As the country descends into chaos, driven by a mix of structural inequities and a ruthless pandemic that requires leadership far beyond the grasp of Trump World, we each have a choice: stand in resolution guided by values and virtue, or hitch a ride on a comet of madness toward a romanticized return to a mythical normal that will never be normal again. Regression—the fantasy of returning to yesterday—is the fault line of the selfish and uninspired. Progress requires clear-minded honesty and transcendent courage acknowledged with the certainty of sacrifice. It has been curious, and at times shockingly sad, to watch which path people choose.
Standing to reestablish and actualize values and virtue is difficult work; an often gut-wrenching undertaking unaccompanied by the prospect of immediate reward. It requires a deep sense of self, based in the hardened steel of dignity to suffer sacrifice with eyes fixed on an aspirational horizon of fortitude. The other choice, escaping—riding the comet—renders the allure of madness; to thumb one’s nose at reality while indulging the impulse of selfishness. To ignore science and party with friends at old watering holes. To expect our institutions to suddenly rise up to save us as we spiral into self-absorption. To run away to the fantasy of a romanticized past—however distant and fanciful—to alleviate the quarantine blues.
As we stare at the last days of this crisis—the Age of Deceit—the selection process is underway. The list of individuals, companies, organizations, and governments that comprised yesterday’s heroes—those we held in the highest regard—will undoubtedly be selected for or against as a new list is revealed. The wonderboys of yesterday, like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, are destined to become the pariahs of tomorrow. Companies that take their direction from investment bankers and tightly-wound lawyers may find their fortunes plummet as stewardship gains favor over exploitation. Those who bayed loudly from the pulpit to extol the promises of a white Christian nationalist renewal will be forced to reconcile their sermons, laced with more hate than love, as the offering trays return empty from the few left to listen. And governments will, once again, come to realize that leadership starts with service.
As I wrote in Saving America in the Age of Deceit, “the rudder on America’s ship of liberty [is] dangling from its hull.” Out of greatness we have managed to create a stew of despair, dissonance, and dread. Those who have succumbed to the impulse of selfishness—who embraced the allure of madness by grasping precariously onto the tail of the comet—will be forced to trade their gratuitous binge for the sober reality of tomorrow. Those who set aside feeling good for doing good—the stouthearted and most resilient among us—will chart the new course of history. Which are you?