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Friday, September 1, 2017

Perspective


I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.
-- Ronald Reagan, President of the United States, First Inaugural Address, 1981


Are we doomed?

Are we doomed as a country?

Are we doomed as a people, we Americans?

It’s happened elsewhere. Societies too big to manage, nations fractured by conflict and politics and chaos, civil society torn apart by madness and religion, diversity become irreconcilable differences and populations grown more dissimilar than they are alike, national bankruptcy, unquenchable rage, anger, distrust, malfeasance, until it all just … falls apart.

History is littered with the yellowed bones of failed nation states and dead empires.

History is chock-a-block with countries that put a gun to their own head and pulled the trigger.

Is that us?

Is it?

Since November, and particularly since Charlottesville, I've gotten thousands of messages asking the same question: Are we doomed?

Is America done for?

Are we next?

If my email is any indicator, many Americans seem to think so.

A lot of people outside of America believe it.

It certainly seems as if we’re on the cusp and it could go either way.


But then, isn’t that how it always is?


America, we’re always on the brink.

Balanced on one foot, arms wind-milling, teetering over chaos with alligators snapping below. 

We’ve been through this before.

And it’s been far worse.

We …

What?

What’s that?

Oh, you want to know when it’s been worse than it is right now?

When I said that a few days back, it’s been worse, on Facebook, a number of readers called me on it.

When was it worse?

When? Well, I suppose that depends on your point of view.

Better, worse, it’s about perspective. For example: I regularly speak to people of a generation who think the 1950s were just about as damned near perfect as it’s possible for a nation to get.

And they were, perfect.

So long as you were a member of the newly minted, post-war middle class with a well-paying job in one of America’s new industries, and if you weren’t too particular about civil rights or a woman’s place in society or drafted to fight in Korea or suspected of being a godless commie or one of them believers in evolution, well, yeah, things were pretty good. But for people not in that demographic, if, say, you were a black man in The South of that time, well, maybe things weren’t so great, especially when the KKK was putting a noose around your neck. For a lot of older Americans, nothing will ever be as good as the 1950s. But maybe, for some Americans, maybe that time was worse than now.

Maybe that decade was much worse.

It depends on your perspective often enough.

As a nation, as a fractious people, we've been through worse and survived.

Hell, the ink was barely dry on the Constitution when George Washington himself had to send in federal forces to put down armed rebellion. A few years after that, our former masters in London invaded the United States and burned the White House to the ground. The Civil War didn’t just break out suddenly one day without warning, you know. There were decades of tension and acrimony between two utterly incompatible ideologies. If you think Congress is broken now you should study what it was like in the years leading up to that war. And there were decades of tension and acrimony after the Civil War as well. Jim Crow. Separate but not so equal. Lynching. The Ku Klux Klan.

Then there was the Great Depression and then World War II. The Bomb. The Red Scare.

I mentioned those people who grew up in the 50s and how much certain of them idolize that time. Me? I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, the streets were full of riot, drugs, crime, chaos. War in Vietnam and at home. Civil Rights. Woman’s Rights. Equal Rights. George Wallace. Martin Luther King. Malcom X. Bobby Kennedy. Charlie Manson. Love Canal. Segregation. Bussing. The Man. The Establishment. Tune in, turn on, drop acid.  Some days it seemed the whole goddamned world was on fire. Everything just kept getting shittier and shittier. Every day it was some goddamned thing.

Then came the Energy Crisis and the Great Malaise and one recession after another and … well, here we are.

And to me? From my perspective? Things don’t seem nearly as bad now as they could be. Because I’ve seen it worse – or at least it seems that way to me.

History is often damned painful to live through.

And it can always – always – get worse.

Advancement is never without cost, without pain and rage and blood.

But we've been through worse and rebounded better than before. Stronger. Smarter. More compassionate. More equal. Closer to the ideal of a better nation. What came out of the war and riot and chaos of my youth was a better society, a better nation, better for a lot of people in a lot of ways.

But again, “better” is often a matter of perspective.

And it’s always easier to go backwards instead of forward.

It is far easier to destroy than it is to build, to create, to innovate, to dream.

Depression is always easier than optimism. I can think of a hundred ways life is worse now than in my youth. I have to work to think of ways that it is better. But it is better, I believe that.

How and when, if, we emerge from this dark time depends on a lot of things and there are no guarantees.

However, I would point out that while it's easy to focus on the hate and rage and ugliness that fills our feeds every single day of late, what you might be missing is the overwhelming push-back from common Americans.

It’s easy to focus on the terrible, harder to see the good.

But…

But, armed Nazis, Klansmen, Confederates – all the worst, most horrible ideologies humankind has ever come up with, combined together – marched on Charlottesville to defend a monument to racism and sedition. And hundreds of thousands of Americans showed up to tear it down. Pushed the haters back. Faced the Nazis down. The Klan, the Nazis, the Confederates, they came with guns and clubs and they killed one of us. And still they were routed, sent fleeing like the cowards they are. Sent fleeing in defeat, same as they always have been.

Right now they are being found and arrested and they will be held up for the world to see what they are.

Right now, cities across the nation are tearing down these monuments, removing them from town squares and public campuses and banishing them to museums or battlefields or dusty storehouses where they belong.

