Isolation over the past eight months has given me a new perspective, particularly about The United States, where I was born, raised, educated, and where I have lived since I was born in 1946. As a senior citizen, I remember the era of Joseph McCarthy in the 1950’s, the fear, division, and rancor he generated in narrowing the definition of being an American. He honed it down to a snide view, tiny enough to fit on the head of a pin. Though young and not yet aware of the wider perspective that would come from experience and education, I was conscious of a fear in watching beloved entertainers being grilled mercilessly about the faintest possibility that they could be Communists. The phony heroism of McCarthy and the narrow-minded bigots who were his cronies fanned the flames of hate, often in the name of religion. Lives were destroyed. Truth didn’t really matter. It was merely a stage production to make McCarthy appear to be some kind of protector or savior.
Over the past four years, a similar, simplistic patriotism that excludes rather than includes, has turned fear mongering and suspicion into art forms that make race demonstrations and political protests of the 1960’s look like mere football skirmishes. Like Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, our leader is gifted in his astounding ability to find and stoke terror about imagined foes, funneling the blame for social ills down to stereotypes of race and political party. Mistrust is intensified by biased accusation and malevolently blurred fault. That adrenalin rush for many is simply too irresistible and gives the gullible a feeling of satisfaction at finding easy scapegoats.
The peace and prosperity we might now have, had the pandemic been taken more seriously by our egomaniacal braggart of a leader, who is in everlasting denial about any responsibility he might have for anything, has little chance in a society of bored deniers of science and facts (a view that they emulate from its source in Washington). Self-righteous indignation has replaced civilized discussion, respect for real knowledge and social healing. Eloquence, compassion, decency, and goodwill have been replaced by screaming insults, blame, and fear that we may never again find the American dream, because “the other side” is trying to snatch it away and replace it with some apocalyptic nightmare. I suppose the two opposing fears, based upon the extremely oversimplified views of the two political sides are socialism versus totalitarianism (dictatorship, which we already seem to have). Few seem even remotely interested in any middle ground, but such compromise may prove the only way we can, as a nation, survive. Either way, the world is watching. JB