On March 24, 2020, I posted a precious photo of children frolicking around with their favorite stuffies on a quarantined spring afternoon with the caption, “What if that was as good as it’s ever going to be? After the unemployment skyrockets, the economy tanks, and we all retreat further into our corners, what will we say about the last five years in decades to come?”
Eight months later, with COVID still lingering and a new Harris/Biden administration on the horizon, those questions remain. I was never imaging a dystopian Mad Max scenario. I just wondered if everything that Steven Pinker wrote in Enlightenment Now about Western Civilization dramatically decreasing the natural state of suffering in the world, had peaked. What if world hunger, extreme poverty, infant mortality rates, standard of living, education, human rights for woman and minorities, which have all been headed in the right direction for two centuries, all begin a downward trend from here on out?
Of course, miracles happen, and I hate to sound pessimistic, but the United States has been a leading force for all of this progress, and it would be naïve to think that the world would continue such a positive trajectory with another country, say China, at the helm. American’s intellectually phobic attitudes towards mature conversations concerning complex economic and social issues make that sustainability unrealistic. I don’t know how long it will take for the transition of power to occur or how dramatic it will be, but the question now is not how high America can rise, but how far will she fall?
On May 8, 2016, then President Barack Obama told a graduating class of college students, “If you had to choose one moment in history in which you could be born, and you didn’t know ahead of time who you were going to be—what nationality, what gender, what race, whether you’d be rich or poor, gay or straight, what faith you’d be born into—you wouldn’t choose 100 years ago… You’d choose right now.”
He was, of course, correct. I was living overseas in Japan during Obama’s ascension, so I was able to observe two great phenomena from a unique perspective. I had a front row seat as China’s aggression grew stronger on the world stage and I also witnessed the U.S. sink deeper into a state of insatiable denial. It seems there is no amount of chaos or death that we will not completely ignore in order to confirm our prior, ideological and political beliefs. It’s been a long time coming but these two forces have collided this year and it could mean the end of the empire.
On the one hand, I watched America’s melting pot grow from a simmer to a boil from the outside, as opposed to the frog being boiled alive from the inside. I observed from afar the troubling inception of the self-esteem movement graduate from the universities and spill out into society as social justice warriors until they metastasized to the fully militarized WOKE movement that we see burning cities and calling us all fascists every day. Being the polite and tolerant country that we are, most Americans fed this monster out of a sense of naïve compassion like Seymour feeding Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors.
Every society has its cognitive dissonance it must grapple with. War is peace, silence is violence, and violence is mostly peaceful.
We accept that fighting racism miraculously shields you from COVID-19. The federal deficit is out of control, yet we spend money and champion fairy tale government programs like the Green New Deal. We pretend not to notice that our politicians are all slightly corrupt and incompetent, and then we pretend to care momentarily when they expose themselves as swampy parasites. Right now, we’re all pretending that The Mandalorian isn’t just an unwatchable reboot of The Incredible Hulk. This is why comedy is vital to the health of a society, to point out the absurd and shine a light on taboo subjects that polite society shies away from or allows itself to be willfully ignorant to.
Before Obama was anointed, it was not only accepted but encouraged to mock our political class. So, it was confusing to watch my country, as well as my countrymen, “fundamentally change” from critically thinking citizens to willing participants in this compliance. Suddenly you weren’t allowed to make fun of the president or any of his policies. It became blasphemous to question him and all impure satire had to be purged from society without prejudice.
Even back in 2015, we had the ability to know everything about an event, but we were being told not to notice. Anything that could potentially be seen as insensitive was now absolutely forbidden knowledge. In Ferguson, MO, Michael Brown was killed by a cop after reaching in his patrol car, punching him repeatedly and attempting to take his gun. Forensic evidence by Obama’s own justice department proved this yet the “Hands up, don’t shoot!” narrative continues.
The tolerant left popularized the slogan, “Punch a Nazi.” Who would argue with that? Only later did it become clear that “Nazi” meant anyone from Richard Spencer, actual Nazi, to people like Bret Weinstein, a quasi-socialist Jewish professor at Evergreen College, who would be considered a Nazi and run off campus for not obeying the demands of the mob. We all just dismissed it as right-wing propaganda.