Forty white supremacists showed up in Boston for a rally. Forty thousand Americans showed up to shout them down.

In San Francisco, the haters were sent packing before they even got started.

That wasn't the government in Boston, in San Francisco, in Charlottesville, that was Americans who did that. That was common Americans, black and white, gay and straight, right and left, who stood up, filled the streets, and pushed back the haters who would burn down civilization.

It’s easy to fall into depression.

And as anyone who suffers from depression can tell you, it’s damned hard – damned hard – to claw your way out.

History is often painful to live through.

As it is right now.

It pains me to say this (you have no idea how much), but the Bern-It-All-Down crowd might very well get their wish.

Perhaps, once again, it has finally become so bad that those of reason and good will on both sides might at last find common ground and get off their asses and do something to make things better.

It has become so bad, as it always does, that those who love America more than they love their ideology and own selfish interests might once again come together to face down a common enemy and stand together against the fall of night.

Civilization advances in fits and starts. Three steps forward, two to the side, two back, and forward again.

History doesn’t flow smoothly forward, it lurches like a drunkard.

History is very often painful to live through.

And this, this right here, is what I warned you about last year. This is what a lot of us warned America about.

If you can't bring yourself to vote because you demand a purity of your principles, because the deck is stacked against you, because the system is corrupt, because the choices are distasteful, because you’re not given the perfect candidate, well, what you get is ... this.

Chaos. Riot. War. Ruin. Rage. Disaster. Two steps sideways and four back.

History doesn’t care about the gains you’ve made. The tide will erase your sandcastle as if it never was and wipe the beach clean to start over.

Unless you take action to protect it.

Unless you care enough, unless you’re pragmatic enough, to do something about it.

Hashtagging your social media posts with #resistance isn't organization. It isn't a plan. It isn't a movement. It's not advancing civilization. Just as slapping a $2 made-in-China magnet on the back of your giant gas-guzzling SUV isn’t actually supporting your troops or doing anything to prevent war in oil rich Middle Eastern countries.

The selfish, self-aggrandizing, self-involved, morally bankrupt conspiracy theory that passes for much of American ideology nowadays should be easy to rally against.

This lunatic in the White House, the barking ninnies who make up congress, the toothless ignorant Nazis, the impotent illiterate beer-bellied Klan, the endlessly defeated inbred Confederates, these people, well, we outnumber them a thousand to one. Ten thousand to one.

They should be easy to beat.

But they never are.

They never are.

Victory is never easy and never permanent.

And it’s three drunken steps forward, two to the side, two back. One painful staggering step at a time. And so, here we are. Life, civilization, adulthood is often a choice between less-than-perfect options. Sometimes you have to choose the best option, even if it's not what you want, even if it's not perfect. Because that's just how life is.

That's how adults have to face the world.

History is very often nothing more than choices between less than perfect options because the universe just doesn’t give a good goddamn what you want.

The streets are today full of liberals and progressives and rational conservatives. But it's going to take more than pink pussy hats and shouting down Nazis on our streets. It’s going to take more than pulling down statues. Those are great starts and well, well worth doing. But Americans of good conscience must get organized. Must rally. Must stand together. Must stop the endless pedantry. Must find common ground.

And more than anything, we must get over this childish demand for perfect leaders and grow the hell up.

Creationists don't build starships.

And modern conservativism has been eaten alive by the Creationists.

But guess what? Liberals don't build starships either.

No, instead they spend all their time and effort arguing about the advisability of sending humans to other worlds when we haven't even fixed (insert endless list of causes) and they never actually get around to building the damned ship.

You know who builds starships? People who believe, that’s who. Those who believe in the future, those who work every damned day to advance civilization, those who stand steadfast against the fall of night. Once upon a time, those people were Americans.

And they can be again.

If we are to build that better future, if we are to claim the stars for our own, instead of falling back into the dustbin of history next to Rome and the Soviet Union, well, then we’re going to have to get organized and do something.

We have to do more than just protest.

We have to do more than pedantically complain and correct each other and engage in endlessly recursive social justice oneupmanship.

We have to organize.

We have to build a coherent vision, one that appeals to all Americans, not just left or right.

Folks, if you can't get it together, if you can’t dream big enough, to beat the sorry shitshow in office right now, well, you'd best just give up. Just give up. Knuckle under. Stand on the side of the street and raise your arm to the fucking Nazis.

It's damned depressing.

It can be damned depressing.

It’s easy to believe we are doomed.

It is. You'd like to think we've advanced beyond this. But civilization is never a steady progression. It's always two steps forward and three back and two sideways and one ahead and stagger to the left and to the right and do it again.

The fight to advance is never over.

The struggle to move civilization forward is never over. Never. That is our biggest failing. Far too often those of conscience achieve some victory, civil rights, economic reform, democracy, social safety systems, something, and then they think it's fixed. They’ve won. So they fire up a fatty and declare victory and go back to watching the game.

But it never ends.

It. NEVER. Ends.

I hear progressives say all of the time, I'm tired of having to keep fighting this battle. We fought this battle for (insert whatever cause is important to you here, civil rights, abortion, gay marriage), we won, now we gotta do it all over again and I’m tired, man, I’m tired.

Well, shit, folks, I'm tired of fighting gravity, but there really isn't an alternative if you want to stay upright.

