OPINION: A Twenty-Year Hangover In The Making
OPINION: A Twenty-Year Hangover In The Making
by Mike Goodwin | Contributing Writer | Eternal Affairs Media
Twenty years ago, after the September 11th attacks, I purchased a bottle of bourbon. This in and of itself isn’t very remarkable (much to my liver’s chagrin,) though it was a very special bottle. That year, a company known as Maker’s Mark did a promotion wherein the purchaser filled out a form and a custom label was sent to them. I presented this bottle to my father that Christmas, where we agreed to drink it together upon my graduation from Michigan State University.
For whatever reasons existed on so many occasions, we never truly got around to breaking the seal on that bottle. My father died eight years later. We had his service on April Fool’s Day, I think he would’ve liked that.
Now, I was asked to drink that bottle alone at his funeral. Anyone who knows funerals knows that downing a fifth of over-proofed alcohol probably isn’t the best idea (undeniably fun, but probably in poor taste.) Instead of inarguably tempting process of graveyard drinking, I put it on my bar where it sat for another 11 years. I opened it on the twenty-year anniversary the day I presented it to my father and thought of just what we’ve been through as a nation while that bottle sat gathering dust.
The New Year’s Eve after the attacks of 9/11, the world watched with a slight unease at the annual gathering at Time’s Square. The security was heightened to degrees we will probably never fully know, yet the streets were full. The revelers that night greeted an uncertain new year with a determination to not let the changing world change us.
Unfortunately, change us it did.
In the years after, more liberties were sacrificed at the altar security, real or perceived. We allowed surveillance, indefinite detentions, shadow trials, and foreign military operations. Whether or not these measures were well intentioned or not will probably never be known.
We suffered small annoyances at the airport where we were patted down or scanned while holding our shoes for reasons that nobody really quite understood. While unpleasant, this, and other measures by the Transportation Safety Administration where accepted. We grumbled under our breath, but we allowed it. We understood the importance of frisking the 90-year-old lady in the wheelchair, because “random” security checks would both keep us safe, and not stigmatize anyone in particular.
Other measures we weren’t quite sure of at first, though luckily our most honorable politicians voted them into law. This stunning display of patriotism and bravery would do much to protect us by giving them more power. Truly the best amongst us.
We also didn’t much care when we heard rumors of mass collection of data as well as warrantless wiretaps. Still, if we had done no wrong, we had nothing to hide. The indefinite detentions without trial at Guantanamo Bay were perhaps a tad worrisome, but let’s be honest, they probably deserved it anyway.
Some will say we can never know the effectiveness of these measures, as we never heard the attacks they thwarted. Others will say that nefarious actors in our political system merely took advantage of a situation for disturbing reasons of greed and national expansion. What is undeniable, is that we started down a path from which we never recovered, or even tried. As the years went by, we watched ourselves accept “The New Normal” in ways ranging from the grudgingly sensible to the theatrically absurd.
Besides, maybe we weren’t the “Land of the Free” as much as before, but we were still the “Home of the Brave,” and two out of three ain’t bad.
We still had each other though. Polls showed that after 9/11 we seemed to get along fairly well, and those numbers declined a bit over the years, but that was to be expected. So even if our government got a bit nosy now and again, we were still a nation. We were in this together.
That was of course, until an election happened. Well, then damn near everyone seemed to go apeshit.
Without knowing it, we apparently elected a certain mustache aficionado from the 40’s. While your neighbors seemed to still be normal, everyone on conventional and social media (increasingly one in the same,) were braying on about how the very republic was in peril. This was of course a dreadful and bleak time. Not dreadful enough for fact checkers though, as once trusted news outlets seemed to get every story wrong. The strange thing, however, was all the mistakes seemed to go in one direction. A more paranoid person would see a pattern there, luckily, we weren’t those. Those are called “conspiracy theorists” and are icky. We don’t eat lunch next to them.
So it came to pass that those that didn’t think exactly like we do weren’t just wrong, they were evil. They were all that is wrong with the world. They were less intelligent as well. They listened to a different person on the television and were therefore disciples of the devil himself. No, we clearly weren’t a nation anymore, we were two knife fighters in a phone booth, and something was gonna give.
Then someone on the other side of the world got themselves a bad case of the sniffles. Or so it seemed at first.
With images of people being welded into their homes, we were introduced to the newest world ending crisis. It was coming for you, your loved ones, and your dog. A wrathful vengeance from a nation of undetermined origin (probably from a bat somewhere. Quit asking questions, you racist.) Toilet paper was horded, and masks were worn. Businesses were shut down (unless they sold food, for some reason that mattered, and even then, only specific types of food or size of building. Science!) Large gatherings were forbidden, unless they were against racism, then the virus knelt in solidarity, evidently (still not quite sure how that one happened.)
