Magical Thinking…

This is crazyland. I’m upside down in a dystopian novel. Am I the only one who feels this way? I’m watching elected officials whose lives were in danger on January 6 tell me I didn’t see what I saw. I see them vote not to investigate its causes. I listen to the defeated candidate for president say the vote count was fraudulent and he’ll be restored to office in August. The news tells me 300 unvaccinated souls die of Covid-19 every day because they don’t want the vaccine, and an average of 54 people die daily of gun violence because the 2nd Amendment is so precious.

When asked why he walked around Athens with a lantern in daylight, Diogenes replied he was looking for an honest man. Historians are silent on whether he found one. 2000 years have passed. If he were around today, he might be looking for someone sane, prescient, and principled.

In 2003 Joan Didion’s husband died unexpectedly of a heart attack. A year later her daughter died of a massive brain hematoma. In 2005 she published The Year of Magical Thinking, a memoir reflecting on her inability to accept that reality. Since the election in 2020, Congressional Republicans have been having their own year of magical thinking, and every day we get closer to the edge of the abyss.

I try not to be cynical but Kellyanne Conway notwithstanding, truth is not subjective. Alternative facts are lies not facts, but Congressional Republicans can’t seem to tell the difference. The majority are craven cowards, handcuffed by Trumpian politics and afraid of the truth. With American democracy on the verge of collapse, it’s crunch time, and just as a distorted reading of Nietzsche’s The Will to Power was the philosophical basis for Hitler’s rise, so similar distortions of American history are the root of Trump’s white nationalism.  

It’s time to get real. In these perilous times, magical thinking is dangerous. Climate Change, Guns, Covid-19, and Racial Hate kill people and no amount of magical thinking is going to change that. Killers need to be confronted and disarmed.

The United States is burning up– triple digit temperatures, drought, and out of control forest fires are devastating the country. Americans own more that 300,000,000 guns and 1800 people have been injured or killed in mass shootings so far in 2021. Covid-19 is killing 300 Americans every day despite effective vaccines, and racial hate continues to endanger Americans of color.

Mitch McConnell and he who shall not be named are Nietzschean in their pursuit of power. Joe Manchin and A.O.C. hold out for a “more perfect union,” while Caitlyn Jenner, transgender rights and Pride parades distract us from action items that have teeth. Democrats need to stop dithering and marshal forces against the systemic attack on our democracy or IT will be back.

The “American experiment” is 245 years old, roughly the same duration as the Pax Romana. We should be able to do better than the Romans. We have science, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and modern technology to inform our choices, but ignorance is a huge impediment and the firehose of disinformation coming at us from the alt-right is astonishing.

George Packer, a staff writer at The Atlantic, has a new book called Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal. He begins with the observation that, “The world’s pity has taken the place of admiration, hostility, awe, envy, fear, affection and repulsion,” when people think of the United States. He fears the Americans have lost the art of self-government which depends to a large degree on trust. It’s a value argument deriving from the Enlightenment.

“What happened last spring was that our government, our national government, sort of abandoned us to our fate in the face of a once-a-century pandemic. It had no plan, it had no structure. And it seemed to have no desire, as if it didn’t care whether we lived or died. And so that gave me the sensation I’ve had in some of these other countries, less fortunate countries, that there’s no state here to take care of us or to even do minimal things.

 We’re not nearly as far along as others, but the worst thing is to imagine we can never move in that direction. Because we’ve had a functioning government for centuries, and because we’re used to a certain level of comfort. We should never imagine it can’t happen here. It is happening here. And I wrote Last Best Hope both to point out how far along we came last year toward a real collapse of self-government, and also how much it’s up to us. Because there is no foreign power that’s going to come in and either make things better or worse here. We’re on our own.”

If, as he says, Americans have lost the art of self-government we need to reclaim it. Civility is needed for debate, but today we’re engaged in a shootout not a debate. House and Senate Republicans are lined up at the rail knocking off the (small “d”) democratic ducks. We have to stop giving them guns then lining up to be picked off. We are facing killer issues. Time to back up the truck and haul them away. America needs a fresh start without last year’s stale fruit and stinking up the halls of Congress. No more magical thinking. Enough of crazyland dystopian non-fiction and political theater. We reality based action.

Postscript by Carl Sagan , American astronomer and futurist, in 1997.

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness… …most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance… I fear the candle in the dark of science will be snuffed out by the dumbing down of America, most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance… 


  1. You are not alone! But others seem to be louder. (Volume does not determine truth.)

    Also, may I suggest there are alternative facts, but they must be verifiable. The facts we decide to be important shape our perception of history.

  2. Well said. It is hard to believe that many of our elected officials are in denial, or choose to ignore great issues confronting our country today. To say the least these are scary times, in the past we have “muddled” through, I wonder if we will be able to do it one more time?

  3. Jack, could not be more in agreement.
    Of greater consequence than the Covid pandemic and even more virulent is the inability of some 35% of us to engage in critical thought.
    The Black Death plagues rarely reached that level of infection.
    Because of our “plague” of uncritical thought (and often willful ignorance) we are now on the precipice of the occurrence of events that portend even greater danger than did the “Black Death” plagues of old; we are faced with the death of the world’s greatest idea, that of American Democracy.

  4. This post is spot on in the politics of “our” time. It is frightening to think about how many are false fact followers and own military guns. It seems they are just waiting for T to inflame the “Prouds” to violence.

  5. Thanks, Jack
    You’ve brougt tears to my eyes (they’ve been hovering for weeks).
    Where is Gabriel Heatter when you need him?
    Best to y’all

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