School districts across America are flabbergasted—and rightly so—by the latest TikTok challenge: Film yourself slapping a teacher in the face and post it online.
However, as antisocial and insulting as this latest foray into youthful idiocy might be, it perhaps also points to the harsh reality of America in 2021: We live in a profoundly disrespectful age, and this is not a disrespect that targets only educators. The choruses of “Fuck Joe Biden” that now ring out at sporting events and gatherings across the country are an obvious symptom of the rapidly receding consent of the angry governed. Teachers are no longer as automatically respected as they once were, but neither are a broad range of government officials and employees that run the gamut from police officers to professors to public health officials.
The relentless politicization of every aspect of our lives is the root of much of this discontent because it causes every governmental action to have an equal and opposite reaction that features bitter vitriol, grandiose conspiracy theories—or both. The rational and reasonable middle ground has been erased by our combative and extremist culture that rewards the most cretinous and rude among us with attention, money, and votes.
Sir Issac Newton’s Laws of Thermodynamics expressly deny the possibility of a perpetual motion machine, but he never could have ever imagined the self-reinforcing properties of round-the-clock news cycles, identity politics gone amuck, social media exhibitionism, personal attack as entertainment, and a scandal-hungry public—all of which now spin in an endless cycle of anger, blame, and retribution. Our dizzying, nauseating, and infuriating tribalism is a continual orgy of outrage that only serves to erode the remnants of our national unity while energizing the most destructive individuals and groups among us in the pursuit of their insane quests to crush their cultural and political opponents.
Governance now more closely resembles celebrity wrestling than a sacred Constitutional trust. Where and when exactly this line was crossed is hard to say, but there are many obvious villains and depressing examples in recent American history we can examine.
Was it George Bush lying his way into a war in Iraq that had nothing to do with the attacks on September 11th? Was it Bill Clinton getting a blow job from an intern in the Oval Office? Was it the disconnect between Barack Obama’s soaring rhetoric and his meager record in office? Was it Donald Trump using his itchy Twitter finger to attack his political opponents? Was it Nancy Pelosi tearing up President Trump’s State of the Union speech at its conclusion? Was it Joe Biden bumbling his way into a disastrous military surrender in Afghanistan? Is it the spectacle of today watching Senators and Representatives fight over spending the last borrowed dollars of the United States’ vanishing wealth like selfish heirs battling over the provisions of a rich uncle’s last will and testament?
Or is it simply the horrible realization, while listening to the subterfuge that now has replaced statesmanship, that we are led by hucksters and performers whose only concern is being re-elected to the high offices that they routinely abuse for their own personal gain or the egregious aggrandizement of their campaign donors?
I have been conducting my own mental exercise, and I recommend everyone try it: Try to name three contemporary national leaders whom you would hold up without reservation as role models for future generations. We are a long way from the days when it was normal for Americans to hang the President’s portrait in their parlors, and this deterioration of the relationship between the government and the people is an existential threat that we ignore at our own peril.
The chasm between our smug, oblivious leadership and the infuriated, unwillingly herded citizenry should worry us a lot more than it apparently does. Although forcing compliance with sanctions imposed on those who resist—and the silencing of those who speak out—can work effectively up to a certain point, most Americans will neither trust nor respect leaders who routinely lie to their faces and continually denigrate our country. However, for reasons that probably fascinate only those who dream of an all-powerful state, there are plenty of lost souls in our nation who are passive enough and terrified enough to actually thrill to the lash of the governmental whip, which is likely a tribute to the sad effectiveness of employing endless fear as a tool of social and political control.
The problem is that the sheep who enjoy being led are wholly different from the risk takers who create our businesses, solve our problems, and race to the nearest recruiting office when our nation is under attack.
The generalized disenchantment and disgust of those who do the hard work of building and defending our nation is a danger to our long term prosperity and safety because the wastrels and whiners who don’t step up or speak out fail to understand that democracy is a privilege that must be defended daily against those who love unrestricted power and hate strong, free Americans. A nation composed of the easily victimized and readily bamboozled is an easy target for all of our nation’s enemies—both those foreign and domestic.
Any solution to the divide that now exists between our government and the governed is certainly elusive—and likely impossible—because we are too far down the road toward a soft totalitarianism that irrevocably separates those who welcome its shackles from those who are repelled by its existence.
The cheerleaders for state control of our movements, speech, and beliefs are obviously not students of the history of our nation. If they had received even the most rudimentary education regarding our founders and founding documents, perhaps they would be less joyful about the prospect of a hi-tech tyranny that they mistakenly believe will protect them from harm—whether that harm be physical or emotional in nature.
Our inalienable rights as Americans living in a Constitutional democracy are meaningless if we cannot speak openly and act according to our personal beliefs and moral values. Others may choose to disagree with what we say, but they are not permitted to silence us or rob us of our essential freedoms.
The notion that some are now openly espousing, that individual liberties must be surrendered to meet whatever threat is deemed to be at hand, is now taken to the most absurd extremes by safety absolutists who believe words are violence, that we can be shielded from every physical risk, and an ever expanding list of basic needs must be provided free of charge in order to banish want. Therefore, our freedom of speech and expression must be circumscribed, our movements and actions controlled, and our property and wealth seized.
Only by becoming slaves can we, in a mental somersault worthy of Orwell, be made truly free.
Whether or not the average person recognizes this illogical logic, it is obvious that a taste for rebellion is creeping into our national discourse and affecting our responses to the many mandates now raining down on our daily lives. How this will play out over the next year will be a gut check for our country.
Hang on tight. It’s going to be a rough and difficult road ahead that will determine all of our futures for many decades to come.