I don’t say things like this very often, Faithful Reader, but so much has happened in the past year and a half or so that has brought this closer to the surface that I’m going to say it out loud.
What you are about to read is about 20 years in the making, give or take, and the seeds of these words were planted back then and watered by my observations since that time.
The course upon which we now find ourselves as a country was set before I was born, and by the time I entered the world in late 1983 we were already on this track. I grew up oblivious, as children ought to, but the events in our history from that time until I really started paying attention to politics circa fall 2003 carried us along with no real deviation from that course across the Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II Administrations.
Upon reflection, I have come to see that the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the end of the Cold War expedited the process a great deal. The events of 9/11 did so again in a different way, and we are still living with that 20 years later.
Decisions regarding our liberty, privacy and what the American people are expected to live with in terms of government surveillance and systemic, institutionalized interference with ostensibly lawful and constitutionally protected political activity were made in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001 by our leaders and by us, that will not now be unmade as long as the Republic endures. For as long as the United States of America exists in a place outside the minds and history of humankind, I am convinced it will dwell deep in the shadow of that day.
We will never live fully in the daylight again.
The election of Barack Obama was, I can see now, almost inevitable given the course we had been on for not quite three decades when we elected him, and the election of Donald Trump was the same. And it could have only happened when it did.
Obama and Trump, the Hegelian thesis and the antithesis — because that is what they are — were both bound to be elected by us. Both of them indicate something that is much, much larger than either man, their Administrations, their policies, the things they’ve done or the warring tribes that imbued them with their power.
What that thing is is expressed quite differently by both of them. They are day and night on the same day.
Even those two former presidents, for all they are and were, are being carried along with the rest of us on our present course.
Things are happening now which I came to realize would happen some time ago, but I didn’t think they would happen this soon. I thought I’d be older — perhaps in my late 50’s or early 60’s by the time we got here. We have proceeded expeditiously.
One thing that I have heard folk from other countries say about us that is true of Americans is that we are usually in a hurry. And in this case, we definitely are.
There are historical forces at work now that are as old as civilization itself and from which we are not exempt. We are not as special as we believe. No global power before us has been, either.
These forces are bigger than any single election, and though I think the consequences of the previous election have helped determine how quickly the rest of this plays out, I don’t think it has changed the outcome. That window closed about ten years ago, fifteen tops.
Despite what you will hear in increasingly more quarters, the present national situation has not been the product of a conspiracy. All of this has happened right here in the open, if not with our complete knowledge then with our consent, manufactured though it has largely been. We have been brought here by our choices as individuals, communities and as a country, made in the light of day, not by omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient masters dwelling high atop the monolith.
Strange as it may seem, I think that idea — that is, the idea that we are all hopelessly controlled by shadowy and sinister forces wielding unimaginable power — gives some people comfort. Because it means that at least some human agency is in charge. But I’ve said that in this space before.
The real choice, and the real change, will be what we decide to do when we get to the end of this line. I hope that by then good choices will still be possible. I like to think that they will be. I hope I’m right.
If you know what I’m talking about, I can see you nodding your head. And to you I say this, in spite of everything:
Don’t give up. Not yet.
Caleb Baumgardner is a local attorney. He can be reached at [email protected]