Several times during our drought summer in New York, severe thunderstorms were predicted and the atmosphere complied—ashen clouds, intense humidity, barometric pressure sucking the curtains to the screen. But then nothing happened: no deluge from the heavens, not a single drop. And before you know it: sun again, that insidious free agent.
This has been my metaphor for our democracy in peril. Something threatening happens, and we think: “At last they’ll come round.” But the heavens never open; not a single drop. It turns into just another line crossed (He declassified everything that day while riding in a golf cart; all good!).
As wildfires tore across Western Europe and the American West, I was reading Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World (2022), Barry Lopez’s posthumous essay collection. I hadn’t thought a lot about the actual earth beneath our feet as destiny, as perhaps the largest factor in making us what we are as Americans. But I paused at Lopez’s reminder that “geography, some scholars believe, has subtly but directly influenced the development of our cultures, our languages, our diets, our social organization, and to some degree even our politics.”
Over the past six years, many have concluded that to understand America’s divisiveness you need to set the Way Back Machine to the Federalists/anti-Federalists debates. But maybe, I thought, geography played more of role in this chronic schism.
A week after the murder of 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, I was sticking a stamp on an envelope. “Whose idea was that?” I asked the billowing flag. Whose idea to connect “Forever” with the Stars and Stripes? Was this person or persons sure about the Forever part? To quote André 3000: “Forever-ever?”
The Buffalo shooter had cited “the great replacement theory” as his rationale for randomly gunning down Black people—the paranoid fantasy that Democrats had hatched a diabolical plot to replace white Americans with people of color (imported or domestic).
A recent headline in the Atlantic online got on my nerves: “The Democrats Really Are That Dense about Climate Change.” I hadn’t thought much of people being “dense” since junior high. But more important, the idea that Nancy Pelosi was “blowing a once-in-a-decade chance to pass meaningful climate legislation” seemed too facile even for the Atlantic’s hourly collagen shots of news filler.
Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats fully get the do-or-die-ness of climate change. But guess what? Do-or-die-ness encompasses everything in American life right now. Gun legislation and protecting reproductive rights are pretty high up, but preserving our democracy at the polls is still paramount, given that we can already see the switchman in the distance, all set to pull the lever onto permanent minority rule.
It’s spring in the northern hemisphere, the time when influencer moms rev up for Easter’s filtered pastels, peppered here and there with the earthy painted colors of Ukrainian eggs. This year, with the people of Ukraine bloodied and bombarded in an unprovoked war of aggression, Americans aren’t as revved about the pastels.
You’d think that with the widespread lifting of COVID restrictions we’d be able to manage the cognitive dissonance of celebrating locally while mourning globally. But it’s hard to laugh. No one can seem to get the satire right, even when the president of The Force of Good once played the piano with his dick. I keep waiting for someone to stage “Springtime for Putin” à la The Producers, but so far nothing.
Jimmy Kimmel occasionally does a person-on-the-street segment where LA pedestrians are asked polling questions like “Did you vote for X in today’s election?” when there was no election or even X running as candidate. The people who say they voted for X often seem friendly, charming, and completely self-confident—folks you wouldn’t mind sitting next to on a plane.
What’s disturbing is not that these individuals lie about a democratic responsibility, but that even after being called out, they go ahead and sign the release form. The desire to have their face on television is stronger than the desire for civic integrity. The Kimmel cohort might not be chronic low-information voters, but they are at least temporary affiliates. If they do vote at all, they are likely to be the swing voters who decide on our government. Although this disparate chunk is not unified, it is nevertheless a front and can hold the nation hostage.
To ensure that America’s economic recovery continues apace, the Federal Reserve has the power to take any steps necessary to tamp down inflation, such as raise interest rates. It is understood that you can’t allow something as important as the U.S. economy to bob along on the open seas; you need intervention by “experts.”
On the progressive left, self-designated experts are becoming more and more demanding that Americans also think this way about language—that we need sanctioned versions of how we conduct public and private conversation.
Barack Obama reportedly calling Donald Trump “a corrupt motherfucker” and Barack Obama indicating there could be UFOs and Barack Obama mourning the death of Bo. We’ve recently had flashes of our beloved First Dad seeming as vulnerable and uncertain as we feel ourselves to be—this exemplar whom Brian Beutler described as always taking a “methodical, ethic-of-responsibility approach to the many crises he faced in his presidency.”
Perhaps the ultimate irony of the Trump era arrived during the voted-out President’s most recent impeachment trial, with the defense’s video montage of prominent Democrats using the word fight.
Here, in perfect Pee-wee Herman “I know you are but what am I?” fashion, lawyers for the greatest serial liar of the modern age attempt to show that there is no difference between their client and members of a party that he calls “Radical Left CRAZIES.”
In the Senate Chamber, 43 know-nothings affirmed their knowing nothing of Constitutional law—for instance, Brandenburg v. Ohio, which holds that protected First Amendment rights do not include “inciting or producing imminent lawless action.” They did so by acquitting their Gambino-in-Chief, making him free to incite lawless action on many other days.
The two weeks between the Capitol assault on our democracy and the inauguration of our 46th President roughly coincided with Sotheby’s “Americana Week, January 8 to 22.” In promoting furniture and folk art up for virtual bid, the auction house oddly designated a “week” as lasting 14 days.
But that wasn’t what diverted my attention to the Sotheby’s ad. It was View of Hallowell, Maine, an “American School” painting described in the catalog as “a mother and her son gazing upon the bustling waterfront and business district . . . from Butternut Park on the Chelsea side of the Kennebec River.”