Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.
So opined William Butler Yeats as we slouched toward Bethlehem.
And as we’ve all been slouching through 2020, I’ve had this nagging feeling that we Americans have been asking the wrong question.
At long last it is gut check time in America.
We’ve been asking: Can America survive?
Survive Trump, the pandemic, the militias, the polarization, the partisanship, the voter suppression, the dirty tricks, the Russian interference, the court packing whatever.
After Tuesday, we need to start asking an entirely different question.
Does America deserve to survive?
I only bring it up because it seems to me that we are long overdue for a period of national introspection. And if we don’t start now we likely never will.
Because things really do feel like they are starting to fall apart. And it’s not altogether certain that the center can hold.
And what happens then? Yeats tells us: “Mere anarchy is loosed…”
Not to be overly dramatic. But let’s be honest about where we are right now in our uniquely American experiment in self-governance.
Listen, just firing Trump – yes, I’m being an optimist here – won’t fix much. The damage to the national psyche that made Trump possible runs deep and wide. It’s been a long time in the festering.
How can it be, a century and a half after we outlawed slavery, that bigotry and racism still burns so hot in our country? It imbues our criminal justice system, our neighborhoods, our schools, our relationships and so many other American institutions.
How can we continue to turn a blind eye toward climate change, while the west burns and the southeast floods and the oceans around us rise?
What does it say about democracy when our political system can be so easily bought and sold by millionaires and billionaires for the benefit of millionaires and billionaires?
Are we so truly gun crazy that we all but cheer on armed militias intent on inciting civil war?
Covid showed us that our “best in the world” health care system is totally unprepared to deal with a crisis on this scale. It’s nice that the President can get world-class care, but what about the rest of us?
For centuries immigrants have strengthened and reinforced America’s greatness. When did they become rapists and thugs to be walled out? And how did we decide that putting kids in concentration camps protects us from “those people”?
And when did Americans begin to so hate and fear fellow Americans who don’t look like them, worship like them or vote like them?
If Trump wins, that unasked question may well and truly be answered in the negative. But even if we do send him packing, that will be the easy part.
Coming to terms with the root causes, conflicts and conundrums that made his election possible in the first place is going to require a lot more collective heavy lifting.
I have this horrible feeling that if we all just vote and then wash our hands of the whole sordid business, the Great American Experiment will be forfeit.
I believe in America.
But I also believe that unless we are willing to come to terms with those things that divide us, feed our prejudices and fire our animosities we must inevitably be forced to admit to ourselves…honestly…brutally…truthfully.
That the center did not hold. And that America did not deserve to survive.