“ … Whether we remember or forget, in all of us sit sensations of malaise, fear, catastrophe, explosion. … We do not know yet precisely what events await us, but in our hearts the needle of the seismograph has already stirred.”
--Alexander Blok, Russian poet (1908)
Americans, and, indeed, the world, are moving into dangerous times. Forces of political extremism have been let loose and recapturing them appears to be beyond the ability of today’s political class. This does not mean that the overthrow of our democratic republic is at hand. After all, we still have the founding document, the U.S. Constitution, as a guide to prevent any one person or faction from gaining too much power. The genius of the founders, whose memory some are now trying to erase, was in their profound understanding of human nature and the depths to which people’s behaviors can sink.
Some refer back to the 1960s as a time of similar upheaval. As someone who lived through that decade, I can tell you that it does not feel the same. Yes, there was upheaval back then. We had political assassinations, ghetto riots, buildings bombed, anti-war demonstrations, the sexual revolution and the dawning of the women’s liberation movement.
However, the working class was still able to go to work each day, nobody worried about catching a fatal disease designed in a biological weapons lab, law enforcement was still supported even as the crime rate grew, politicians soft on crime were removed from office, and nobody thought to harass elected officials in their homes. Even though tens of thousands of young Americans came home in caskets from what became a losing cause, nobody worried that North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh might do something that would lead to Armageddon.
We had no sanctuary cities where local governments chose to ignore federal laws with which they disagreed. We didn’t have significant vigilante groups, like Antifa and the Proud Boyz, sprouting up. We didn’t have 100,000 drug overdose deaths annually. We could go to the grocery store without being carjacked or becoming prey for a mass murderer.
Recently, the Pew Research Center released its latest findings on a poll question that it has tracked for 70 years. Asked whether Americans believed the government always or most of the time did the right thing, in the 1950s, 73% agreed. By 1968, largely because of the Vietnam War, the number dropped to 62%. In 1974, when President Nixon resigned because of the Watergate scandal, the number had fallen to 36%. It never really recovered, only briefly spiking to that 1950s level in 9/11’s immediate aftermath. Today, only 20% of Americans believe the government will do the right thing at least most of the time.
Erin Norman, writing for Real Clear Politics, says, “We largely shifted away from the more fulfilling and productive local political clubs and civic committees in favor of contentious online commentary, political virtue signaling and complete disengagement.”
With our civic institutions weakened, now we have been hit by rampant inflation. Say what you will, but all of us have become poorer as a result. If one takes off their partisan spectacles for a second, one can see why this is. The pandemic caused the government to shut down businesses and production of goods and services fell, while at the same time, the Federal Reserve ballooned the money supply and the politicians began dropping cash from helicopters. Supplies decreased as cash in everyone’s hands increased. The result was shortages in everything from toilet paper and computer chips to peanut butter and infant formula. (Yes, the last two were caused in part by government regulation, but shortages would not have occurred in a well-functioning economy.)
Now, the price of gasoline has risen to historic highs, pushing up the price of every other product and restricting our freedom of movement. Some blame Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the West’s subsequent boycott of Russian oil. However, the price of oil is determined globally, and the shifting of distribution lines is only a minor disruption.
Clearly, the oil price hike is more about climate change and pushing motorists to buy electric vehicles than it is about Putin’s war. If one is a college professor making six figures, that is certainly an option. However, if one is living paycheck to paycheck, an EV may be unaffordable. Pushing gas prices higher reduces the employment options of blue-color workers by the distance they can afford to commute. And even if they do find work, the inflation in their grocery bills takes an ever greater share of their income.
Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine appears likely to end in one of two ways, both perilous. Either Russia will absorb Ukraine, weakening support for Western values and support for the democratic republican form of government, or Ukraine, with help from the West, will maintain its independence, destroying the Russian military and putting the nuclear saber-rattling Putin in a desperate position from which his final act may be to destroy much of western civilization as it destroys him.
Reflecting back on the Russian poet’s thoughts cited above, written nine years before the Russian Revolution, this nation badly needs some leaders who can speak to issues more thoughtfully than the current bunch.