BY RICHARD C. GROSS
“’Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind.”
— Shakespeare, Gloucester in King Lear
There are times of calm and times of change and upheaval, once wrote the German-Swiss psychiatrist-philosopher Karl Jaspers.
“Ours is clearly an age of upheaval,” wrote Jerome Roos, a Fellow at the London School of Economics, in a recent gloomy essay in The New York Times. He quoted Jaspers, 1883–1969.
When we are experiencing a “doomsday narrative” from one perspective and a “progress narrative” from another perspective, as Roos put it, how are we expected to be optimistic about the future while wallowing in a muddy present where authoritarianism is growing?
It’s the uncertainty, isn’t it?
I blame the Republicans who led and lead us: chiefly the devious and allegedly corrupt Trump who took us down with his “American carnage” slap at our country from the get-go in his 2017 Inaugural Address. That put a hole in the hull of our ship of state, like a well-aimed torpedo. We started sinking.
Look at what’s happened in America since the fraud unforgivably branded our Mexican neighbors as “drug dealers, criminals, rapists” to launch his godforsaken presidential campaign nearly eight years ago, thrusting himself mostly unwanted on us and the world and legitimizing hate. Don’t forget the Jan. 6 insurrection to forcibly overthrow the government, for which he’s being investigated for inspiring it.
In deliberate contrast, there’s President Joe Biden, a good man with admirable instincts and decorum who came to save us from the Trump-led far-right fanatics. His optimism is as bright as his full-blown smile with the whitest teeth this side of a Crest commercial. To wit:
“Because the soul of this nation is strong, because the backbone of this nation is strong, because the people of this nation are strong, the State of the Union is strong. . . . I have never been more optimistic about the future of America,” he told us in February. “We just have to remember who we are.”
I prefer to go with Biden’s inspiring view, which takes me back to my Bronx elementary school when we stood in class to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, our right hands on our little hearts.
I’m not suggesting we should see our country through the eyes of the innocence and naivete of a child. Maybe it’s more of a feeling of helplessness in the face of continual shootings in cities nationwide, one of them because a teen boy walked up to the front door of the wrong house or another because a woman drove up the wrong driveway. And there were others.
And another shooting erupted in a hospital in Atlanta as I write this, one dead four wounded. There have been 184 mass shootings nationwide so far this year, says the Gun Violence Archive. It’s an epidemic.
Fear pulled the trigger on those shootings — fear rather than old-time American openness and neighborliness. And it’s not only Trump and his copycat Republicans like Ron DeSantis, emperor of Florida who’s seeking to spread his dictatorship to the White House. They certainly are responsible for instilling some of the uncertainty and societal split and discomfort in America.
“There are tranquil ages, which seem to contain that which will last forever,” Jaspers, the German-Swiss philosopher, once wrote. “And there are ages of change, which see upheavals that, in extreme instances, appear to go to the roots of humanity.”
“Trump did speak of ‘demonic forces’ trying to demolish the country, which he said was at risk of falling into a ‘lawless abyss’ unless he is voted back into the White House,” Reuters reported from his March 25 rally in Waco, Texas. “Trump depicted the United States as a failed state whose economy was in freefall.”
Lies, all lies. What “demonic forces?” What economic “freefall?”
Waco is where federal agents killed nearly 80 Branch Davidians 30 years earlier. That Trump chose to convene his first reelection rally at a site the far-right and his army of white supremacists has stamped as another Alamo says everything about the twice-impeached, once-indicted president now facing civil and criminal investigations.
The 13-day siege of the Alamo in 1836 killed 186 Texans and up to an estimated 1,600 Mexicans.
Trump obviously was appealing to Americans’ Dark Side, as usual, because he has nothing else to offer but anger, hate, vindictiveness and smart-ass nicknames for his adversaries. He’s pulled millions of voters into his black hole, from which they can’t seem to escape.
A time of upheaval in an increasingly decadent atmosphere, for sure:
The heinous, deplorable, unnecessary Republican culture war against vulnerable transgender and LGBTQ+ folks; the Tennessee legislators’ expulsion of two Black lawmakers for urging the passing of gun control bills; the shoddiness and apparent unethical financial dealings of Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch; and Florida’s prohibition of class discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in all school grades.
I’m delighted my three grandchildren attend public schools in California, a free state run by Democrats.
One wonders if we’re still living in the United States of America. We’re being taken apart freedom by freedom, slowly joining Viktor Orbán’s totalitarian Hungary. We’re losing our soul.
The Florida of DeSantis has been converted from a free American state, where lots of older folks go to retire, into an open-air prison where reading some American classics is a crime. Abortion is banned there after six weeks of pregnancy and the governor is at war with America’s beloved Disney because it disagreed with one of his new restrictive laws.
Live the life of Ron DeSantis or get out. Just ask Andrew Warren, the Democratic attorney general of a Florida county until DeSantis suspended him for saying he won’t enforce harsh new abortion restrictions.
Climbing out of the weeds, there’s the significant macro element of upheaval as well, a “troubling situation,” as Roos defined it:
“For good reason. Humanity now faces a confluence of challenges unlike any other in history. Climate change is rapidly altering the conditions of life on our planet. Tensions over Ukraine and Taiwan have revived the specter of a conflict between nuclear superpowers. And breakneck developments in artificial intelligence are raising serious concerns about the risk of an A.I.-induced global catastrophe.”
Our leaders are expected to lead us through these calamities. We certainly don’t need another round of Trumpist chaos, confusion, lying and ignorance. We the people need help, not again feeling helpless in the face of a president who cares for nothing and no one but himself.
Kumbayah (Come by here), cries the old African-American spiritual, appealing to the Lord.
Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East, the Pentagon and was foreign editor of United Press International, was the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.