The Crazy Years
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
While I’m all for passionate intensity, you have to admit old William Butler Yeats had a point. He also had our era pretty well pegged. And speaking of literary allusions, good ol’ Robert Heinlein saw what was coming in his “Future History” series: he may have gotten the timeline wrong, but the era he dubbed “The Crazy Years” should certainly ring a bell:
“Considerable technical advance during this period, accompanied by a gradual deterioration of mores, orientation, and social institutions, terminating in mass psychoses in the sixth decade, and the Interregnum.”
Looks like we’re homing in on those mass psychoses: why, just the other day someone left an empty suitcase in front of a MacDonald’s in Times Square – and the cops shut down the whole place in the midst of rush hour. And with good reason: a terrorist, one Ahmad Khan Rahami, had recently placed bombs in New York City’s Chelsea district, injuring 29 and scaring the country out of its wits. Crazy.
Even crazier: in spite of the billions spent on “anti-terrorism” programs since well before 9/11 – by Bill Clinton – Mr. Rahami wasn’t on the FBI’s radar. His own father had turned the 28 year old in as a potential terrorist in 2014, but the feds had waved this off as inconsequential – until Dad’s prediction came true two years later. Adding to the craziness is the sense of deja-vu one gets when comparing the Rahami case to that of the previous terrorist, Omar Mateen, the 29 year old jihadist who shot up an Orlando, Florida, nightclub, killing dozens. He too had come to the FBI’s attention on two occasions: once when he made “inflammatory” comments to co-workers, and again when authorities noted his connection to the first American-born suicide bomber (who just happened to live 20 minutes from his Florida residence).
And the similarities don’t end there: in both cases the response of the authorities and the media was to downplay the terrorist angle and suggest that the acts committed by these two sons of Afghan immigrants were something other than what they clearly were. Mateen was described as someone whose alleged sexual ambiguity was the real cause of his murderous rampage: he had “issues,” none of which apparently had anything to do with his devotion to the jihadist cause, which was just a symptom of his inner turmoil. And the Chelsea bomber was initially described by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as someone who had committed an “intentional” act, but hey kids we can’t call it terrorism. This was followed up by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who opined that while it was indeed terrorism it wasn’t “international” terrorism. When it turned out that Rahami had traveled to Afghanistan, and Quetta, Pakistan – the headquarters of the Taliban – we heard no more from the Governor on this point.
There’s a pattern to this craziness, as there is to most psychoses, and in this instance I would diagnose it as election year insanity. Because Donald Trump has made not only immigration but also our vulnerability to terrorism a big issue, both de Blasio and Cuomo felt obligated to downplay the clear reality of what was happening before our very eyes and try to convince us that what we were seeing wasn’t what was actually happening. This is the essence of what it means to be crazy: living in an alternate reality.
“Things fall apart, the center cannot hold” – well, yes, and what is falling apart is the central canon of statist mythology: the idea that the government will protect us, and can protect us from the kind of craziness that is infecting our world and spreading like a plague from the deserts of Syria to a nightclub in Miami and beyond.
One aspect of this plague is quite interesting, and gives us a clue not only to the source of the contagion but also to a possible cure: it seems to be spreading in a top down manner. That is, it seems to have been incubated in the upper echelons of the social scale, and is now steadily percolating downward, where the resistance to it is greatest.
The evidence for this is all over the place, but to take just one recent example: while the US is literally besieged by an escalating series of terrorist attacks on the home front, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has identified the main enemy as … Russia! Likening Russian President Vladimir Putin to Hitler, she and her supporters have gone on to accuse Trump of being a “Kremlin pawn.” Indeed, their most recent project is a web site, putintrump.org, which features “analysis” of the alleged Russian conspiracy to subvert our electoral process and elect her opponent. And yes, that is a hammer-and-sickle in between photos of Trump and Putin: apparently they want us to forget that the Communists were overthrown in 1989 – temporal displacement being a common delusion shared by many psychotics, e.g. someone who thinks they are Napoleon.
Yet the Crazy Years are not uniformly nutso: flashes of sanity, perhaps auguring a return to normalcy, occasionally light up the horizon. Take this op ed piece in Politico by one Adam Walinsky, Robert F. Kennedy’s former speechwriter:
“Where are we sending our warriors, our ships, our planes? Why to Russia, which the U.S. general who commands NATO has announced is the prime “existential” threat to America. As you read this, ground, air and naval forces of NATO, led and largely paid for by the United States, have been moving about the Western borders of Russia, carrying out the largest military maneuvers since World War II. At the same time, our most powerful carriers and naval air forces have been steaming about the South China Sea, there perhaps to find encounters of unknowable potential with the rising forces of China, our second said to be “existential” enemy.
“There are no Russian terrorists ravaging France or Italy or America. ISIS is not to be found on Russian soil. The only Russian terrorists who have attacked the West are the Islamists whom President Putin first asked us to join in the fight against in 1999. The only Chinese terrorists are Uighurs who are attacking not us but China itself. It would seem elementary common sense that America would have long since sought, not to fight with Russia and China, but to cooperate with both to suppress the terrorists and the terrorism that have plagued us for over a generation, including the ISIS that is terrorizing Europe today.”
Ah, but the exception proves the rule. I’m afraid Mr. Walinsky isn’t going to be listened to – and certainly not by the political class, which makes up the great bulk of Politico’s readership. They are hopelessly compromised by the virus of loony-ness that has gotten into the nation’s bloodstream, and is flowing outward from Washington, D.C. and Manhattan – the twin Ground Zeroes of the plague – and infected all the land.
Walinsky comes from another era – a time before the madness took hold, when the lunacy we now see erupting all around us was a subterranean phenomenon that had yet to break out into a general malaise. Yet he does not belong entirely to the past, because no civilization can long survive with lunatics directing its course. As long as voices such as his are not stilled there is hope of renewal.
One good thing about our current condition is that it refutes the myth of automatic progress – the liberal idea, born in the 19th century, that humanity’s course is a series of ever-upward leaps toward some universal ideal. History has refuted this delusion time and again, and yet it persists: perhaps this time it will be finally debunked, even as we descend into another Dark Age.
History isn’t a straight line of ascension, but rather a series of ups and downs, a record of forward leaps and subsequent retrogressions. As we backslide into another cold war with Russia, and make the same mistakes made by previous empires whose rulers never imagined they would one day be dust, we are clearly on the cusp of yet another great leap backward – how far backward has yet to be determined. However, as long as there are a few clear-eyed men and women who remember a better time, and are bold enough to unfurl the banner of sanity in the Crazy Years, there is hope.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN