A presidential election is on its way. It's going to be a rough one. I don't mean rough on the candidates. Both are born for this sort of thing. They love the contest, the jabs and counter punches of a hard fought campaign. I mean, rough for the rest of us, the country itself. It doesn't help that both our choices are terrible. On the one hand there's a septuagenarian who behaves like a spoiled toddler, on the other, a man who's lately finding it hard to complete sentences without a teleprompter. We could really use some wisdom and leadership. We could do with better candidates, but we're stuck with what we've got.
I don't remember a major election before this one taking place when things were so unsteady. There was 1968. There was a pandemic from China, there were riots, and there were assassinations. I was 15 then. Maybe I was too preoccupied with whatever it is that teenage boys are preoccupied with back then, but I don't recall this feeling of having something stuck in my throat, and something else buzzing around in my belly, and wondering when this will end.
Obviously, not everyone was happy with the old normal. We're in the midst of not only a cultural revolution, but also a political revolution. Statues are being pulled down. Statues of Francis Scott Key, Columbus, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were leveled and defaced. Dangerous characters all, these founders, statesman and explorers. Let's pile their bronze bodies together with those of Confederate generals and melt them down for cannon balls for the coming civil war. We can't have our children exposed to their images. Here in Philadelphia, rioters taking time out from looting small businesses and demolishing ATMs, tried setting fire to a statue of the late Mayor Frank Rizzo. The present mayor finished their work for them by removing the statue. For good measure he ordered a large mural bearing Rizzo's image destroyed. Rizzo's crime was that he was a law and order mayor back in the late 1960s when public disorder last threatened the peace.
All this mirrors the French revolution in its ambition. The Jacobins loved their country, just like our present revolutionaries. Of course they didn't love the country as it was. They only loved it for what they thought they could make out of it. To build their vision of a new society based on the principle of equality they'd have to destroy symbols of the old order. Statues were torn from their pedestals or defaced, aristocrats beheaded, priests and nuns hunted down in the streets. Those were heady days. Mobs were incited to commit vandalism. That's where the word comes from, as revolutionary mobs were compared to the Vandals who sacked Rome. People denounced their neighbors, relatives and friends for being too soft on equality. Suspicion and paranoia proliferated. Freed from normal restraints, the population ran wild. The leaders of the mob believed the mob was under their control. Without them they could accomplish nothing. By stoking anger and envy among the disaffected they could destroy an empire, but in the end they couldn't prevent the mob from turning on them.
I haven't seen a lot of speculation on the relationship between the outbreak of riot and massive demonstrations throughout the country and the Covid lockdown. Maybe some smart reporter or psychologist could turn their attention to the effect that lockdowns have on our moods. Could it be that if you restrict millions of people’s movements, suddenly leave them without jobs, dependent on others, or force them to work from home, close all schools and send their children home, close parks and public spaces, churches and theaters, you may be playing with fire? The restrictions that were suddenly enforced acted like a pressure cooker. Overwhelming change in routine broke our faith that anything could be the same again. I'd like it if someone smarter and better informed than myself looked into that.
Someone could look into the great divide in America. You may recall that society was fractured even before the pandemic. How much worse has it grown this year? Why, when faced with a crisis, do we no longer rally to each other’s side? Where's the unity of 9/11, 2001, or December 1941? We've gone the other direction. Left and right are not even on speaking terms. Add to all that an election featuring dysfunctional candidates, wholly incapable of repairing this fractured nation and you've got a formula for something. I'm not sure what.
I'm sure of one thing, whatever comes, the coverage it gets in the press will be just as misleading and negligent as ever. When there's little to rely on, we can count on that.