“We pretend to know about things we don’t know about while simultaneously pretending that we don’t know about things we all knew till yesterday.” —Douglass Murry
The second disturbing phenomena I watched from the Land of the Rising Sun was how China began to throw its weight around. There was a dispute in the South China Sea over a small island chain that both China and Japan claimed called the Senkaku Islands. China was making aggressive moves toward it and Japan’s only defense was its alliance with the United States. When Japan called in the favor from their powerful ally in the West, America balked. That may not sound like much, but there were articles written asking if we were going to go to war over this. That was a hard pill to swallow. Since then, shockingly few people have been willing to point out that Hollywood, Disney, and the NBA routinely kowtow to the demands of the CCP.
America’s unsustainable national debt, and China’s strategic eye on world domination are the greatest threats to our preservation as a global leader, and those two things are intimately intertwined. In recent years, America has been acting like Sly Stallone in Rocky III, smoking cigars in his silk bathrobe while China is quietly doing one armed pull-ups from its bat infested apartment like Mr. T. As Michael Pillsbury says in The Hundred-Year Marathon, “…the Communist Party is realizing its long-term goal of restoring China to its ‘proper’ place in the world.”
Those two worlds collided when 2020 came along, and brought the corona—don’t call it Wuhan—virus with it. A year that will go down in history books on the timeline of American significance along with 1776, 1865, and 1945. We proved to the watching world that we are ripe for the picking. We showed that, when push comes to shove, when we really needed to come together as a country, as people whose expectation of future prosperity and self-determination are symbiotically joined, we could not pull it off. Our inability to have adult conversations about the economic and social state of our union has turned most of us into petulant children, living in an adolescent fantasy world.
We allowed ourselves to be gaslit into thinking that valuing rights is selfish, as if our parents and grandparents didn’t die fighting for them. Small businesses all over the country, as well as their patrons, were shamelessly ridiculed as greedy and privileged by American Brownshirts for daring to try and earn a living while Target and every fast-food restaurant were granted immunity. We pretended that the ‘Rona was an equal opportunity killer when it was time for school to start, leaving millions of poor children and their entire families stuck in their cramped houses all day with no way to escape, falling even further behind academically in ways that we will surely ignore for years to come.
Despite what her husband said just four years prior, we tearfully nodded along when Michelle Obama had the audacity of hopelessness to tell a class of 2020 graduates, “…for too many people in this country, no matter how hard they work, there are structural barriers working against them that just make the road longer and rockier. And sometimes it’s almost impossible to move upward at all…” That was a shocking thing for her to say to a group of young people when she and her husband’s entire lives of overcoming adversity and achieving incredible prestige and success, have been a testament directly contradicting that.
Of course, all of this didn’t have to break us. I don’t know of another country that didn’t come together this year. The U.K.’s conservative government locked everyone in their homes for months and liberal Britons went along with it dutifully, and they’re about to do it again. Every country has political and social tensions, but they all decided to let this crisis go to waste.
So, what now? I refuse to believe that we are without hope. I don’t know if Babel sunk into a deep depression and time of mayhem after the tower crumbled; we have come back from hard times before. Now that Biden has won the White House, with no apparent claim to any intersectional coalition, perhaps we can all get back to acknowledging that politicians are the slightly corrupt, slightly incompetent public servants they have always been and stop deifying them. That would be just lovely as long as we’re still allowed to acknowledge things. The secret Twitter police could really ramp up the purge and eliminate any dissenting views as the Utopia is ushered in. Make sure and screenshot this article before Xi Jinping demands it be banned from the internet. (Just kidding, Boss.)
Biden’s soft spot for China is going to have us all walking around looking like Bird Box movie posters. That will be some epic cognitive dissonance, maintaining the narrative that America is an oppressive, racist regime while turning a blind eye at China rounding up Muslims, shaving their heads, and loading them on to trains to ship them off to concentration camps. We’ll all need lobotomies trying not to see that.
America had a good crack of the whip, but a pandemic with a 99% survival rate was one Jenga block too many for us.
For half a century, we chimps have lived, worked, and managed to get by in this country while the Y Axis was shooting for the stars. If we’re being honest, we all knew it wouldn’t be long before our primitive, tribal instincts, groupthink, and willful ignorance caught up with us. But we don’t like being honest.
Weak men lead to hard times, but then hard times make strong men. We let satiation fog our vision, so here we stand, blinded and on fire. We could be entering into a dark period, or who knows, maybe it will be brilliant. Maybe we will manage to burn off some of the dead wood and rise again from the ashes. We could have gotten through anything if we could have stuck together but that clearly was not going to happen. We can expect better, demand better. We could certainly do better, but we probably won’t.
“There may be more beautiful times, but this one is ours.” —Jean-Paul Sartre