Are we doomed?

Are we doomed as a country?

Are we doomed as a people, we Americans?

I don’t think so.

Down there in Texas, it’s pretty damned bad right now. But – but – Americans of good conscience, Americans of will, Americans who believe in each other and in a better nation and a better future, have all come together to save each other. Americans have rallied from across the nation to Texas and no one gives a damn who’s left or right, who’s gay or straight, who’s black or white. What matters is each other. What matters is civilization. What matters is pushing back the tide.

That’s America, right there.

That’s why I believe we can change our fate, save our country, build a better future. Because of those Americans.

We’ve been here before. It’s been worse before. And even if we stand together now and once again push back the fall of night, bad news, folks, we’re gonna be right back here again at some date in the future. But we don’t have to join Rome or the Soviet Union, we can push back, we’ve done it before. We can save this nation if we want to. We can emerge from this dark time better, wiser, stronger. We can make this world a better place for all. We can. We will. But sooner or later, we – or our children – will be right back here again.

Because that’s how history works.

And it’s painful.

And it’s hard.

And it’s perilous and uncertain and it just never ends.

It’s about perspective.

It’s about how you face it: on your feet or on your knees.

But if you want a better nation, well, Citizen, you have to keep fighting.

And it's really that simple.

So let's get to it.





Note: A  short version of this essay was originally posted to my Facebook page. // Jim

75 comments:

  1. I went to school when it was still a thing to teach little children to duck and cover in school as though that was going to make a difference when nuclear bombs took out Washington DC and made the Chesapeak Bay a lot bigger. I was just old enough to remember my parents being terrified during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And yet more terror when JFK was shot and they were wondering if it was a presage to WWIII. I sometimes wonder if some of the nihilism of the Baby Boomers was caused by a generation not expecting to grow up.

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    1. I think you may have hit the nail on the head with that last sentence. My first memory is were Duck and Cover drills and I also remember my parents fear over the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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    2. I learned to duck and cover too, but I think that memory has been overwhelmed (in some), by the incessant media noise -- Buy This! Panic about that! We have been in the sights of Madison Avenue since we were children, and I suspect a lot of us are very easily manipulated.

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    3. I hear ya! I remember duck and cover, which affected my world view for the rest of my life.

      Was in south Florida during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Everything pretty much stopped on a weekday, with no one moving in a big city. It was eerie. We didn't have a TV, so I didn't really understand what was happening, but I knew something was up. Was around 10 at the time.

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    4. I learned to duck under my desk in the forties when I was in elementary school. And I was sitting in my car, first job out of college, at night during the Cuban Missile Crisis, listening to President Kennedy, crying and waiting for the world to end.
      I, too, wondered if I would ever grow up but here I am at 76 living a life and watching as an Administration tries to destroy my America.

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    5. Ditto me for Duck and Cover and the fear levels during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was young, but in Florida, and watched what looked to me like the entire U.S. military heading south from my back yard down the intracoastal waterway in landing barges.

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    6. Hi, Elaine! I managed to miss duck and cover, being overseas for most of my youth. But I was here for the Cuban Missile crisis, and remember driving in to work at 4:00 a.m. to get in before the Yippee rioters woke up in DC. And being sent home from NIST in Gaithersburg on 9/11.

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    7. I remember the 60.s and 70,s - we were not worried about nuclear war - we KNEW that it was INEVITABLE - the only question was when

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    8. I was born in the late 70's so no Cuban crises for me, but I too remember some kind of "duck and cover" in early primary school in Colorado in the 80's. There were also tornado drills; technically different but they used the exact same sirens/protocol they did for the air-raid stuff. Which, fair enough I guess, all things considered. I don't recall being very scared about these things, which I find astonishing now. Was just part of the life experience then to follow your teacher into the hall and line up against the walls, heads on knees, with *all* the other students.

      Actually heard the tornado sirens on a recent visit (system test I think) for the first time in ages, and realized there's now a couple generations who have no idea what that was like. Which is great! Was a messed up way to grow up, doing incoming nuclear missile drills.

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  2. I believe you mean "Americans of good conscience," not "Americans of good conscious."

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    1. It also helps to be conscious at least part of each day. ;)

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  3. I need to print this out and read it every day -- like a beacon of light in the darkness.

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  4. Thank you for this Jim. As much as I hate the "us" versus "them" mentality that we're now faced with, I remind myself daily that there are a LOT more of us strong, decent folk than there are Alt-Right Nut Jobs (and Trump supporters) and we need to remind them of that Every, Single. Day. We must deliver the strong message that we will NOT roll over and play dead when they attempt to march down our streets carrying Tiki torches, waving Nazi flags and spouting hate. These are NOT "their streets", they are OURS and we must stand together, shoulder to shoulder whenever necessary and face them down or they'll win and we'll have no one to blame but ourselves. We do indeed need to organize and vote the enabling cowards out of office, both locally and nationally. I refuse to remain silent, much to the dismay of some of the people around me, but this isn't about "politics." It hasn't been for quite a while now. Participating in public protests at the ripe old age of 69. Who would have thought?

