Land of the Paranoid

Andrew Sullivan echoes some of my own thinking about the mood of the country these days:

America, my adopted home, is a place of wonder, of energy, of enterprise, of compassion, of risk and diversity. But it is now and always has been a place where deep-seated fear and paranoia have always simmered below the surface – where McCarthyism once stalked the land, where recent hysteria justified the American president authorizing appalling torture of hundreds of people (with complete impunity), where civil liberties were shredded in a period when more people were killed by lightning than by terrorism, where refugee children as young as eight or nine are treated as terrible dangers to the republic, where undocumented immigrants are left in permanent limbo and where legal immigrants are treated as threats first and assets second, and where our leaders, whom one might expect to calm the public, instead fan the flames of panic for short-term political gain.


The great achievement of those maniacs in Iraq and Syria is to have ignited this strain in American life, exploited the PTSD of 9/11, and brilliantly baited this country into another unwinnable, bankrupting war which will only deepen the polarization that leads to more terror – a war in which what’s left of democratic accountability and constitutional norms are once again under threat. I see no one in our elites, including the president, doing anything to calm this down. And I see a Republican landslide coming in the Congress this fall, with all the consequences of more war and more hysteria ahead.


Welcome to America, no longer the land of the free or the brave, but the land of the paranoid and terrified. I haven’t felt this glum since the Bush-Cheney years. Because, it appears, they never really ended.


I don’t know about Sully’s prediction of a Republican landslide. Given my philosophies, I would of course consider that a very bad thing. But the truth is I’m not following the campaign news very closely — frankly the last six years have left me pretty exasperated with political chatter, and I find myself skimming instead of actually reading it more and more these days — so I really have no idea which way that wind is blowing. However, I agree with the rest of his statement. I do detect a renewed level of anxiety in the air that, for a time anyhow, seemed to be on the wane, and which I hoped would dissipate entirely before the end of the current president’s term.

I should’ve known better. I should’ve been wiser than to hope that this country, this culture, might somehow claw its way back to something resembling the normalcy — or whatever passed for it, at least — that we enjoyed prior to 9/11/2001. But there are too many forces out there that profit too much from everybody being constantly nervous — politicians wanting to score points against their rivals, news media wanting to attract eyeballs, and God knows who else — and they’re not going to allow us to go back.

Conservatives are fond of saying they want their country back. Well so do I… a country that believed FDR when he said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” A country that wasn’t constantly itching to bomb the shit out of something just to make ourselves feel “safer.” A country where we didn’t willingly subject ourselves to all manner of indignities just to get on a damn airplane, and there weren’t cameras all over the place watching us constantly, and where the cops looked more like Andy Taylor than Imperial stormtroopers.

I’m sick to death of the fear and fear-mongering that infest our culture. Fear of everything from perverts kidnapping our kids if we don’t watch them every second to hackers stealing our precious data to brown people sneaking across the border to kill us in our sleep. I’m sick of the xenophobia and the homophobia and the conspiracy theories and the way everybody ends up being compared to Hitler. I’m sick of the constant drumbeat of murder on television — how many forensic procedurals are on the air right now anyhow? We’re afraid to go out in the sun or to eat the food we buy at the grocery store or breathe the air in the wintertime. We’re afraid we’re too strict with our kids, or too lenient. We’re afraid of what might happen when we get old, whether we’ll have to eat catfood to survive. And now we have the Ebola crisis to be afraid of too. I’m already seeing hysterical nonsense on Facebook about the disease being airborne — pro tip: it’s NOT — and how we’re all going to die (no, we’re NOT). Is it any wonder than I live in a more-or-less permanent state of nostalgia? Yeah, we were afraid of Global Thermonuclear War back in the ’80s, but I think most people managed to hold it together most of the time. Now it seems like everybody’s losing their shit pretty much constantly. And that’s just plain exhausting.

Honestly, I hate the 21st century. What I wouldn’t give to be debating over presidential blowjobs again.