The pandemic, the shutdown, police brutality, protests, riots, economic collapse, and political turmoil have deeply traumatized Americans. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, 80% of Americans believe that the country is “spiraling out of control.”
At least there is consensus about that. Despite the perception that we are so polarized that our society is coming apart, there is also consensus that the Black Lives Matter protests have a legitimate point. The same study found that Americans by a 2-1 margin are more troubled about the police killing George Floyd than they are about the violence that has broken out at some of the protests.
But agreement with the protests raises other unsettling thoughts. Are police not the “good guys” after all? Is America not “good” after all? Is American history nothing more than a saga of racism and exploitation? Historical monuments are getting vandalized with calls for their removal–not only statues and places named after Confederate leaders, but also statues of Christopher Columbus, Founding Fathers, and even Abraham Lincoln and other white abolitionists. There are even calls to take down the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument. After all, the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Father of Our Country owned slaves.
Disillusionment with our national heroes can make us think that everything we have been taught about our country is a lie and that the foundations of our country are crumbling. Our nation is delegitimatized. The loss of our ideals and the loss of our cultural narratives contribute to that sense that our country is “spiraling out of control.”
And, even though two-thirds of the country supports the protests against police brutality, the overt anarchy of some of the protesters and some of the proposed solutions–such as eliminating the police–also are manifestations of a country going “out of control.”
And, indeed, Americans have been “out of control” of their own lives. With the pandemic shutdown, Americans have been unable to control where they go or what they do. Going to work, going to church, going shopping, going to a restaurant, going on a trip, going out of the house–all such casual choices have been taken away.
Americans have been used to being in control of their lives, but all of a sudden they are being controlled.
Societies that “spiral out of control” soon “spiral into control.” The French Revolution overthrew the existing socio-political order, but it soon devolved into the chaos of the Reign of Terror, which, in turn, led to the dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte, who imposed control. The Russian revolutionaries overthrew the Czar, but, in the chaos, Lenin’s Bolsheviks took over, resulting in the Communist Party’s control over every facet of life.
Every revolution tends to go in this direction. Anarchy is the first step towards totalitarianism. That is, a government that exercises “total” control over the “totality” of life.
We have gotten a taste of that with the COVID-19 shutdown, but since that was in response to a health emergency, it will surely be temporary. But if, instead of reforming what has gone wrong, we completely give up on our American ideals of liberty, inalienable rights, and the rule of law, we will revert to a political order that will prove to be far more oppressive against everyone, of all races and creeds.