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    1. I learned a long time ago that in a classroom of 30 kids, one little unregenerate jackass can get all the attention, poison the atmosphere for everyone, and provide a destructive distraction. That seems to be the model for society today. Rotten kids can be dealt with; so can the nasty SOBs who are trying to remake the nation in their own disgusting image.

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  5. Spot on, as usual.

    "Night Will Fall" is a film worth seeing. A recent documentary about an unfinished film that was recording the emerging horror of the Nazi Death Camps, toward the end of the war. The title comes from a line in the original narration script: "Unless the world learns the lessons these pictures teach, night will fall..."

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3455822/?ref_=ttqt_qt_tt

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  6. Here he comes to save the day ... one more time. Thanks, Jim. Ann-Marie Lindstrom (I don't seem to fit any of your profile descriptions, or I'm just an idiot.)

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    1. Use "Name/url" and type in your name

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  7. Excellent essay! It's thoughtful writing like this that gives me hope. Thanks.

    Jason C.

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  8. Excellent, as always. And coming together as US citizens is truly important. But I know that I and many others are struggling with just how we are to find common ground with people who want to deny the rights of so many ( people of color, people who are women, people who are LGBTQ, people who are Muslim, or Hindu, or any religion other than "Christian", etc.) I struggle with this every day, with people I know personally,(I too, live in Florida) who honestly don't believe they they discriminate, who don't believe that they are racist or bigots (yet still say that all (insert whatever group here) should be driven from the US at best, or wiped out completely at worst. Who still think that derogatory jokes are OK. Who believe that they (as White Christians) are the most discriminated against group in the country. I am trying my best- but there are nights I go to bed crying with frustration, and fear for our nation.

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    1. I too live in Florida, and I am right there with you. And it is heartbreaking to see and hear what some people believe. The struggle is very real.

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  9. Are you writing for Sorkin's reboot of "The West Wing"? That's some top-level Toby Ziegler speeching right there.

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  10. "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times."

    As it ever will be. Thank you for your continued inspiration, Jim.

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  11. When the sun rises, and fills the sky with light, it always sets.

    The sun still rises, every day, and every day, the sky is filled with light just as every day, the sun sets.

    We will fight against the darkness, and prevail every time until we forget the sun rises every day and darkness is temporary.

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  12. I read somewhere today a post that set me thinking. The author stated that, as a whole, Americans are brilliant at helping each other through diversity. Hurricanes, fires, diseases, death, you name it, we will rally the troops of GoFundMe and the Neighborhood Watch and put our own lives on hold to help someone in need.
    It was also mentioned that Americans, on the whole, are terrible at passing legislation or implementing policies that would prevent some of these items in the first place, or take care of those in need before it becomes problematic, or support programs designed to care for Americans in ways that aren't dramatic or tragic.

    The point? We are a nation of wannabe heroes. We all want to save the day with our volunteering in times of trouble. But we do not have enough people who are willing to do the ground work (or support those who do) to make sure those troubles can be avoided whenever possible. People who are more concerned with humanity at their best instead of how they can look good on Facebook posts for coming to the rescue. People who give a shit about the people who are barely existing on the daily, not just during disaster. People who speak with their actions and votes and are determined enough about others to not need accolades or 'likes' or recognition. We have a deficit of care.

    The US doesn't need more heroes. We need people who care.

    (If anyone knows which post I'm referencing, please share a link as I can't find it right now and I'd love to give credit to the author who had the original thought.)

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    1. I don't know the post you refer to, but I saw somewhere (Twitter maybe?) that "Americans are fantastic - world class even - at acute concern, but really terrible at chronic empathy". Seems like a close summation of the point your author was getting at. ... I do think the argument has merit.

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  13. Well said!

    Quick typo catch, "$2 made-china-magnet" should be "$2 made-in-china-magnet"?

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    1. Got. Fixed. Thanks for the assist // Jim

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    2. Another minor typo fix---drop the hyphen before "magnet".

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  14. Well shit........I read and want to make a witty comment or some such, read some more and more and more. Well done Jim, ain't a fucking thing I can add.

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  15. Another point of light. Thanks (I know it's trite, but . . .), I needed that. I share your optimistic view, and have hope - although I'm as old as dirt, and getting a bit impatient as The End creeps closer. I can't think of anything that motivates me more to keep on fighting these honorable fights than the feelings of rage when I see that cretin's face in my living room. (I've learned to hit the mute button, hearing him speak is worse.) I grew up in the 50s - my generation's views of those so-called great times are simply born of a simple childhood, the easy existence, the mothers who shooed us out the door on summer mornings with orders to not darken the door until lunch time. It was an ideal time, but not necessarily for our parents' generation. They were war-torn, don't forget that. WWII, the Korean War and then Viet Nam have divided my life into clearly divided segments, and I'm not foolish enough to think my remembrances of an idyllic childhood were shared by everyone. What I had going for me back then was, plain and simple ignorance. I didn't know any black kids, I didn't know any refugees or what they called "displaced persons" back then, to give me a glimpse into another kind of experience. So, today, don't you think that ignorance is the common denominator? The "thing" that continues to haunt us and defeat efforts to illuminate, to bring disparate cultures together? But suddenly we have what didn't exist in my childhood in the 50s - taa daaaaa - the internet! Now we have no excuse for ignorance. What we have a lot of is Willful Ignorance, and shame on us for that.

