American democracy tilting toward strongman rule! A deadly pandemic entering its third wave — more people dying, more jobs lost, more businesses going under, the price-tag now $16 trillion! Black Americans marching, insisting their lives matter; women insisting the same! Wildfires burning in the West, hurricanes churning in the East, both at historic rates, heralding climate change is here, with denialists still denying —
“Monkeys in treetops.” That’s how Franz Kafka described his racing mind: Like monkeys in treetops, leaping from limb to limb, screeching — and making no sense at all to the owner of the tree. Minds — my own and very likely yours too — have very good reason to race these days. While “monkeys in treetops” might be a clinical description of madness (Kafka was not diagnosed mad but he was depressive), the very good reason our minds race (I sincerely hope) is because of information-overload — emphasis: overload.
“We live in ridiculously eventful times. Love, Carla” was how I signed off a recent email with an old friend. She worries people cannot even think anymore, events are breaking so fast. With other friends who commend me for keeping up my pace as commentator, I write back, “There’s no end of material — ha! It’s like trying to drink from a fire-hose.” But I confess: Yours Truly can just b-a-r-e-l-y track events, much less suss out meaning.
Winston Churchill said of the Balkans, once the world’s tinderbox: They “produce more history than they can consume.” Production of event, of history, is one thing; consuming it — making sense of it — is the tricky part. Which of late has gotten even trickier, thanks to — beware single-factor thinking — Donald Trump, who is a tinderbox of his own nefarious kind.
It is fair to say — trying to be fair and balanced, though the man doesn’t do either himself — Donald Trump is the single factor behind America’s authoritarian drift (it still stuns me to write that: authoritarian drift?). And while he is not responsible for the pandemic, he is responsible for a colossally incompetent response to it, causing, it is also fair to say, unnecessary death and ruination. As for the mattering of Black lives and women’s lives, Trump’s explicit racism and sexism give voice to powerful reactionary forces once underground in American life and thrusts them center-stage.