Rock Bottom

Rock bottom. Alcoholics and addicts sometimes hit rock bottom, realize they’ve hit rock bottom, say Enough Is Enough, do what they have to do, and end up way ahead of where they started. 

It doesn’t only happen with addiction. Sometimes it happens with other kinds of adversity. Many years ago, when I lived in Indiana because my wife taught at Purdue, a friend of my wife’s and mine lived across the street. She was married with a few kids and working on her Ph.D. Back then the Lafayette area was inundated with trains. Tracks were everywhere. Anywhere you tried to go you ran the risk of being late because your street was temporarily closed while a freight train crossed your path. A lot of people lost patience and decided to race them. Roughly twice every three years someone lost that race, often for the most trivial of reasons. 

Our friend was not one of these. In her case it was different. She was a passenger in the front seat with her seatbelt on. The driver, I forget who she was, crept up to a train track to try to see if a train was coming. Unfortunately, it was, and it clipped the front of her car, sending the car into such a violent spin that our friend was thrown backward, her seat back collapsed, she slid under her seatbelt and was thrown about twenty feet out a back window. And survived without life-threatening injury. 

So she had to start physical therapy. It worked, she was a hard worker, and she improved. But when she hit normal, where she was before, now she had new habits and didn’t stop and so she ended up as a triathlete. 

Next time the Olympics come around, watch the backstories. You’d be amazed at how many of them sound like our friend. They had injuries, they got sick, they had to work at recovery and then – Miraculously! – they became world-class athletes. Well, no, it’s not a miracle, and I first understood that when I watched it happen. 

This is what our country is going through at the moment. Between Trump, COVID-19, the awful economic/business consequences of COVID-19, bad environmental decisions with bad consequences, rampant racism with unarmed Black males (usually males) getting shot by police, horrific income and wealth polarization, a very costly loss of faith in expertise, an equally costly loss of faith in government at all levels, rampant privatization of things that should not be privatized, an absurd lack of firearm regulations, an insane disregard for truth in reporting, a flagrant disregard for the rights of citizens and non-citizens, a demonizing of immigrants, a lack of respect for separation of Church and State, a deep failure to accept collective responsibility for anything, a nearly inexplicable disregard for interference in American elections, a devaluing of public education, an infrastructure that is falling apart, and a completely inexplicable disregard for American military lives abroad that could easily and accurately be characterized as treason, the United States is hitting Rock Bottom. 

An awful lot of Americans are sick of it. YouTube is full of Republicans announcing they’ve had it and intend to vote for Biden. In the aftermath of the George Floyd killing, a majority of White Americans believes that Black people don’t enjoy the same treatment on average from the police that White people do. More and more Americans are in dire financial trouble. 

We lost the 2016 election because we hadn’t yet hit rock bottom, or at least it wasn’t widely enough accepted that we had. We didn’t trust Hillary to understand just how bad the polarization of wealth had become and so some of us voted in the primaries for the curmudgeon who would not have made a good leader because we believed at least he’d work on the problem and take it seriously. 

Biden in 2016 would have been the same way as Hillary. He has credit card banks in Delaware. He looked at economics in Wall Street terms. But now he can’t. COVID-19 won’t let him. Too many Americans are taking too big hits. So now he has to be FDR – his words, not mine. A crisis is frankly what forced FDR to become an FDR.

COVID-19 and the Trump phenomenon have told us that the country has to change way more fundamentally than these Democrats would have been willing to over the last several years. And Joe Biden gets that.

What happens after an alcoholic or addict reaches bottom is they start to develop new habits and priorities that will help them remain clean and get prosperous. That’s exactly what I expect to happen to the United States. All these miserable problems that have been largely ignored over the past several years are about to be addressed at the same time. New priorities, new habits, new electoral participation, new inclusiveness. What happens when we give up all our bad habits?

We become a sort of triathlete nation. In short, we perform.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I think the United States in the mid and late 2020’s will be in a way better position than anyone I’ve spoken to or read anticipates. I’m not hearing this from anyone else.

Perhaps I’m not hearing this from anyone else because I’m wrong. I don’t think so, though. I think I have a pretty clear conception of how we’ve gotten here. I once wrote a post called How The Angry White Guys Got That Way. As analysis, that post surprised my audience more than anything I’ve written before or since. I’m not a bad analyst. I understand what happens when certain dominoes fall and what knocks them over. So I am making a prediction.

The US will come out of the other end of this COVID-19/Trump collective mess far more prosperous, far more powerful, and far more egalitarian than anyone I know of sees coming. And I don’t write this as an optimist, I write it as an analyst. That’s just how I see the dominoes falling.