Watching America disintegrate before my afternoon Gin and Tonic
I came to the U.S. in the very early 80s, and have witnessed the unctuous Reagan years with his
demented posturing, the astrologuer-guided policies and an uncanny ability to speak from the two sides of the mouth, and then went through all the administrations that led to the Obama years. I have lived through a recession, the dotcom collapse, the 2008 economic debacle, the LA riots, the impossibly glorious invasion of Granada, the equally glorious invasion of Panama, two wars in the Middle East and the invasion of Afghanistan; yet, jaded as I became, I was utterly unprepared to comprehend the depth of the corruption, venality and incompetence of the current administration.
In retrospect, all I conclude is that the current state of the country has been decades in the making and is the product of our collective bonhomie in face of deepening social inequality, dearth of economic opportunity and an infectious cultural malaise that has been far too tolerant… towards the ignorant and intolerant.
After watching us pass the count of 100,000 dead from a mismanaged pandemic, 40 million unemployed, a cratering economy, and the budding spasms of social unrest, I ran away to my perch up in the Rocky Mountains. Here, with a primitive and slow internet connection I’ve spent my time first trying to make sense of, and then just observing the apparent disintegration of American paramountcy.
What follows are very short notes that I cared to take of the news and events that came through my DSL line.
100,000 dead is a rather large count, to put it in perspective, we must consider that there were 36,500 American casualties during the Korean War and 58,200 during the Vietnam War. And what makes the count so particularly grim is that it came about in a mere three months as a result of the blatant incompetence of an administration that has consistently excelled at being incompetent. I’ve lived in fear since February when my daughters came back from a long trip to the Far East in which they seemed to have always been a week or two ahead of the pandemic. We’ve been pent up in the house, venturing out to shop for groceries while always wearing a mask and gloves and washing our hands and face obsessively.
My trips to Walmart and to our local grocery store have made clear the contrast between those on each side of the American cultural divide: those wearing a mask tend to speak with a foreign accent or are otherwise people of color, some are white and driving better and more urban cars. The group not wearing masks tend to be predominantly white, or hispanics making a superhuman effort to wrestle their accents, drive pick-up trucks or the larger models of SUVs, favor baseball caps and are generally at odds with proper grammar. I came across two of the former group at a Walmart aisle, the gruffier one made some loud derogatory comment about my mask, I gave him a disengaged, five-mile stare and coughed. His face took the contortions of some deep panic, he grabbed his friend’s arm and I stood there watching them bolt for the door. I’ve learnt long ago that the bravado that compels these folks to not wear masks seldom survives a real life test.
I read in the news this afternoon that Floyd Mayweather will be paying for George Floyd’s funeral. The gesture is pregnant with significance: for one it makes clear that the family is destitute enough to become financially stressed by the expenditure, for another, it would be of basic decency if the State, the City or even the Police would offer to pay in a gesture to make amends, further, there is a strange poetry in the fact that it is a black man paying for another black man’s funeral. It’s as if the tragedy was kept intimate within the only group that can fully understand it.
The media has now timid reports about the protests in Hong Kong, which stand in an interesting contrast with the ones in the U.S. for if they have been labeled as “protests”, the ones in the U.S. now have people considering them part of a “rebellion.” The distinction is important, and the significance of the latter can be profound, but what becomes equal parts interesting and sad is recognizing that the upheaval in these shores has swiftly robbed the U.S. of the moral authority to influence the situation in Hong Kong. As a recent opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post indicates, Russia, Iran and Turkey are having a field day watching the american society implode in an orgy of chaos and frustration. China, for its part, is licking its chops at the opportunity to fill the world leadership void that the U.S. is vacating.
Most of the people with whom I discuss this unfolding tragedy are of the mind that peaceful protesting will solve our mounting social issues, and will not even consider that we’re past the point of expecting a meaningful outcome from them, they don’t accept that symbolic action is just that, symbolic. The argument goes that the Civil Rights movement was brought about through peaceful protest, which entirely ignores the the fact that MLK’s assassination was not exactly a blueprint for peace. What makes the current social unrest meaningful is that it transcends the death of a black man at the hands of an overbearing police; that occurrence was the catalyst for the protests, but I strongly suspect that decades of declining opportunity, lack of affordable healthcare, lack of access to affordable education, racism, among other social ills, have become the tue fuel for the unrest.
The Colorado National Guard made a congratulatory flight over the medical center of our small mountain town. It was scheduled for 12:06 and, with military precision and millions of dollars of flight equipment, we were treated to a flight that came through at… 12:06. The intent was to thank the first responders of our town in their handling of the pandemic. We have had a grand total of nine cases so far, the last two brought in from the Navajo land that borders us to the south. The Navajo Nation is as destitute an area as one can imagine, mining and the golf fields of Arizona robbed it of water, it has 400 hospital beds for
170,000 people, and as of May 24th there were over 4,366 people infected and 153 died of Covid-19, the statistics trounce those of the rest of the U.S. The Navajo are not white. There was no National Guard flight over the Navajo Nation.
Where will this end up? I think that we can splice some scenes from Bertolucci’s film 1900 to create a credible tableau of the future, one in which the peasants will be happy in their delusion of having attained a position of power, a future where everyone has enough polenta and red wine but in which the Padrone is alive, for, no matter what, the Padrone never dies.
Adelino de Almeida
Fotos de Minnie Freudenthal e Manuel Rosário