America is tearing itself apart
The most advanced nation in history is descending into madness.
The noted moral philosopher Adam Smith once observed that there is ‘a great deal of ruin in a nation’. He was referring specifically to Britain’s ability to withstand a few overseas military humiliations in the US War of Independence. But more generally the point was that it takes an awful lot of bungling by political leaders to really bring down a powerful and prosperous state.
So, basically, though it sounds somehow pessimistic, the message is: don’t be disheartened by temporary downturns and moral panics. We have all been here before and we have the resources to re-nourish ourselves and rise again in the spring. To build our sand castles afresh between each high tide of woe.
And despite everything, I still believe that of the UK. I have faith, and think we underestimate the depth of the topsoil that we enjoy, and that would need to run off before it exposed the hardcore of ruin.
Obviously Covid has lurched us into debt, not to say revealed an unexpectedly servile inclination in the erstwhile Lion of Liberty. The arrogant, indomitable streak that we fondly imagine when we think of heroes like Churchill and Nelson, and adventurers like Burton, Byron and Rhodes, is certainly close to extinct. But a certain plucky optimism can still be kindled, I reckon. A certain familiar if weary chuckle of resignation to hardship and hard work, the British Sisyphus shouldering the boulder yet one more time.
I do not like all the changes taking place in this country, much less the Big Chill that seems to discourage acknowledging them. The way that even before the pandemic, everything from football to Christmas TV ads seemed to be harnessed to further progressive propaganda. It does savour somewhat of a mild form of totalitarianism. But I still think of it as probably a rough sea crossing, rather than the first act in a tragedy.
Economically of course, we’ve been running on fresh air and North Sea oil since, well, the Second World War, give or take. But with the miracle of modern accounting and an indifference to fathomless debt, this seems hardly to matter.
And also, I look at the BBC overseas, at the Premier League, at the worldwide ubiquity of our language, our Olympic medals and our queen, at our soft power, our state pomp and diplomatic corps, our universities (not only Cambridge and Oxford and the Life Science Centre but also the entire Russell Group), our innovations, our hard-won reputation as a safe space for doing business, our Square Mile, our Nobels and our rock music, and even, yes, our comedians – hell, even JK fucking Rowling – and, you know? We do okay.
And for every agitated discontent on the frontline howling ‘Structural Racism!’ and daubing graffiti on Churchill or weeping bitterly over a mural of a millionaire footballer being told he’s shite in a bucket, there are dozens of blokes and birds of colour, people like my mate Dam, who does my website and cheerfully plays funk bass in wedding bands for white men who can’t dance at the weekend. For every Mohammed strapping on a heavy rucksack, there are thousands playing in mixed-race and mixed-ability Sunday League football matches and getting their round in and giving as good as they get. In short, I still have some faith in us – even if it lurches once in a while.
America, though, I’m not so sure.
There are the obvious crises – the BLM and Antifa ‘protests’, and the Proud Boys and Unite the Right. The extraordinary determination in the vast majority of the media to paint Kyle Rittenhouse as a murderous white supremacist, and to assert that no black man could have got such justice. The abandonment of any and all standards in, for example, the admissions process to higher education, that might be perceived as unworkable and immoral, should any group prove disproportionately unable to meet them.
But I have also been thinking for some time about some of the grounds against which these dramas catch the light. Those images of cities like Philadelphia – street horror shows, fentanyl addicts, Spice Ghouls, whatever – Waxworks Museum Weirdness.
About the homelessness and drug-use stats from San Francisco, which almost beggar belief, even while the city actively encourages mentally ill delinquents to collect, at huge cost, in tented encampments in what not long ago were pleasant municipal parks. And from which you can see some of the most expensive real estate and the most highly capitalised corporations in the history of the world.
And various other – sometimes less savoury – vignettes from the New World. Murder rates, defunded police and soaring prison populations and incredible failures of schooling. Illiteracy, ignorance, descent into Medieval superstition and credulity.
And rather than any sign that the authorities recognise this for the brink that society is on, any evidence that they are working all hours to pull it back – or at least to get out of the way – thought leaders and policymakers instead present endless escalations of woke nonsense. Palpable nonsense, that dares you to speak its name. Notions that would be simply comical were it not that they fail entirely to engage with the crisis the country is facing.
If not ruin, quite yet, there is real rot in America. Serious brain worms, a human analogue for the kind of parasite that causes snails to haul their weary selves up high on plants and then put on a psychedelic display in their eyes to attract airborne predators.
Many of us now feel a sense of mounting horror as we watch. Something like a David Cronenberg scenario is at work, an infestation afflicting the body politic, the state, the media, academia and every other institution, where once tradition, scepticism and good, calm sense once served to douse flare-ups of enthusiasm. For any nation, that would be a worry. For a country that was built on ideas and ideals and a ‘dream’, a faith that it was convinced could knit together every multicoloured twine that threaded its way across the sea or across the southern border, that is an existential threat. America is all darn, and no sock.
