In the midst of the grip of the dog days of summer, it seems odd to write about darkness, but the news of the day provides little, if any, rays of light. Even in the West, what sun there is has become shrouded by a season of smoke from raging wildfires—a climate-change reality that has become an unsolicited summer norm.
Mid-August 2020 may be remembered as the moment we began our descent into a seemingly bottomless inkwell of darkness. Between a botched Covid-19 response, rampant civil and economic injustice, violence, suicide, and murder escalating across the country at astounding rates, a climate that threatens to consume us, and national leadership drowning in its selfishness and incompetence, it feels like layer upon layer of tribulation may suffocate any light of hope to rescue us from overwhelming uncertainty and peril. Heading into a hidey-hole like a stunned groundhog in February sounds nearly inviting. Or, as Michelle Obama suggested, when they go low, just stay high, America! (I may not have gotten that exactly right.)
And yet, as the English theologian, Thomas Fuller, suggested in 1650, “it is always darkest just before the day dawneth.” The proverbial sun will rise again. I promise.
We must also remember that America has been here before. Not exactly here of course, but in similar dire straits. That edge of fire that breaks the horizon that expands to overtake darkness will, eventually, lead us out of our current crisis.
After the improvident period of idealism that granted easement to the charlatans and grifters of the middle 19th century, we endured a Civil War that nearly ended the American experiment of a democratic republic. Yes, it could have ended America, but it didn’t. We went on to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and create the land of opportunity that doubled our population due to a mass influx of immigrants that quite literally filled America with life and hope.
Following the avarice of the next period of idealism—the Roaring Twenties—that ended with a stock market crash that launched the Great Depression and allowed fascism and evil to sweep Europe and much of Asia during World War II, America once again found the light of hope to ascend on the world stage, this time as a superpower.
The current crisis—the Age of Deceit—marked by the War on Terror, the Great Recession, a 100-year pandemic and a president who is, himself, the existential threat to the republic, was born from the third period of idealism (1980 – 2003) where, once again, affluence twisted our collective character into a braided whip of narcissism, entitlement, and hubris. A whip we have turned against ourselves with remarkable vehemence. As with all crises in our history, this one is self-inflicted. Which also means—through humility and will power—we can transcend it.
We are nearing the end of the current crisis. How do I know? Because it is time. American crises (and this is our fourth) last 15 to 20 years. We are in year 17 of the Age of Deceit. I expect 2021 will be a race toward renewal; that is, if we are successful in, among other things, affecting a wholesale cleanout of our national leadership. We need a Washington, Grant, or Eisenhower to deliver us from crisis. What follows next, if American history rhymes, is a period of objectivism to succeed crisis, which are historically marked by realism, rationalism, and humanism. And, for Baby Boomers, maybe even one last shot at tranquility before we leave America for good.
Last week, David Brooks of The New York Times provided an (unwitting) endorsement of the coming shift toward objectivism when he wrote,
Radicals are good at opening our eyes to social problems and expanding the realm of what’s sayable. But if you look at who actually leads change over the course of American history, it’s not the radicals. At a certain point, radicals give way to the more prudent and moderate wings of their coalitions.
He closed by invoking one of the greatest thinkers in the history of the modern era, Isaiah Berlin, who laid claim to the light that exists in that seam of possibility that occupies the “extreme right-wing edge of the left-wing movement.” Where the surety of objectivism lives.
The next few months will be rough. At times, it will seem as if the light will never come to erase the darkness of despair and loss. But, come it will. Many will fight mightily to herald a new dawn. To them, we will owe a deep debt of gratitude in much the same way we owe those who delivered us from the tyranny of King George III, defeated the treasonous Confederate army in the Civil War, and vanquished fascism in the 1940s.
For the rest of us, we have (at least) one solemn duty: vote, damn it, VOTE!