More than burnout is involved. People write columns in the (faint) hope of changing things. No, a web site will not alter the majestic course of the planets in their orbits. It was once possible, however, to believe that enough people hollering in the electronic town hall that is the web might push things in a desired direction. In the past, this has worked—not cleanly, nor quickly, nor quite as the senior-civics texts said. But it has sort of worked.
Now it doesn’t. Today the United States is politically and socially constipated. Nothing moves, or at least not in a desirable direction. Crooks, frauds, revivalists, the over-empowered under-brained, believers and mouth-breathers and unabashed lunatics—all of these have so firmly gummed up the gears that improvement founders. Someone seems to have poured glue into the political kaleidoscope. Little point exists in curmudgeing at the bastards.
A few examples to make a point: The schools are terrible, we know they are terrible, we have known it for decades, and yet they only get worse. The universities are become dumbed-down propaganda chutes, and we know it, yet they only get worse. The War on Drugs is an ineffective farce continued for the benefit of drug lords, and we know it, yet we continue. The racial situation is both grim and stagnant. We have no military enemies, yet spend ever more on “defense.” None of these foolishnesses can be changed. If they could be, by now they would have been.
A train wreck once started goes to completion.
And the policeman cometh. He cannot, I think, be stopped. The abolitions of the Bill of Rights, the ever increasing surveillance, the diminished recourse of citizens against the government—these are not business as usual. They have happened before, in bits and pieces, but now they become respectable. The CIA has always tortured people and the FBI has always engaged in illegal phone-tapping and political persecution. Yet in the past they didn’t want to be caught because consequences might follow. These are now federal policy, openly admitted. The government keeps records of the books you read in the airport. This is something different.
And it can’t be stopped. Actually it is wild and fun when viewed as entertainment. What a show: The United States is close to one-man rule. Congress is complicit, the Supreme Court a nursing home. No serious opposition exists. If Bush leaves office in 2008, the incoming president will continue the trends of today. The effects begin to show. People grow ever more docile, accustomed to intimidation, to searches without cause. Several writers of my acquaintance no longer question federal policy. They are afraid.
And we are going to see this show through to the end. In a dismal way it is funnier than Oprah.
The fascinating thing is that the flow of events seems beyond influence, as if someone or something intended it. I could write five columns a week about the absurdity of dragging second-graders from school in handcuffs for having threatened to shoot a classmate with a loaded finger. The draggings-out would continue. We no longer have the sense of shame that once made exposure of misdeeds effective. The spying will not stop. There is no will to stop it, and the technology improves. Nor will we see a return to the semi-constitutional government of old. It means nothing to most people, yet, and by the time it does mean something, it will be too late.
The country is shot. So what else is new?
As I say, I’m sick of writing about it. A decomposing political corpse soon loses charm. Also, writing FOE is a lot of work. I’m in no position to grouse about it, since no one asked me to do it or forces me to keep at it. Still, it is work, and work is never a good thing. Worse, there’s no money in writing on the web. A magazine story brings in several thousand devaluing green dollars plus expenses, which can include a week in Argentina. This has its appeal. I find myself writing editors I used to work for.
At any rate, I am going to take off for a month or so, till the first of November, say. Then, depending on my commitments to the amassment of filthy lucre, I will either go back to FOE, perhaps at a lower rate and certainly without politics, or else I will say sayonara to my readers and devote myself to Padre Kino, books, Violeta and Natalia, my three useless and neurotic pooches, and exotic travel.