Slow-Motion Apocalypse

Copyright © by Len Holman, 7/1/11


  Secretary Of Defense Robert Gates is retiring, which only means he’s leaving his job, not that he’s reticent about stating his position.  He has said (as quoted by Newsweek) that America is losing its grip.  This is macho-speak for The End of the America.  It is the negative side of Manifest Destiny, in which the U. S. doesn’t gain prominence and power, it loses them.  Gates laments the polarization in Washington and also laments the lack of commitment, in money and political will, to engage with the world, which sounds veddy British colonial.  Gates speaks with the petulant tone of a Wall Street stock trader who is angry that his corner office doesn’t have a built-in latté machine: “I’ve spent my entire adult life with the United States as a superpower, and one that had no compunction about spending what it took to sustain that position.  It didn’t have to look over its shoulder because our economy was so strong.  This is a different time.” 

  Obviously Mr. Gates is not only missing the good old days, he is a master of the obvious.  This IS a different time, as anyone looking for a job could have told him.  He wants what he wants, which is a rich, powerful nation with the military might to go anywhere, do anything, and answer to no one.  He wants an unlimited budget, though he appears willing to cut down on the pastry cart visits to the Inner Circle to save a few bucks. It’s really not fair to castigate Gates for wanting the Golden Years to return.  That’s the single, core, issue in all the Tea Party rhetoric.  Sure, they TALK about huge cuts and no taxes, but they do that because they think that’s the way back to Kansas. 

  Even the most sanguine of economists don’t believe we will be a fully functioning superpower any time soon.  We are going to have to make do.  It’s a slow, steady deterioration from our Golden Days,  and we can do without the “help” of those who want to go from colorful Oz back to sepia Kansas right this very minute—as if that could actually be done.  Michele Bachmann and her “titanium spine” (her words), and her insistence that the 10th Amendment is supreme, and her call for a constitutional amendment making whatever the states do about gay marriage moot—even though that’s not going to happen in her lifetime, and even though, perhaps as a gesture of goodwill towards her base, it SEEMS to fly in the face of the devolving of our federation, and even though she just said, in Iowa, that we can’t go back in time—that’s exactly what she wants to do.  The Founders realized early on that a nation of this size, with this diversity, would not long endure without judiciously applied centrality.  Their experience and life-long reading and thinking—which has seemed to elude most, if not all, of the candidates for the next election—led them to see the folly and danger of fragmentation.  Yet we continue to fragment. 

  It’s not happening as quickly as a lightning strike, but rather a grinding, slow-motion 20 car pile-up on the freeway that gets shown to high school driver’s ed. classes.  Or maybe it’s more like a building being imploded and the TV news shows it over and over in agonizing slo-mo as it settles from forty stories into dust.  However you envision it, this settling into dust has taken a long time and will take a long time more  before we join our children in the rubble heaps, scrounging for food and bits of metal.  Haiti, we’re not—at least not yet.  It is, however, a well-known effect that mobs produce mob behavior, and mob behavior produces its own kinetics, its own reason for being, despite facts or circumstances. 

  The mob includes the chattering classes, people running for office, zealots with an eye toward scaring the hell out of the rest of us—all masters of pointing backward at this slow, steady decline of a once-great America.  We have heard how horrible our government is, how many illegals there are here, how they’re using up all our resources and giving nothing back, how much money we’re spending (but not on roads and bridges), how awful everything is—and pretty soon a sort of mob-panic sets in and the next thing anyone knows is that the “received wisdom” becomes the perceived reality.  Sure, it’s an election year, but this drumbeat of imminent collapse has been going on for some time, and the roots of it have been ignored for even longer.  We, as a country, have lived a profligate’s life and the bill for all that hedonism is coming due—repentance can be attained, but only if we believe it CAN be.  Only if we believe all the great problems can be handled, a step at a time.

  This all reminds me of a summer job I had when I was a kid.  I was a hired to clean a neighbor’s backyard, and I took the job because I always could use some spending cash—not being born with a silver spoon, or ANY spoon.  When I saw the yard, I almost cried.  The whole big yard was a tangle of dead limbs broken off of shaggy trees, brambles, trash, a lawn which hadn’t been mowed in years, every manner of weed in North America, and piles of smelly dog poop from two big Dobies.  I didn’t know where to start, but I needed the money, so I just started.  It looked hopeless, and if I’d had “friends” who told me, “This is impossible, let’s go get a burger,” I might have left.  But I pitched in, and in three weeks, I had made a sizeable dent in the mess, and in another two weeks, I had it mostly done.  It took me almost the whole of my summer vacation to get it right. 

  We have an economic, political, social, and philosophical mess in this country, and it looks hopeless—especially with the constant drumbeat of our “friends” who are politicians with an agenda or the media with an agenda, which agendas don’t seem to include actually rolling up sleeves, diving in and STARTING to fix the mess.  The way politicians are talking now, only the Tea Party can save us, or the liberals or SOMEONE before it all slowly crumbles beneath us.  But even a slow-motion football stadium implosion—which leaves a HUGE mess—will be re-built, better, roomier, pricier than before.  Our slow-motion collapse can be slowed, if not stopped, but it will take time and will and effort—OUR time, will, and effort.  Stadiums get rebuilt, yards eventually get cleaned.  The American exceptionalism now being touted by the fearmongers, the unsophisticated, and those lusting for power doesn’t include whining—but it DOES include DOING.


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