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    1. You just described my life growing up in central Louisiana. Southern Baptist was the rule of the day, a simple life with good, hard working parents, totally devoid of any knowledge or interest in "the other." Took me years to develop self awareness (a work in progress) and to come to grips with the realization that Republican Party ideas were counter to my thoughts and beliefs. You expressed all that beautifully.

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  16. And I think the easiest way to stand up, to continue to fight, is to vote. Let's see how many people decide to stand up in 2018.

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  17. I suspect that, for many, the big difference between then and now is the US reputation. Even though it wasn't necessarily earned, the US had the reputation of being Reagan's "Shining city on the hill." They were the bringers of peace (sometimes stenciled on a bomb or bullet, sure), they were the arbiters of freedom. They were the home of Superman and Captain America; heroes without the feet of clay they now possess. And you had leaders like JFK, Roosevelt, Washington, etc.

    But now that illusion of moral certitude and superiority is firmly fractured. It's been cracking ever since those early days but we could always shrug off the cracks because there were good men keeping the cracks from spreading further (they didn't, but still).

    Reagan set the cracks even further along and people questioned his ability to repair or resist further damage and Bush Sr. and Jr. spread those cracks even further. People had some home that the cracks would arrest at least somewhat with Obama, but now you've got a reckless baboon banging on those cracks with a 10 pound sledge.

    We're no longer confident wiser heads will prevail. They may show up, but the maniacs with sledge hammers are drowning them out. And there are one or two out there trying to wedge dynamite into the cracks, cuz if it all blows up Jesus will save us.

    We here outside of the US... well I'd say we're rooting for you to pull out of this particular dive but we don't have any faith in the flight crew. Some of us are hoping for a miracle but putting our fingers in our ears just in case.

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  18. Excellent. You should be required reading for all congresscritters, punditubbies, and others who are common sense-deficient.

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  19. There is reason to be optimistic, if you can get past the gloom and doom.

    You've captured so many of my thoughts, it's like you had a butterfly net over my head.

    Well done again chief. Well done.

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  20. "We fought this battle for (insert whatever cause is important to you here, civil rights, abortion, gay marriage), we won, now we gotta do it all over again and I’m tired, man, I’m tired."

    This is the problem...we didn't win.

    We forced a partial retreat, and then school ended, we got jobs, got married, had children, and stopped at the halfway point in the work that was needed.

    I am constantly disappointed by my generation.

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    1. Or:

      “Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.”

      Brecht

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  21. Same as it ever was: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFTLKWw542g

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  22. It's hard to see there forest for the trees, as they say. Unfortunately, I am in the midst of a large swath of many bigoted, ignorant, spiteful trees and so the forest seems all the darker and more foreboding.
    Makes me lose sight of the light that filters through every now and then.
    I am grateful that you are here to help us keep perspective. Well written, brother.

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  23. More than brilliant. We need to stand up, every damn day. And thank you for the reminder.

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  24. For those who are active:

    "In argument and in fiction, Camus is always reminding us that the long arc is a winding way and not a straight arrow. However bleak the outlook, we are responsible for our actions, and no one is exempt. We may choose servility, we may choose resistance, and we must do so in darkness, without guarantees. When we find our fellow spirits, we need to disabuse ourselves of illusions that there is any shortcut out of the swamp. The swamp was a long time in the making and it will be a long time finding our way out. What matters is that we always, every day, ask ourselves what we may do today that we will be proud of tomorrow." ~Todd Gitlin

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  25. Science tells us that no human being is neurologically equipped to be acquainted with more than about 150 other people in their life at any given time. Cities are profoundly unnatural to the human psyche, nation-states even more so. America was dead from the day it was founded. Our entire history has been us refusing to acknowledge that fact.

    The sooner we drop the myth of progress and the myth of end-of-history and start paying attention to the mess we've made of the living planet the better off we will be. But for lots and lots of reasons, many of them simply a matter of the way we're "built", I don't see that happening.

    The best any one of us can do is cultivate our relationships with those nearest and dearest to us, look out for our neighbors, and learn how to cope without oil and the military-industrial complex. We won't even be able to do those things because some of them require other people's cooperation. I'd be tight with ALL my family, for instance, if they cared more about blood ties than about dysfunctional politics, and I'd be more willing to reach out to my neighbors if they could show they cared more about me as a person than about their fucking property values.

    But, whatever.

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    1. "I'd be more willing to reach out to my neighbors if they could show they cared more about me as a person than about their fucking property values."

      Ah, but that is exactly the point: reach out without expecting them to deliver up front. Be nicer than you think they have earned. It just may work.

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  26. You're such a fuckin optimist -- I wish I were

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    1. Being an optimist requires making a choice. You choose to be an optimist or a pessimist. Charlottesville showed us that we've still got work to do, but Boston showed us that our side outnumbers "them" 1000 to 1.
      Look for the good in anything and you'll find it, look for the bad and you'll find it too.