The America that I grew up with was an illusion, of course, a fiction learned from TV and movies, and it was already out of date when those shows were being made, let alone when I watched them, often 10 or 15 years later. Bewitched and The Flintstones brightened many a rainy Tuesday afternoon in Harold Wilson’s Britain, but that prosperous American suburbia they gently satirised had long since been creaking at the seams. Happy Days and Grease were always babushka dolls of nostalgia within nostalgia. Starsky and Hutch and The Rockford Files were contemporary, and as much gritty realism as we could cope with in our household of a weekend. But while they acknowledged that America’s seedy underbelly was already hanging well over Uncle Sam’s waistband, there was still a sense that it could be contained.
But that dramatic proposition – diverse individuals living in a fundamentally coherent, cohesive society, facing challenges that old-fashioned virtues would get them through – that has all gone now. That Spielberg movie America, of kids BMXing around and having adventures, of older folks looking out for them, chatting to them on the porch and giving them lemonade without anyone even blinking? That’s not ‘heartwarming’, that’s a paedophile’s charter. Big sisters dating some biker who is pushing her to go ‘all the way’ – as in, to having sex, rather than to strapping her tits down, taking puberty blockers and identifying as male? That vision has become the basis for counterfactual, tongue-in-cheek sci-fi pastiche. Laughable, and one of the stranger things we can imagine.
Even Friends, Frasier and Cheers feel like far-right propaganda now, like those pictures of pre-brutalism city centres with long demolished neo-Gothic town halls and department stores, and children playing hoop in traffic-free streets. Remember sitcoms featuring loads of attractive white people just enjoying life? They took this from you!
American citizens seem manic with distrust, distrust only magnified by competing Covid narratives and the endless side-switching on every safety protocol – Masks are for the libs! Horse meds for the GOP! – depending on who first said it and when. Every demographic hates every other – except white liberals, who hate themselves, which, if anything, is worse. They have to all intents and purposes completely devolved to the pagans of Carl Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World.
Yet the present administration, the presidency of Joe Biden, seems not only comfortable with this, but also to regard it as an engine for progress. It is hard to say whether it is oblivious or indifferent to the crazy. Or preparing to simply eject half the nation, as the Apollo moon rockets did their fuel tanks once empty and redundant.
They seem to me to have lost tension, traction, with basic realities. The facts of life, the hard truths, constitutional standards, the ‘Gods of the Copybook Headings’. The discipline that propelled the world’s first genuinely exceptional nation, however much Stalin mocked the notion with that phrase, is leaching away. America built an economy and a military power beyond compare, from scratch, in barely two centuries. From that unequalled height, they are spiralling into utter madness.
Just one example, this summer, from the American Medical Association?
‘June 16, 2021 – Sex should be removed as a legal designation on the public part of birth certificates, the American Medical Association (AMA) said Monday.
Requiring it can lead to discrimination and unnecessary burden on individuals whose current gender identity does not align with their designation at birth, namely when they register for school or sports, adopt, get married or request personal records.’
This was literally, almost word for word, a joke made by Andrew Doyle via his woke poet, Titania McGrath, on Twitter, less than a year ago. It is now official policy of the States’ main clinical body.
It is madness, not just for the obvious reason that it’s nonsense, but also because it is so terrifyingly detached. It’s like a leper, pouting in a shiny pan lid as it tries on a new shade of lipstick, just before it loses another finger. What does it tell you about the capacity of a nation to confront the actual pathologies that are eating its flesh, that it is worrying about putting B or G on a birth certificate?
And yet, now that progressivism has a tight hold on the reins. Overseas, and to less happier lands, the Military Industrial Complex remains as dangerous as ever. But the Governmental / Academic / Media Complex – memorably and I think accurately characterised as ‘The Cathedral’ by blogger Mencius Moldbug – is the one I’m afraid of. It is marching in tighter lockstep than ever and we are nowhere near the worst of it yet.
Neither legacy media nor Silicon Valley, the subtly editorialising forces running social media’s delusions of democracy, will be anxious to flag up the profound new means for acquiring and consolidating power, and delegitimising opponents, that we are seeing now – for good and I hope obvious reasons. We have every reason to think this is only going to get crazier.
I really hope I’m wrong, that this is what comes of watching another nation through the long lens of its media, the camera obscura peering over the Atlantic, and not living in its day to day. I hope that the States too remains a nation of mixed-race, mixed-ability weekend sports, and a generous tolerance of ‘cultural appropriation’ by the well-intentioned but two-left-footed among us.
Because if I’m right, and America is nearing bedrock, no one is going to feel like shouting ‘Yabba Dabba Do’ when we do.
Simon Evans is a spiked columnist and stand-up comedian. He is currently on tour with his show, Work of the Devil. You can buy tickets here.
Picture by: Getty.