I read this today: “worst health crisis since 1918… worst recession since 1933… worst race riots since 1968.” This is the worst start to a hurricane season, ever. Second day, already three named storms. Eli told me on Sunday about the internet chatter he’s been seeing. The super volcano under Yellowstone National Park is getting ready to erupt. Worst natural disaster since the Cretaceous Period. My friends, we’re screwed.
My favorite literature genre is dystopian fiction. Distopia: (noun) an imagined state or society in which there is great suffering or injustice, typically one that is totalitarian or post-apocalyptic. Or more simply put, the opposite of utopia.
Since my early adulthood, I’ve sought out books featuring er, challenged societies. The Rift: The aftermath of a massive earthquake; Lucifer’s Hammer: The aftermath of a climate changing meteor strike; One Second After: Nuclear holocaust; Earth Abides: Pandemic; The Stand: Weird showdown between good and evil. These books feature exciting plots of survivors living by guile and wit, eking out an existence, and if they’re lucky, a life. These books offer an escape from my cushy, modern life with two cars, a desk job and a three-bedroom house.
It’s been a couple of months since I read a book. I can’t concentrate. The daily news leaves me agitated and distracted. I click on Coronavirus stats and unemployment figures and the Dow Jones closing price. I click on CNN twenty times an hour to see what’s changed. I read last week that a third of American adults are currently showing signs of anxiety and/or depression. I have a history with both, I know the signs. My inability to open a book is one of them.
Just when you thought nothing could get worse, some jackass cop in Minneapolis murdered a citizen accused of a misdemeanor. Because the killing took nine minutes to commit and was performed on a busy sidewalk, it was video recorded. And because the victim was yet another black man being treated in an inhuman fashion, the shit has hit the fan.
Since the pandemic took hold in America and spread disproportionately compared to every other country, I’ve been viewing the entire episode as something of a karma exchange. A giant swath of our population, led by our commander and chief, is one part stupid and two parts arrogant. We refuse to take Covid-19 seriously, we mistreat our allies, coddle our adversaries, and flip a middle finger at everyone in our country who isn’t of European descent. I could easily write a two-thousand-word essay by simply listing the egregious actions and statements made by Donald Trump since he set his sights on the presidency, but I won’t. The list is well documented and available to anyone with an internet browser.
In 2004, I read The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry. As I read that book, I envisioned the darkness that must have swept over the nation. So many Americans dying of a random and uncontrollable disease. I couldn’t see how society could cope with so much sorrow.
When the covid-19 pandemic struck, I wrote many blog posts describing the sinking “it’s all over” vibe I was feeling. I was waiting for the darkness I envisioned in 1918. It never came. What I learned is humans are adaptable animals. Everyone keeps talking about the new normal, where normal includes living in fear, tracking cases and deaths, wearing a mask, isolation. It’s been bad, but it hasn’t met my dreaded expectations. This pandemic thing seems doable.
But now my sinking feeling is back. It’s in response Trump’s handling of the protests sweeping America. His strongman/dictator demeanor and rhetoric over the past week has helped me see just how bad off our country really is. The presidents in my life—all presidents—have stepped into the role of unifier when a crisis hit.
Trump didn’t do this during these early days of the pandemic and the recession, and he isn’t doing it with the protests. Instead, he pours on gasoline and fans the flames. He has offered nothing but threats of violence since the protest started. He even threatened the citizenry with military attacks. Not once has Trump suggested that the protesters might have a point.
The United States is spiraling out of control. We’ve taken the three biggest disasters of last century—pandemic, recession, riots—and molded them into one giant pill. Then we shoved it down our own throat. Every civilization has an arc. America’s was clearly on the down slope over the past twenty years—escalating debt, crumbling infrastructure, sky-rocketing drug overdoses, and a declining middle class. But now it seems our downward arc has turned into a cliff.
Why not have the Yellowstone super volcano eruption right now. I say get it over with. We’re on a rocky downward ride pretty much of our own making, and I don’t think anything will start to improve until we finally hit the bottom.