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  27. Thanks for this. We need more positivity, more optimism. When I find myself feeling the situation is too overwhelming I always remind myself this is not Germany post World War I. This is not the Soviet Union post communism. Americans have a different mentality, and I think all of this insanity may bring us back more strongly to who we are. The Trumputin underestimates! We really are basically "YES WE CAN" people. We defy monarchies, we fight slavery and injustices to their end, we end Nazis, and "Real Americans" BELIEVE in equality and justice for ALL - because it is our basis! Rolling over and watching a MINORITY rule of misguided and rabid turds leading us is going to be stopped! And it's about time. They'd have to kill us all, and in that ain't going to happen event many many many of us are prepared to fight back - because "never again". I seriously do think it will lead to more people paying attention, voting, and just getting up and running for office. Hell if we've gotta learn a lot as we go we could still do a lot better than what's there now! Bernie showed us all what Grassroots and integrity can do! So thanks for the encouragement to continue to fight like hell. Everyday I have to fight falling into hatred of hateful people, remembering that if rabid animals are attacking our homes and loved ones wasting energy hating them helps no one we just need to stop them. Doom and Gloom deflates us (and empowers the rabid ones) while optimism and "yes we can" Empowers us and deflates THEM! The best large sign I saw at the Boston March said "First they came for the Muslims - and we said 'not this time motherfukers'!"

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  28. I always say to myself this is your best essay,and you prove me wrong every time this is your best essay by far. thank you Jim

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  29. I think that an inherent piece of democracy is that we are *always* teetering. We are always ready to fall. Always. It is what democracy *is*. That gives it the best opportunity to change for the better, and that is what democracy is about. The fact that teetering can also send us down the shit-chute is the price we pay for the ability to respond positively to new situations.

    There are those who tout democracy as a cornerstone of their philosophy, and yet do not believe we should teeter, that democracies do that. But the only way to be stable is to be dead. A living democracy, a vital constitutional democracy, must teeter in order to respond. Do not fear--it has happened before. Fear--it can always fall this time. Remember both things, and try to fall forward when we can.

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  30. "those who love America more than they love their ideology and own selfish interests might once again come together to face down a common enemy and stand together" .
    I think this, more than anything else you've written here struck a chord with me.Ive been fearful of how the world would interpret the current political administration in the USA,not least because I've felt like piggy-in the -middle across the Atlantic,but because there seems there's nothing we can do to mitigate the awful effects of what D Trump is saying or doing.Sometimes,it is only by reading your essays and the comments of your lovely (and sane and polite and intelligent and grammatically aware)minions,that I realize there ARE more people who are willing to stand up to the bullies and selfish and crass in your country ,and the world may teeter on the brink but not yet fall.

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  31. And I thought I wasn't going to share the next one on FB because my Texas friends are too busy using FB to try to keep each other alive.

    I'm thousands of miles away from the devastation, but you cannot imagine what it's like to see the people you went to high school with in Houston, Beuamont, Nederland, Pt. Neches, Pt. Arthur, posting about rising waters around their homes. Calling for rescue. Posting that someone's husband is going back in to try to get their adult son out. All those posts, eclipsing the normal "fake news" and "liberal media" posts, the rabid "cons" vs "libtards" arguments.

    They are all Texans first. A peculiar subset of 'Mercan.

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  32. Don't leave out cities, like Baltimore, where the Klan and the white supremacists and the Nazis were too scared even to ATTEMPT a march when racist monuments were earmarked to be taken down.

    What is different now is that we do have the uncontested absolutely worst president of all time bar none. And that misery does skew the way people think about our national situation. But the president's position grows more precarious now by the day. And when his final day in office comes, by which I mean the day he is removed - a day which I will bet all I own will come - that day will bring a hairy moment. There will be a backlash and the backlash will be ugly, but the worst of that ugliness will be short-lived. So long as Trump does not manage any kind of thermonuclear wagging the dog - and there are too many men and women of decency and good will standing between his blunt thumbs and a gratuitous launch to allow that to happen - then Trump too will pass. At which time we will settle down to a new regime: President Pence and toxic politics as usual. All the same problems will remain, but somehow we will yet all feel that we are no longer teetering so close to the brink.

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  33. Beautiful, as usual. However, I would respectfully quibble with this phrase, "our former masters in London..." I have occasionally wondered if they are still our masters in secret. The banks control so much, and largely from London, among other cities. I wish I understood it better.

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  34. Eternal vigilance *is* the price of freedom. Yeah, I know the provenance of that quote, but its provenance does not make it wrong.
    I'd say that the distinctive trait of this century -- and one that separates it from, say, 50 years ago (although not the 1840s-50s), is that a significant portion of those currently in government appear to hate the bloody nation and everything America stands for. And this seems not to have fully penetrated the consciousness of the electorate, probably because it seems so unlikely. You speak above of the Bern-it-all-down crowd who may get their wish (which may not really be their wish), but the other side looks like it wants to loot the country and burn it all down, too. An increasing number of people do seem to be eager for the Deluge, but I doubt they are in a majority. What's troubling is the number who would never wish for a Deluge, but seem blind to the number of politicians who do. They haven't figured it out yet, so the answer to whether we are "doomed" or not may well be linked to whether they wake up in time to stop the looters. The task, then, is to wake these people up, and it seems at times to be an insurmountable problem. Or perhaps, as in the old story, an insurmountable opportunity.

    EMH

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  35. Well done, Mr. Wright. As one of my favorite characters (Anton Ego) once said - "You know what I'm craving? A little perspective. That's it. I'd like some fresh, clear, well seasoned perspective. Can you suggest a good wine to go with that?"

