Sunday, May 15, 2022

America’s Uncivil War

This morning I awoke to an email from The New York Times about the latest mass shooting in Buffalo, NY, but I didn’t read the article. I didn’t read the article because, frankly, I’m exhausted and overwhelmed. I’m exhausted and overwhelmed because mass shootings have become an almost daily occurrence in the United States and our government has become powerless to do anything about it. Our government has become incapable of exercising the will of the American people.

Part of this is because our government is inherently undemocratic. From a Senate that gives the same number of senators to Rhode Island as it does to California, to an Electoral College that twice in the last 22 years has given the presidency to someone who didn’t win the popular vote, to the Supreme Court, which has become yet another partisan branch of government. (Then again, when you over 400 million guns combined with a nearly nonexistent mental healthcare system, that’s a recipe for disaster.)

Every time our democracy fails, people like Vladimir Putin use that as proof of their theory that democracies don’t work. I know that there’s a war between democracy and autocracy going on in Ukraine, but we can’t even defend our own democracy at home.

Ironically, this is precisely the kind of environment that’s a breeding ground for authoritarians and dictators. It gets to the point where people get so fed up, they just want “law and order,” even if they have to give up some of their rights in order to get it.

I keep thinking of that line in Network where Howard Beale says, “Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials, and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone."

That’s increasingly how I (and I suspect many others) feel, especially now that so many people are working from home. We’re all just crawling into our own personal fortresses just to stay sane.

I often joke, “Thank God I live in the independent republic of New York City” because I increasingly feel like I wouldn’t even be safe between the two coasts. I actually feel safer in New York, because of its tough gun laws, then I would in, say, Texas.

This is the kind of environment that swept Trump into power and could sweep him into power again if Democrats don’t get their act together RIGHT NOW.

For the last three days, I’ve been having conversations with my friends about the increasing incivility of American people (all people?), at every level of society, from my neighborhood, with its noise and graffiti, to comedians being attacked on stage, to the assault on the Capitol. It’s starting to feel like nobody’s in charge.

Why is this happening?

I think part of it can be traced to the Covid pandemic, which, in addition to killing one million Americans, has been far more destructive than I think anyone thought it would be. For almost two years, we’ve been essentially locked up in our homes, and I honestly think that people have forgotten how to behave in public (assuming they knew how in the first place).

I think the other part can traced to Donald Trump, who, through his words and actions, gave permission to people to say and do things that, prior to his presidency, were, at the very least, considered impolite.

What else?

Police departments (or at least New York City’s police department) that basically stopped enforcing the law (especially quality-of-life laws) after the Black Lives Matter protests.

I hate to sound like I’m defending Rudolph Giuliani’s “broken windows” theory of policing, but there has to be a way to enforce the law without resorting to his racist stop-and-frisk tactics.

Bill Maher did a segment on his show this week that showed shoplifters brazenly stealing from a drug store while security guards just stood there and watched. And anyone who’s ridden the subway in New York City (that is, anyone who still is riding the subway) can attest to the number of homeless people—some of whom are obviously mentally ill—who have made the subways their home. Yes, Mayor Adams has added more police to the subways, but a lot of times they’re just looking at their cell phones.

We shouldn’t be worried about foreign countries attacking us. (OK, we should, but not exclusively.) We should be worried about ourselves.

I have seen the enemy and it is us.