The 12 weeks since Jan. 20 have seen more scandal, international incidents, incompetence, instability, lies and jaw-dropping embarrassments than the previous 12 years combined. Faith in inevitable salvation is a luxury we can no longer afford.
BP has not been pleased.
Indeed, BP, who is one of my readers, has been downright disappointed with what she’s seen in this space since last year’s election. She wrote me about it a few days ago. Her email said, in part:
“I had hoped for your articles to be the beacon of light to show the way a democracy should work. Instead I am finding hopelessness and unrelenting anger at the outcome and all that has come since.
“ … We need intellectuals with a balanced mind to help us go forward. No matter how much we disagree with the direction, we need to be guided the humane way, not the angered way. Anger begets anger begets irrational and hateful behaviors. We have enough of that.
“Would you consider helping guide us to be more humane instead of just angry? Journalists have the most amazing influence, and I have always felt that way about your words. Please use your words to move us forward. We already know how to be angry.”
I think BP makes an important point. Here’s how I replied:
“I’ve struggled with the issues you raise since November. Frankly, I would love to be a ‘beacon of light.’ But the fact of the matter is, I don’t feel particularly hopeful, and I am angry. Everything that has happened since Jan. 20 has only reinforced my pessimism.
“I worry for the future of this country in a way I never have before. With the possible exception of the 1850s — the decade preceding the Civil War — we have simply never been this divided. Frankly, I don’t know if reconciliation is possible. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s even desirable.
“ … I think honesty is something every writer — and in particular a writer of personal essays — owes a reader. I could conceivably write the kind of columns you’re asking for, but it would be a lie. And I’ve always believed that at some subliminal level, a reader always knows when he’s being lied to.”
BP wants light. But just now, all I have is resistance. And, if reading our exchange you’re struck by my cynicism about reconciliation, you should know, for whatever it’s worth, that I’m struck by it, too.
I am, after all, the same guy who once wrote columns denouncing politicians who blithely floated the idea of secession. But that feels like a hundred years ago, before we became this Frankenstein’s monster of ill-fitting parts.
America is a story of victory over long odds, a movie where the hero smashes through in the final reel. Our national mythology holds that the worst only happens in other countries. We are spared because we are us. So it’s understandable that some of us are sanguine, even now, that we will eventually figure out how to knit those parts back into a functioning and cohesive whole.
But the 12 weeks since Jan. 20 have seen more scandal, international incidents, incompetence, instability, lies and jaw-dropping embarrassments than the previous 12 years combined. America is threatened as it has never been before. And it occurs to me that faith in inevitable salvation is a luxury we can no longer afford.
Whatever comes next, there is nothing predestined about it. If America is to be saved, it won’t be because we are us. It won’t be because some columnist wrote soothing words. It will be because enough of us decided America was worth fighting for, and did. That’s what I’ve been trying to say.
You may think it alarmist. If that turns out to be the case, I’ll be happy — indeed, relieved — to concede the point.
Meantime, I am reminded of what Aristotle said: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” That’s always been America’s saving truth.
Time for us to decide whether it still is.