It has been a crazy year — the latest in a string of increasingly crazy years, to be honest. Day after day, week after week, I see and hear things from American leaders and American citizens that I never conceived I would witness.
It’s as if a long-suppressed ugliness has finally been allowed to bubble to the surface, and too many are giddy about it, as if freedom means the freedom to be cruel and even aggressive and now they finally have it.
In public discourse, the very foundations of our republic are being openly questioned, with increasingly shrill suggestions of violence as a necessary, justified means to obtain raw power. The Constitution was specifically drafted to deny such power to any person or group of persons, but I’ve noticed that those most vocal in publicly praising that document are often most eager to abandon it when it frustrates their desires.
Our identity as a country of immigrants, as a melting pot, is also under attack. National borders are important; they should be policed. But that conversation is very different from rhetoric claiming that newcomers are a poison in our national bloodstream. In all of human history, nothing good has ever come from such words, and never will.
And what looms in the year ahead will probably dwarf the craziness of the year now ending. This is, I think it’s fair to say, a crisis, a crisis that has been building for a long time and will take a long, long time to resolve. Every time we think that it has reached its peak, that the madness meter can’t go higher, those expectations have been dashed.
The optimists among us argue that our institutions will save us, and they probably will. But institutions are not some self-actuating mechanism that clicks on when needed. Institutions are merely the framework within which human beings act according to rules and values that all agree to follow. After the election three years ago, important institutions held only because a relative handful of individuals in critical areas had the necessary courage, honor and commitment to do the right thing, to make those institutions work.
But we saw others within the institutions of Congress, the executive branch and the legal community who took a very different course, some as active participants and others as passive onlookers waiting to see where the advantage lay. Many are still in place, and the insurrection they undertook has not ended; it has merely taken other forms while they try to keep a step or two ahead of the investigators, prosecutors and juries.
Elections are institutions, but they can’t save us if we do not agree to honor their outcomes. Our institutions of justice, our courts, cannot save us if they are perceived as corrupted by special interests, or are too cowed to function. The law is grinding slowly, deliberately, with no guarantee that its work will be completed in time.
It’s important to note that this is not about any one man. One man does not have the ability to do this to us; we are doing it to ourselves, and we must rescue ourselves.
By this point in our history we have become a pampered people, because only a pampered people could dare to so divorce themselves from reality, to create and occupy entire make-believe worlds out of lies and fabrications, without expecting consequences. That privilege to pretend, to refuse to see things as they are and instead see them as we wish them to be, is a luxury granted to us as the result of our immense wealth and power, but it is not permanent. Like any legacy, it can be squandered, and I worry that we are in the process of doing so.
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originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2024%2F01%2F01%2Fbookman-what-looms-in-the-year-ahead-will-probably-dwarf-the-craziness-of-the-year-now-ending%2F by Jay Bookman