FRIDAY, JANUARY 14, 2022
...some challenges may have been simpler: Is the nation in which we all live "coming apart at the seams?"
We're not sure how to answer your question. To some extent, it all depends on what the meaning of "coming apart at the seams" is!
That said, today's New York Times includes two columns which explicitly suggest that we're "coming apart."
One column appears beneath this headline:
We Need to Think the Unthinkable About Our Country
"The United States as we know it could come apart at the seams," that column's authors explicitly say. And then, there's the new column today by David Brooks.
The headline there comes right out and says it. In this morning's New York Times, the David Brooks headline says this:
America Is Falling Apart at the Seams
In his column, Brooks presents a substantial list of indications that things are falling apart. He includes a steady rise in drug deaths and an alarming increase in hate crimes.
That said, why is our nation coming undone? After citing the usual suspects, Brooks says he just doesn't know:
BROOKS (1/14/22): What the hell is going on? The short answer: I don’t know. I also don’t know what’s causing the high rates of depression, suicide and loneliness that dogged Americans even before the pandemic and that are the sad flip side of all the hostility and recklessness I’ve just described.
We can round up the usual suspects: social media, rotten politics. When President Donald Trump signaled it was OK to hate marginalized groups, a lot of people were bound to see that as permission.
But there must also be some spiritual or moral problem at the core of this. Over the past several years, and over a wide range of different behaviors, Americans have been acting in fewer pro-social and relational ways and in more antisocial and self-destructive ways. But why?
As a columnist, I’m supposed to have some answers. But I just don’t right now. I just know the situation is dire.
That's the way his column ends. He says the situation is dire.
We tend to agree with that assessment. Indeed, experts have been telling us, for quite a few years, that the game has already been lost. We began citing Norman O. Brown's dire words from 1966 (see below) as far back as 2009.
A "silent secession" has already happened, those major top scholars all tell us. Already, we've ceased to be a nation at all, let alone a functioning nation. This fact will only become more clear, these despondent top experts all say.
(Also in this morning's Times: "R.N.C. Signals a Pullout From Presidential Debates." The next step in the silent secession!)
To his credit, David Brooks says he doesn't know why this meltdown is happening. A few weeks back, we thought about this very question, and we came up with three major points.
For a reason we can't remember, our rumination was based around President Kennedy's trip to Berlin in June 1963. The president had five months left to live. When he gave his famous speech in Berlin, he lived in a quite different world:
Our nation's identity crisis: It's hard to remember how much more homogeneous the nation was at that time.
We were a largely vanilla nation at the time of Kennedy's election. With a population of 180 million souls, we broke down roughly as shown in terms of ethnicity / "race:"
United States population, 1960
Our family moved from Massachusetts to California in the summer of 1960. We were entering the eighth grade, and also a much better world.
Because of that move, we were lucky enough to go to school with Hispanic and Asian (and Jewish!) kids. And yes, our brand-new, baby-boom era, Cali high school had Hispanic and Asian pom-pom girls, Hispanic and Asian class presidents.
Eddie Diaz was our twenty-something basketball coach. At the time, he was the third-leading scorer in San Jose State history, though we mistakenly thought he stood first.
Regional anomalies to the side, the nation was largely a two-race collection. Today, an amazing array of identities crowd the stage, and everyone has a complaint.
Those complaints may all be perfectly valid. But it's hard to run a giant nation with a gigantic array of identity groups—and the complaints will often be poorly stated, as it has been within our species ever since we first crawled on the land.
It's hard to run a very large nation which is demographically fragmented, whether by religion, language or "race." This isn't the "fault" of any particular person or group, but it's a fairly obvious fact, widely observed worldwide.
The democratization of media: Back then, there were two ways you could get your news, such as it was. You could get it from Walter Cronkite, or you could get it from David Brinkley. Those were your two basic choices.
Neither man was perfect, of course, but neither man was crazy. It was hard to hear ludicrous statements back then. Today, the promulgation of ludicrous statements and slanted frameworks is a gigantic growth industry.
Tucker Carlson is part of that powerful problem. So is Rachel Maddow.
(So is the trusted professor whore recently told us that Kyle Rittenhouse was pursuing Joseph Rosenbaum on that unfortunate night in Kenosha. So is Ali Velshi, who let that ridiculous statement pass, as our favorite stars constantly do when they speak with their corporate and brand-assigned "friends.")
This sprawling democratization has been a type of disaster. On the brighter side, the profit margins and the salaries can be amazingly good at the top of the pile.
The external enemy rules: When President Kennedy went to Berlin, he derided the way the Soviet bloc had been forced to build walls around East Berlin to keep its citizens in. This made us look good by comparison:
KENNEDY (6/26/63): Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was "civis Romanus sum." Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner." ["I am a Berliner."]
There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin.
There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin.
And there are some who say, in Europe and elsewhere, we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin.
And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass' sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin!
Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us...
Our democracy isn't perfect, the vibrant young president said. Two months later, Birmingham Sunday occurred.
Still and all, the Soviet Union was the perfect external enemy. In first grade, we'd been taught to hide beneath our desks if or when the nuclear war ever came to Winchester, Mass. A potent external enemy can be a great source of fear, and thus a great unifying force.
It was actually hard to hear crazy statements back then. Locked in a truly scary Cold War, we tended to trust our leaders. Sometimes, we downplayed our own historical disasters, which were of course still going on.
Today, it's pretty much Crazy and Stupid pretty much all the way down. The profit margins can be very good, but our nation has already come apart—and yes, we liberals have done this too.
Our stars churn novelized Storyline all night long each night. Our tribes are almost completely unable to see this, just as it ever was.
Still coming: Kenosha novelized
Norman O. Brown was very hot: And he sometimes thought he saw this:
BROWN (1966): I sometimes think I see that societies originate in the discovery of some secret, some mystery; and end in exhaustion when there is no longer any secret, when the mystery has been divulged, that is to say profaned...And so there comes a time—I believe we are in such a time—when civilization has to be renewed by the discovery of some new mysteries, by the undemocratic but sovereign power of the imagination, by the undemocratic power which makes poets the unacknowledged legislators of all mankind, the power which makes all things new.
Norman O. Brown was very hot at the time. Everyone was reading his books. He made that statement in a Phi Beta Kappa speech, not in one of his books. We don't recall how we knew that.
We also have no idea what he actually meant. But we began recalling those words in 2009, and they do seem clairvoyant today.
Are we "ending in exhaustion?" Doesn't it seem a bit like that?