Dispatches from the Suburbs of Hell

Heaven is for the obedient. Hell is for the wrathful. What of the ones in between? We wind up in the Suburbs. Our sin is individuality. Our punishment is boredom. But at least we're in good company.

Location: New England, United States

Monday, October 17, 2011

Season of Dread

Well, it's been a crappy summer, hasn't it?

I'm not talking weather-wise, for once. I'm talking politically. Socially. Economically. The last three or four months of American life has been one depressing prospect after another, and frankly I'm a little scared of what's to come. What it all means. If it means anything at all.

The greatest problem is, of course, America's economic woes. We've seen the economic crisis deepen to the point where our country's credit was actually downgraded. Wow. I didn't even think a thing like that was possible. Countries have credit scores? And I may actually have a better credit score than my country right now? That's disturbing. It's alarming to find out just how little power nation-states have in a capitalist economy, that some independent financial institution can dictate to a country whether it is to prosper or die. And it's alarming to see just how thin the veneer is. The United States is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, supposedly. And yet, this is how fragile our economy is. This is how over-extended our budget is. This is all that is needed to cut us down to size.

But what's even more disturbing was that all this could have been prevented. If Congress could have gotten its act together and passed a decent budget amendment, we could have kept our precious Triple-A rating. And it's disturbing to ponder just how politically-charged this whole mess is. Trenches have been dug and there is no shifting anyone. And Barack Obama is taking the blame, as always. It's disappointing, really. Obama was trying to be another JFK in a time when what we really need is another FDR...and he will probably end up being another Jimmy Carter. He's the President we want, the one we wish we could afford to have, but not the one we need. To be fair, a lot of what's going on isn't his fault, but he doesn't seem to be able to fix it.

It's sad that we are witnessing the death throes of American Liberalism, which has pretty much been dying a slow death since about 1970. We're coming to terms with the fact that maybe Liberalism just doesn't work in America. That the vaunted American Dream, the cornerstone of our society, is incompatible with that whole "we're in this together" spirit. I've seen it too often: lefties forsaking societal progress in favor of their own pet causes. Everyone has their own ideas about the best direction to take the country, and nobody is willing to compromise - and in the spirit of Liberalism, nobody wants to de-value the opinion of one over another. This is one of the reasons the Democrats have often fallen apart, and seem to be falling apart once again. The greatest enemy of Liberalism has always been itself, its tendency to break into factions that war with each other even more than they war with the forces of Conservatism and Reaction. Every Liberal leader sees themselves as a visionary, a revolutionary leading the people to a brighter tomorrow. That vision often doesn't last longer than the next political cycle, when it becomes too hard and they take their ball and go home.

Of course if history does repeat itself, and poor Obama ends up being a one-term President, who will play the Reagan to his Carter? There aren't a lot of charismatic Conservatives out there right now. We may get stuck with another redneck. Or Mitt Romney. Gah. He made a mess of Massachusetts; I don't want him making a mess of the country. Although, really, how much more damage could he do?

...yeah yeah, famous last words. But there you have it. We may need a new leader, but who? Who looks like they could conceivably fix all this? No one, really. So it's another choice between the lesser of two evils...or rather, the least likely to kill us all.

And of course, a consequence of this economic downturn meant the end of NASA's Space Shuttle program...and, in essence, the end of space exploration. That's particularly disheartening for a child of the 1980's like me. Sure, I understand it - we've got to cut something from the budget - but it does really feel like the end of an age. NASA, and in particular, the Apollo Program, was such a cool thing, kindling the dreams of many children. We landed on the Moon. We went to another planet. And we went about it in such a distinctly American fashion. When you think about it, the Apollo Program embodied the American spirit more than any other endeavor in the history of the nation: screw common sense, we're gonna do this thing! Spacecraft powered by hydraulics and liquid oxygen, powered by computers with less computing power than a modern cell phone, backed up by engineers with SLIDE RULES...and somehow we got to the Moon. It's such an American thing: if we put our minds to it, we will succeed. It doesn't matter if it's never been done. It doesn't matter if it CAN'T be done. We will find a way, because that's what we do. And now, it's over. We may never go back to the Moon. We may never build another spacecraft, launch another rocket. The brave men of the Apollo Program will be the stuff of legend - knights in white armor, riding chariots of fire between worlds - and we may forget why.

All in all, it's a terrible feeling of dread. That an age is coming to an end. A book is closing. And dark times are coming. I look to history for a precedent. Did any one in the great civilizations of the past possess the prescience to see their end coming? How did the average Roman feel when he stood on Capitoline Hill and watched the Visigoths stream down the valley? What went through the average Byzantine's mind when he heard Turkish cannonballs pounding away at the city walls? When did the average Briton realize that the empire was about to crumble? Because that is how I'm starting to feel. Like I'm witnessing the beginning of the end, like Augustine of Hippo, watching his world collapse and being powerless to do anything but pen a plaintive lament.

Maybe I am being over-dramatic. And maybe things will pull out. The United States has weathered worse, after all, and it's possible we will weather this storm and come out the other side stronger than before. Or maybe this is just the way of things, the beginning of our final bow off the world stage. If that's the case, maybe it's best to be philosophical. Life will go on, after all, in some form. And seasons change. Spring will always follow winter, for those who can endure.

I pray we will endure.