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  36. “This you may say of man - when theories change and crash, when schools, philosophies, when narrow dark alleys of thought, national, religious, economic, grow and disintegrate, man reaches, stumbles forward, painfully, mistakenly sometimes. Having stepped forward, he may slip back, but only half a step, never the full step back.” - Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

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  37. Thanks for another awesome essay Jim. You're spot on everything from the nature of Americans, "fractious", the "one step forward, two steps back, fuck around fuck, around, quack quack quack" nature and history of progress, and the solutions, finding common ground and getting involved.

    I especially like the use of comparisons you used to begin your point about people becoming so disgusted by the broken, corrupt systems that they become so mired in hopelessness that they give up and disengage. It's easy to see this is very common and widespread since Independent is the nation's largest party and didn't vote was the majority action for the past election. Why is this so? Is it the "Bern-It-All-Down crowd" or the idealists and ideologues or perfect being the enemy of the good or... what? Did they give us Trump and this mess?

    The mess part is easy. We made it. Trump is only a symptom of the problem. Trump beating Hillary Clinton is another matter. Let me try a comparison to make my pointless.

    Would you prefer a beating to a whipping? How about a steaming fresh glop of shit between two slices of thirty year old bread or a big bowl of piss soaked Cheetos? I'm pretty sure most people would choose none of the above. This past presidential election offered the voters a stale shit sandwich and a bowl of soggy Cheetos. Most people chose "C - None of the above". Our two party system offers only those three choices. So who are we to blame? Is it the voters or the system that gave us a choice between a Cheeto haired whack job and "I'm not Trump"?

    Look I get it all too well. That is a completely pointless argument just like anyone who says we were a much better country during the fifties than today. It does indeed depend on our individual perspectives. I hear there are people who are ecstatic over Trump being president. Somewhere although he's doing a fine job of losing them too. We really don't need to litigate this election all over again. It's all a distraction.

    The political system is broken. So is the economy for most Americans. We're addicted to using the military for any and no reason. We refuse to grant to the rest of the world our righteous claim to being left alone to choose how we live and govern ourselves. Our healthcare, education, national assets, government, and much more is being systematically farmed for profit by those in and with power. Our infrastructure is crumbling but we ignore it. Our leaders, with very few exceptions, seem to be farming us for power and profit and can't be trusted to be honest about anything. In short there's little that seems right in America today. The most critical is people have or are losing hope while not having the square root of fuck all a clue what to do.

    So lets say we manage to find common ground with others with whom we once disagreed. We heal some of the division and become willing to work and fight for a better country. Who exactly do we organize behind? I've been looking for some time and have yet to find any political organization worth supporting.

    The only positive I see from enduring a President Trump is that only the most disengaged and clueless can ignore how bad conditions are in this country. Power is never surrendered without a demand by people who will act if denied. I thought eight years of W would awaken and energize people but Trump is a much more powerful motivator. So maybe, just maybe, all of those who did not vote gave us a present.

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  38. There are few people from whom I, a depressive pessimist via conditioning and (apparently) my DNA, will tolerate optimism. You are one of them, Jim, because you don't pretend the work will be easy, but you insist that it is possible. You're my pragmatist role model. Thanks for the boost.

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  39. "A few years after that, our former masters in London invaded the United States"

    That was in 1812.

    In 1994 I worked for a week at Met √Čireann in Dublin. The head of research of the Irish Meteorological Service had no problem to address this menace as "the usurper in London".

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  40. Well said Jim. I spoke at the Starship Conference 2 months ago and head to a Mars Conference on Thursday. There are many in our civilization who want to go back to being confident and ambitious and eclectic and tolerant and eagerly-fair competitive and joyfully argumentative while willing to learn...

    This was never "left vs right"... not when the chief goal of the hijackers of American conservatism had one goal, the destruction of politics as a grownup method to negotiate. Gridlock and lazy-torpor aren't bugs, to this generation or this Congress - they are features.

    Arizona now generates 17.3% of its electrical power (latest figures) from coils arrayed around the spinning in Barry Goldwater's grave.

    Let me offer two items in honor of the brave Texans, so trong of heart, who keep choosing the worst politicians on the planet. First, drop by and read some of the best quotations from Sam Houston, who knew what would happen, during an earlier phase of our ongoing civil war:
    https://www.inspiringquotes.us/author/6790-sam-houston/page:3

    Also, glance at my chapter from Earth, about Houston triumphant after a hurricane in 2038? In honor of Houston... of Texas... and our future... a chapter from EARTH. http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2017/08/in-honor-of-houston-of-texas-and-our.html

    Keep up the great work, Jim. And let's recruit 3000 retired US officers to run in every single red state assembly district in the country. If any of you know a retired officer who lives in a red district, start twisting arms now! You'll not just be rescuing America. You'll be rescuing US conservatism.
    With cordial regards,

    David Brin
    http://www.davidbrin.com


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    Replies
    1. Mr. Brin, I cannot pass up this chance to tell you how very much I enjoyed your book, "Postman." I recommend it to all!
      Jim, as usual, you have outdone yourself. Thank you!

      Freckles

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  41. Thanks again for helping us keep it up!

