In the early months of Joe Biden’s Presidency, I often pause to imagine his administration’s capacity for solving even one of the existential crises in full bloom right now. It’s not that I don’t believe President Biden has the best intentions: when he professes virulent opposition to horrors like police brutality towards black Americans, I get no taste of hollow rhetorical flourish.
My musings on feasibility have more to do with the enormity of the issues; wounds and schisms neglected for either decades or centuries now heavy enough to force collapse. A country either not willing or able to take a look in the mirror for so long calcifies into a dystopian wind tunnel.
It took the election and following four years of unspeakable brutality at the hands of Donald J. Trump to expose just how ill this country is. John Fugelsang, a comedian and activist I enjoy on Twitter calls Trump “the stripper pole for broken white men”. And what a show it’s been.
If you accept the fact that America’s prognosis for survival is at best 50/50, you may have the same concerns I do. A radical overhaul of any one of these foundational evils would put Biden in FDR’s league of excellence: Criminal Justice, the Wealth Gap, Student Loan Debt, Healthcare, or Racial Equity.
I could go on but I don’t want to get back in bed after writing this. Notice Climate Change and the Pandemic are missing to soften despair.
The fact is that even before Trump and Corona, Americans lived a life of collective malaise. Whether you realized it or not, our way of life was subverting your true, genuine happiness.
Our leaders made choices. Those choices made us financially vulnerable, isolated and fearful.
It was an America with one core belief: Rugged Individualism. Or put another way “You’re On Your Own”.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is a poster boy for this approach to governing. In the midst of a humanitarian crisis unfolding among his constituents, this guy took his family to Cancun for a little sunshine and pampering. Who other than a statesmen popularly elected based on a record of political expedience, anti-government intervention, and libertarian sound bites would even consider such a flagrantly callous move?
It’s not that Individualism as a value is without merit. But America’s near erotic embrace of private ownership, self advancement and lack of concern for the vulnerable has given way to a form of capitalism too manic to survive.
Let’s imagine America was given a report card right now, in March of 2021. We wouldn’t even pull out a “C”. The richest country in the world would get a D or F depending on if we’re graded on a curve. Multiple basic quality of life indicators are totally absent and the rest of the first world feels pity.
Today is St. Patrick’s Day. Tomorrow or Friday could bring about the following tragedies and the public would not bat an eye.
You could get shot. This isn’t a nation under the thumb of narcotics cartels. Our taxes pay police salaries, yet with absurdly tragic frequency we host mass shootings in schools, public spaces, places of worship and movie theaters. During lockdown we’ve seen the longest period of time without a mass shooting in years.
You could be completely wiped out financially by a health crisis or death in the family. In no other developed country is the healthcare infrastructure so dysfunctional. Look no further than our COVID response for irrefutable evidence.
Are you black? You or a loved one may die or be seriously injured at the hands of the police. That cop will likely pay no price. We all witnessed DC police step softly as a whisper during the white insurrection on the Capitol, and we all saw the National Guard in all their military glory occupying streets full of peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters. No counter argument can be taken seriously.
Again, this is a very abbreviated list.
What’s our path forward? If we’re all vaccinated by the holidays and begin returning to communal life, will we find anything noticeably different than it was in March of 2020?
We must think about what we’re going back to clearly and objectively in the midst of what I expect will be an unspeakably joyful return to one another’s company. The grace period has ended: falling back into the old, miserable routines will assure American destruction.
This time, one unlike any other in history, is our last chance to go for broke. To rebuild, not modify.