Most of us are familiar with the scenario repeated again and again in the classic Warner Brothers cartoons directed by Chuck Jones: the famished coyote (sometimes aided by products he has purchased from the Acme Corporation) races to catch the apparently tasty and nutritious road runner. Sadly, at some point the chase downshifts to disaster, and poor Mr. Coyote goes flying off an exceedingly high cliff, sailing blithely through the whistling winds until he looks down, realizes his predicament, and begins his long fall toward a painful impact with the ground below.
Keep in mind that, as the gag goes, he does not begins his fall until he recognizes that he is standing on thin air. Horrified comprehension must, it seems, precede the sad descent.
Given the multiple meltdowns that seem a staple of our daily news, I wonder whether we are now coasting through the ether toward a collective perception of our own doom—right before the terrible splat of finality. Just consider the many upheavals of the past year—you can take your pick of so very, very many here—and cap it off with whatever juicy political scandal or rumor suits your fancy. I half expect to next read that a top-hatted man with a sinister mustache has tied a struggling damsel to a railroad track. It would make as much sense as anything else happening these days. When satire is virtually indistinguishable from fact, you know something is seriously awry with the world.
However, we seem to have avoided the panicked look downward—for now. The Dow Jones Average is still sailing along, the many levels of our government continue to busily borrow and spend, and home buyers seem once again convinced that the laws of gravity have been repealed. What could possibly go wrong?
Just for a start, a stock market that has fantastically decoupled itself from all standard measures of corporate and economic health seems ripe for an Enron-style swan dive. In addition, piling on more and more public debt serves to only further cripple our futures. Finally, given that housing markets can crash—and once more drag our entire banking system down with them—when the spigot of easy bank credit is finally shut off, just a wee bit of rational fear might be justified. This is just a smidgen of a list. There is so much more lurking in the shadows—and right out in the open—to bedevil us, but wasn’t that a great Super Bowl?
We have not yet looked down—but the breeze should be tickling our ears right about now.
All nations face problems on a regular basis, but the size and scope of some of those at our doorstep must give even the most sanguine among us a bit of a nervous chill. Our broken political process—which seems more volatile, more divided, and more frustrating by the hour—does not bode well for our successful navigation of the many issues that beset us.
It sometimes seems like half of our country is not on speaking terms with the other half, so the search for common ground and common purpose is more elusive than ever. As unrealistic as it might be to actually implement, it is worrisome that California may soon have an advisory question on its ballot regarding whether or not to secede from the United States. It is not quite Fort Sumter, but it is a clear sign that many are losing interest in the inherent give and take of the democratic process and care little for values other than their own. This perhaps indicates that, like that ancient Roman army, we have crossed the Rubicon—and there is no longer a chance to turn back—but others believe that those who suggest caution are merely alarmist. After all, why would you want to ruin the wonderful party?
So let’s all try not to look down, my fellow coyotes, and hope for the best….