I can’t quite decide how I feel about one of the major themes of this year’s presidential election: Death and Destruction. That is, “Our country has been/is being/will be destroyed and we’re all going to DIE.”
Yes, that’s hyperbolic, but is it far off base?
Donald Trump’s rise was fueled to a large degree by people who think that President Obama or liberal politicians or establishment politicians in general have been running our country into the ground. In their telling, the great country we once knew is either dead and gone or on its way to becoming so.
On the other side of it, many Americans worry (and I confess to indulging in such worries myself) that Trump’s election could trigger the very destruction that his supporters see as already in motion.
Oh, and some of us are Very, Very worried that we’ll die at the hands of violent Islamic terrorists. Or violent criminals – especially the immigrant sort. Others of us are Very, Very worried that we’ll die at the hands of NRA-card-carrying, gun-toting fanatics.
While I’m capable of my fair share of unreasonable worrying – it takes me about five minutes of not hearing back from my husband to convince myself that he’s been killed in a horrific car crash – I’m mostly not the sky-is-falling type. I generally think the world is a better place than people give it credit for, our country is healthier than its people fear, and people themselves are mostly good and well-meaning.
But on the other hand, I have to recognize that all things of this world are bound to fall away, that our country is but a human construct and therefore mortal. Societies and governments and constitutions have fallen before and they’ll fall again.
So I go back and forth.
In the going back and forth, though, I think it’s important to try for some historical perspective. Yes, Rome fell. Yes, the British Empire expanded and retracted. Yes, our own country once fought a horrible, bloody civil war. Societies and governments and constitutions have fallen before and they’ll fall again.
But we also live in one of the least – if not the very least – violent and death-plagued times and places in human history.
We forget the violence of the past; we forget how eager death once was. Our collective memory is hazy, even golden: we look back to a time in which families were tight, people were upright and industrious, and all the food was organic.
We forget the wars. We forget the famines. We forget ever-shifting borders and feudal oppression and plagues. We forget how common it once was to lose family members to illness and malnutrition and childbirth. We forget what it was like to watch our sons and brothers march off to war and know we may never hear of them again.
We have become used to our overabundant nutritional resources, our advanced medical technologies, our boringly-secure suburban neighborhoods – and we forget what it was like to lose those we love again and again and again.
Because we forget the violence of the past, we are startled to find echoes of it in our modern lives. Because we forget how eager death once was, we are unnerved to be reminded of its persistence.
So I can’t decide: Should I worry about this year’s election as The One that will determine whether our country lives or dies? Or should I take a deep breath, recognize 2016 (and its terrorism and unrest and political intrigue) as marking just another set of inevitable but passing human struggles?
Maybe I’ll do a little of both.