Have U.S. public institutions collapsed? No. But they’re collapsing.

Have U.S. public institutions collapsed? No. But they’re collapsing. October 19, 2020

A Sri Lankan mine disposal officer talks with villagers in 2011 in the months after the government defeated Tamil rebel forces. The 30-year civil war devastated the island nation located adjacent to India. (Aus.AID, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0)

“This is what Americans don’t understand. They’re waiting to get personally punched in the face while ash falls from the sky. That’s not how it happens.”

The narrator, a Sri Lankan named Indi Samarajiva who experienced his country’s long, brutal civil war, explains in a wise essay in Gen, a Medium publications online e-zine, what the collapse of a country’s traditional structure is actually like.

This is how it happens,” he continues. “Precisely what you’re feeling now. The numbing litany of bad news. The ever-rising outrages. People suffering, dying, and protesting all around you, while you think about dinner. If you’re trying to carry on while people around you die, your society is not collapsing. It’s already fallen down.”

What he’s saying is that, now that more than 210,000 Americans have died in the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, while the U.S. president continues to mislead citizens about its deadly and consequential severity, we’ve already lost the war, so to speak, in maintaining our vigilance and the essential norms and institutions that evolved to keep the nation safe.

I don’t necessarily agree with Samarajiva’s quasi End Times vibe, but his fire alarm is still worth heeding.

He characterizes the collapse of a nation as much like a herd of antelope where “when the lion eats one of them alive and everyone keeps going … humans are just the same. That’s the real meaning of herd immunity. [As a nation collapses, its people become] fundamentally immune to giving a shit.”

This appears to be the strategic purpose of the Trump administration’s firehose of off-white lies, damn lies, egregious misrepresentations and outright fiction: to exhaust and confuse the populace to the extent enough of them stop “giving a shit” as public institutions are dragged down by his predatory demogogy one by one and citizens end up turning to the president for truth.

That’s where we now seem to be headed. The Nov. 3 election is our last chance to dodge the hollow-point bullet of personality-cult authoritarianism and rescue the nation of rational, Enlightenment values we used to know and love before creeping fascism and the politics of anti-intellectual resentment infected it as surely and dangerously as the coronavirus.

As I said, I don’t agree with Samarajiva that America has already collapsed, but we seem in some very essential ways to be in the process of collapsing unless we do something soon to mitigate the implosion.

So, I urge you to read this very candid Gen article to understand that, although our institutions and guardrails are serially being corrupted before our eyes under this administration, there’s still time to stop this political steamroller of mendacity and hate.

“In the last three months America has lost more people than Sri Lanka lost in 30 years of civil war,” Samarajiva stresses, insisting that, “If this isn’t collapse, then the word has no meaning.”

Yet, what’s happened in America in the past four years and has sped up during the pandemic isn’t a collapse, I believe.

But it signals a relentless and existential danger to the republic — if enough of us don’t give enough of a shit to vote next month and stop it in its tracks.

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