Within a year, the evil president was gone, and normalcy reigned again. Well, a sort of normalcy. A “New Normalcy.”
We no longer had each other though. Now the other wasn’t just a deplorable bigot, he was the guy not wearing the mask. This meant he was trying to kill you. Luckily the government had an army of willing soldiers to scream in the face of those who didn’t wear the holy cloth mask of protection (which don’t really do much and are ignored by our celebrities and leaders when the cameras are off) or take the fourth booster of the vaccine. This also meant that they were doubly evil and homicidal. Certainly, they must be removed from society (five minutes on Twitter and a person would be convinced that a sizeable portion of this nation is not only fine with half the country dying, but they’re also downright stoked about it.)
That led to the Bourbon and New Year’s Eve. Not exactly “Home of the Brave” anymore, it seemed. Or was I just a fool drinking in more than just whiskey? A few polls came out recently that might make one suffer a slight bout of optimism.
Poynter, an institute that studies journalism issues, as well as Pew Research showed a steep decline in the trust people put into journalism. In fact, a podcast hosted by a comedian and Mixed Martial Arts commentator vastly outperforms them by an embarrassing margin. The rise of podcasting and online broadcasting represents a diversity of thought, opinion, and views. Yes, the diversity that matters.
Pew also reported a decline in church attendance as well as those who claim a specific religion as their own. This only came with a slight increase to those considering themselves “atheist.” A further examination shows that the decline came in “organized religion.” That seemed to be the main point of contention. People considering themselves spiritual or non-denominational seemed to increase. It would seem the Catholics took the biggest dive, but that seems to be a response to an increasingly politicized Vatican, more than a decline in any personal faith.
But what if it did? In the same period, according to National Philanthropic Trust, charitable giving increased 5% from 2019 to 2020. This kept up and increased throughout the economic collapse and pandemic. In fact, the United States remains the nation that gives the most to charity, both here and abroad. We, as a nation, give almost twice as much as the next nation, Canada. This is hardly the behavior of a nation comprised of homicidal plague bearers with no empathy for their fellow man.
All national political polls show an interesting twist to the current political spectrum as well. Democrats and Republicans are becoming increasingly disliked by their own bases. This is not to say a third party is viable, but it is possible. Even if not, primary challenges are likely and will energize the national discourse as to where we, as a nation, will go. This process will be loud, it will be contentious, and it will be uncomfortable. It will also be necessary. We have our problems; they need to be aired out and dealt with. We, as citizens will need to do so without the “guidance” of our political leaders. We especially do not need our unelected media class who, more often than not, cheer on our problems if not help create them.
We only believe that we are at each other’s throats because We’re told so. a common person will rarely see any conflict firsthand. Of course, some conflict is inevitable, a nation of 300 million people is bound to have some friction. Throw in the fact that we have people from every religion, culture, region, and belief living together, Hell, it’s a damned miracle the streets aren’t paved with the dead. If the news was so wrong, so many times over the past 20 years, what makes us believe they’re correct about this?
They’re not. We are reminded of this on a yearly basis wherein the United States admits more immigrants than the next three combined. While a cynical person may claim these immigrants are fooled by a veneer of the American Dream, one would expect that these poor victims of deception would leave in droves upon seeing our racist plutocracy. Yet they do not. Now, some may be concerned about admitting so many people to the nation without assimilating them to our culture, but the fact remains that these people see America as their best chance at a decent life. A fact that far too many of my countrymen have taken for granted or forgotten completely.
Finally, we look to ourselves. Even during a pandemic that we are told threatens the very existence of life on the planet, we gathered for Christmas. I kid you not, there were gatherings where a vulnerable relative was put in a plastic bubble, a car, another room, wherever they could be exposed to the family, without being… um… “exposed” to the family. Now while this may seem sad and tragic (and it is,) it is still something of an endearing thought that people still wanted to do the things we did, before everything go so “Normal.” This pandemic will end. Omicron seems to be far more contagious, but far less fatal. When this happens, we will need to reckon with who we let ourselves become. We will then be able to try to see our nation as the millions clambering to get in here do. Maybe this time around, we stop worrying about Twitter and Facebook tell us. Oh, and that creepy, blue-haired lady on Tik Tok that yells about pronouns? Maybe we kinda leave her alone for a while to figure stuff out. For all our sake.
So, as I down the last of the bourbon as a toast to my departed father, I save a small taste to raise to my nation. Is it perfect? No, a nation of 330 million people can never be perfect. Hell, the word “Utopia” literally means “Nowhere.” So, if it’s all the same to everyone, I’ll go ahead and ride this life out in America, which means “A Close Second.” In a language I just made up.