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  42. Thank you for fleshing out the FB commentary-it's even better than it was! I was born in the middle of that mess that was the 60's and 70's and I remember a lot of stuff that was bad. This has a different overall feeling to me. Not sure if it's because I'm now an adult instead of a little kid or what, but this feels different to me. It's hard to keep fighting sometimes, but I'm planning on printing this essay out and taping it to my mirror so I can look at it every morning to regain the courage and the hope to keep fighting.

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  43. Mr. Wright, you are spot-on here, especially about the optimism part. I am a proto-boomer; a child of the 50's, yet I didn't truly come aware of myself - or of the world - until the 60's, probably with the JFK assassination. Many of my contemporaries are as you alluded, still stuck in 1955 and think we're going back there if we just give the current crop of so-called leaders enough room.
    That AIN'T gonna happen, and they know it but are too, uh, pig-headed I guess to admit it or do anything. Guys my age are out there working on things, but a lot of us, like me, don't have a lot left but our brains and our writing ability; it's the younger generations we need to get organized, locally and at the state level to get change going. I think your words help accomplish that - thank you.
    And if I may echo Dr. Brin, if you know of any good military men who have the ability to think and lead progressively - especially around Colorado Springs - send 'em over; I'll hook 'em up.

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  44. Thank you. You put some starch in my backbone.

    I have a question: what do you mean by "the Bern it all down" folks getting their way?

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  45. Hold the line chief. We will stand with you.

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  46. I am just so glad that you never seem to tire of being right, Mr. Wright. Once again, I read your words with growing hope, and my brain leaps on your ideas and says "oh YES! this is so true." so thanks, Jim, one more time.

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  47. People don't know they're living through historic times - they're usually too busy concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other and slogging through. It's only when they look back that they see all the progress they made.

    I don't want to live through these times. I also don't get a choice in the matter. So I will keep putting one foot in front of the other, toward the goal of a better country, hoping that when I finally can take a glance back over my shoulder, I'll be amazed at what we all accomplished.

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  48. Thank you for another amazing essay and a pep talk for anyone discouraged about current events in the USA right now.
    While I know you are right and we take steps back everytime we take one step forward, this disaster in the White House feels like we took an elevator to fall back and many many years of social progress are being undone. I hear you, we have to keep going and never let up but the fall this time is extreme.

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  49. In one important way, the 1950s (and '60s, and even '70s) really were better times: because of the New Deal - and associated Government programs - middle-class Americans were generally better off than any previous generation. During those "Happy Days", the top marginal Tax Rate was 90%. The erosion of Progressive Taxation - particularly since 1980 - has squeezed the middle classes to make juice for the rich.

    The terrifying thing is that the GOP/Fox Noise machine has convinced all those Magats that the answer is More Tax Cuts for the Rich.

    - elkern

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  50. Great essay! Reminded me just a little bit of this quote from one of the Rocky movies that I always loved:

    "Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't how hard you hit; it's about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done. Now, if you know what you're worth, then go out and get what you're worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain't where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain't you. You're better than that."

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  51. Liberals do build starships (as I said on the Facebook link to this blog article) it just so happens that self-identifying liberals in the US today really don't know what liberalism means and never take the time to find out for themselves. It's OK. There hasn't been political liberalism in the US since at least the the 70's. Carter (as I said somewhere on my own blog) is the last identifiably liberal President. None of the currently sitting politicians seems to know that they aren't really living up to the liberal label either. They don't test arguments. They don't fund or promote new ideas. Obama was lauded and lambasted for promoting solar energy, something that Carter did FORTY YEARS AGO. It's not a new idea, it's a good idea and we should be doing more of it. What are today's new ideas? I'm betting most people can't even identify them.

    You do have one thing right. You have to believe in something before you can achieve something, and liberals really aren't comfortable believing much of anything. I can't blame today's citizenry for not being able to believe in anything. Every other day there is the revelation that someone entrusted with power or authority turns out to be untrustworthy. So belief in things leaves you open to being wrong, and no one wants to be wrong. I'm wrong so often that the few times I'm correct on something I end up celebrating.

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  52. Liberals don't build starships. Starships, huh? I like starships. I'm a liberal and you can put me down as definitely pro-starship. Yes, sir. You mean ships that go to the stars? Yes, I'm all for those.
    Except of course that nobody in the history of the human race has ever built one. Or is likely to in the present generation. Our children might. Maybe. If we ever fix all the thousands of things that might kill us all first.
    To build one, starting now, we are going to need discoveries in basic particle physics. And probably things like fusion reactors. And knowledge of the universe and what holds it together. Fortunately we have the LHC, fusion projects over the world and lots of astronomers studying the stars.
    Just take the LHC. It was a literal worldwide effort. The thing was built with factories all over the world just making the parts. Put together it was the size of skyscraper built inside a mountain range. Now each time they run it, they need people all over the world to study the data. That's after the results are run through a computer just to eliminate all the ones that aren't interesting, get it down to a manageable size, one that only requires every physicist on the planet. That’s CERN. It could have been the SCSC in Texas, but America decided to cancel the project. What I’m saying is we are building a starship, we're doing right now, only it's just going to be a while, and Congress ain’t helping. So don’t blame liberals is what I’m saying

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