable, wealthy, and seemingly responsible. It’s time the rest of the world recognizes that there are now two Americas, and if they would like to avoid a failed nuclear state with power and money, they’d best start supporting the side that believes in democracy, freedom, human rights, and climate change.
Holding Out For Hero
There is no doubt that there are dark days, but it’s not hopeless yet. It’s just not clear how many people realize the precarious place we’re in. It’s like climate change. They keep telling us how critical it is, and we just keep saying, “Yeah, yeah. I know. I’ll get on it in a minute. My team is in the playoffs, and lobster is on sale at the Acme. I’ll be right there.”
Everyone is waiting for a hero to arrive, and none has been forthcoming. The tanks are rolling into town, and we are not prepared, organized, or armed for the fight. America is under attack, and so far, no one has stepped up to say, “No. No, I will not go quietly. I will stand with my brothers and sisters against those who would see us subjugated. I will stay and fight.”
Who will stand and fight?
Follow David Todd McCarty on Twitter @davidtmccarty and The Standard @capemaystandard