“There’s something happening here—For What It’s Worth
What it is ain’t exactly clear . . . “
There’s an old joke that every disaster is unprecedented until it happens for the first time, but one would be hard pressed to find a situation comparable to that now facing our nation.
We have dealt with severe infectious disease outbreaks in the past—in 1957, for example, it is estimated that the so-called Asian Flu killed 116,000 Americans—but never before have we deemed it necessary to engage in unprecedented (there’s that word again) governmentally-mandated lockdowns and shutdowns that have brought our lives to a near standstill.
We are in uncharted territory, to say the least.
Right now we are seeing a lot of jockeying for economic and political advantage without the benefit of any blueprint beyond a best guess. Given that no one knows what actually lies ahead and the supposed experts are busy masking their confusion with a self-assuredness that they most assuredly do not actually feel, we seem to have our pick of fundamentally useless (but well-paying) predictions to guide us into the brave, new world snarling just over the dark horizon.
What we do know from history is that crises of this magnitude tend to erase the existing power structures with startling speed. To presume that any government or institution is immune from obliteration is the ultimate in willful blindness, The bejeweled Russian nobility happily waltzing in their palaces in 1914 were certain that centuries of Czarist rule would continue unabated—right up to the moment Czar Nicholas II abdicated in 1917. The ancient Romans were likewise convinced their corrupt, overextended, and apparently eternal empire was inviolable right up to the very day the barbarian hordes swept into Rome in 410.
To pretend that the world we know is permanent requires us to ignore the faded glories of nations and civilizations that were at one time equally permanent.
Governments around the globe are facing anger and fear that are an extension of other angers and fears that long predated the appearance of the Coronavirus. It is the nature of humanity to be restless and unruly, but over the past several decades hope has curdled into bitterness for many.
Perhaps the corruption that is inevitably conjoined to power has become too entrenched and obvious to ignore. Perhaps it has become plain that science and technology are often our oppressor rather than our savior. Perhaps we have a sense that too many of our leaders seem shrunken and stupid compared to those individuals who led us in the past. Perhaps the ongoing weaponization of basic human disagreements has led to more suspicion and bile than any nation can possibly bear.
And perhaps too many have felt too ignored for too long and are too frustrated with too much.
The mistake that many academic social and political analyses make—and which renders them useless almost upon delivery—is the underlying assumption that logical, rational explanations exist and are the inevitable precursors to logical, rational solutions. This mindset works for the smaller, tangible issues that arise in local politics, but it tends to fail when scaled up to broader national issues.
There is, for example, probably a logical, rational reason that your town or municipality is seeing steep tax increases that suggests a logical, rational solution for reconciling your local government outlays with tax receipts.
However, attempting to diagnose the infinite variety of reasons that our vast and unwieldy federal government has been rapidly bankrupting our nation with deficit spending on a scale never before seen—much less solve the many problems this creates—crashes into oblique accounting, contradictory priorities, and entrenched special interests that have no interest in either truth or fairness. Worse yet, the preservation of so many programs, departments, bureaucracies—and the spending they control—now has become the raison d’etre of government itself. The annoying needs of the average citizen are an afterthought—if they are thought of at all.
Let’s face facts. If a large, omnipotent, and unaccountable government were the key to human comfort and contentment, the men and women of the old Soviet Union were likely the happiest humans ever to trod the face of our planet. Most people just want to be left alone to live their lives as they please without a lot of backseat driving from Big Government and their many, many minions who try to modify, circumscribe, and sanitize our thoughts, actions, and speech in order to provide some elusive and undefined “good” in exchange for our absolute obedience.
Perhaps the one benefit we have seen as our lives and livelihoods have been stolen in order to forestall the spread of Coronavirus, which has turned out to be perhaps as deadly as the aforementioned Asian Flu, is that many Americans have decided that squirming out from under the thumbs of their government overseers is both possible and exhilarating.
Defiance is very much like the virus that is preoccupying us at the peculiar and dangerous moment in history: It is contagious. I expect we will see other forms of rebellion against many mandates and guidelines issued by government entities in the months directly ahead. I would not, in fact, be surprised to see civil disobedience erupt on a scale not seen since the 1960’s.
Am I predicting a revolution? No, I am not. Nor do I believe there should be one. We are still blessed to be living in a sturdy democracy that was, as we should always remember, founded by individuals who believed that disobedience of unjust or unfair government actions was both a right and a duty.
The spirit of our revolutionary forefathers might be reawakening. Having having seen our prosperity, security, and freedoms swept away in a scant sixty days, there is certainly enough pent-up anger to drive deliberate lawbreaking by ordinary Americans who would not otherwise dream of engaging in active defiance. Much of this will initially manifest itself in opening doors that were required to be shut, going out to places we were ordered to avoid, and questioning the wisdom of those officials who presumed to put their individual states, regions, and cities into economic and civic deep freezes.
Having disobeyed once, having questioned authority twice, and having asserted their freedoms three times, open defiance might well become a new and exciting habit for many Americans.
Although we have been surprisingly forgiving in the face of many unwarranted intrusions and obvious missteps by our elected officials in the past, returning long-serving leaders to office year after year despite being unhappy with the overall direction of our nation, I suspect we have crossed a red line over the past couple of months. If the shocking 2016 election of Donald Trump was a warning to our elected elites, it could be the case that the 2020 election will be an outright repudiation of all they have stood for.
Therefore, the infection that should most worry the current leadership of our nation might not be the Coronavirus. It could turn out to be that the most devastating and destructive new contagion now sweeping our nation will be the disgust and disdain that will follow a great many Americans into the voting booth in roughly six short months.