A quick rant about “American collapse”

Consider this nothing more than a rant. I’ll try to make it short and unspecific. Pardon the interspersed use of the second person; I, of course, am not angry with you, dear reader.

The past four years have seen many once-noble institutions, organizations, and individuals1 descend into histrionics and set their credibility ablaze for minimal political return. Perhaps sadder, our “unprecedented times” have given rise to a disaster-porn mentality about the state of America that grifters have cynically refined and recast as implements of their base ambitions.

This is annoying for many reasons, not least because the energy being harvested is obviously an outgrowth of poorly sublimated upper-middle class ennui. If you believe America is a failed state, that you’re bearing witness to civilizational collapse, I invite you to take an extended trip to almost anywhere else on the planet. I have seen families in Brazilian slums living on islands of trash and driftwood tied together, makeshift docks to form walkways above the putrid water that served as their home’s foundation, sewer, and dumpster.

When you see failure, you’ll know.2

But you can’t really blame the managerial class for being bearish on America when they’re subject to a relentless memetic campaign to that effect. Our real ire ought to be directed at the cynics who divide their time evenly between fetishizing abstract hallmarks of America and its governance and propagandizing their illegitimacy.

Listen, if you tell me America is actually an oligarchy one day and then tell me we have to Save Democracy the next, you’re either an idiot or an opportunist with no regard for collateral damage. If you spend your days badgering people to vote and your afternoons diligently watering seeds of doubt about the integrity of the next election (hedging in case your guy loses), you’re an asshole. If you’re going to lament the damage being done, at least stop swinging the sledgehammer.

Perhaps worst of all is the myopia. Do these actors never ask themselves, “What comes next?” Credibility is subject to entropy as much as anything else: it’s difficult to build and easy to let slide into disrepair. They think they’re torching Russia to starve Napoleon, but in reality they’re Pyrrhus, paying for today’s victory with tomorrow’s defeat.

There will be no back to normal for us, brave explorers. They’ve burned the ships.

  1. With the exception of “thought leaders” with significant influence, this post is not meant to apply individuals. I don’t blame your uncle for his conspiratorial MAGA-posting, nor your aunt for her wine-mom-inflected renditions of CNN chyrons.
  2. For the record, I don’t consider Brazil a failed state. Nor will I pretend America doesn’t have some serious problems (many of which look likely to get worse). I’m just saying the bar is a lot higher than people seem to imagine.