On the Brink of Chaos

Our nation is on a dangerous edge right now. We are pummeled by the coronavirus’ predicted “second wave” as cooler weather forces more Americans indoors where the virus thrives. The state of the economy remains dismal with continuing sky-high weekly filings for unemployment and no sign of new congressional COVID relief funds. Another police shooting of an innocent black citizen has protesters in the streets from coast to coast.

The death of U.S. Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg brings widespread angst over the timing and method of her replacement. And last week Donald Trump vowed he won’t commit to a peaceful transition of the presidency if he loses the election. With the very foundations of our democracy shaking, it’s time to step back from teetering so perilously close to the edge of chaos and remember “united we stand, divided we fall.”

One would expect, faced with some of the most incredible challenges of the last century, that our elected officials would really work hard to be calming influences intent on helping all Americans make it through these very, very rough waters. But that’s not the way it is. Instead we are more divided now than we were during the struggle for civil rights, the ensuing riots and the Vietnam War protests. Unfortunately, far too many of our supposed “leaders” are pouring gas on the fires consuming our nation.

Granted, there are many good reasons for people to be nervous, angry, disenfranchised and very, very worried about the future. The climate crisis alone seems to be more than the nation and world can successfully address or mitigate. But as persistent drought and triple digit temperatures wrack the West Coast, we are offered tired, ineffective excuses — such as logging what’s left of our national forests when more logging has only resulted in worse wildfires due to higher wind velocities, faster snow melt-off and quicker drying. In fact, many of the worst fires have nothing to do with forests, but are burning in chaparral and sparse desert brush. Even Weyerhaeuser’s “intensively managed” tree plantations are burning down, yet again putting the lie to the “healthy forest management” excuse for more clearcuts.

Indeed, the world is watching the rather unbelievable struggles as the planet’s wealthiest nation seems utterly incapable of dealing with its own affairs — much less provide the “leadership” once granted us as “the shining light on the hill” and democracy’s greatest defender.

Since there appear to be no particularly clear answers to why we have allowed ourselves to be sucked into a vortex of division, it’s obviously time to ask how we can bring sanity back to our existence. No one, rest assured, has all the answers and anyone who tells you they do is spreading a thick blanket of bull pucky.

A good start would be reinstating some of the basic beliefs which have served our nation well — like cutting each other some slack for the right to our own opinions — and not hating those whose differ. The same goes for our right to vote for whom we wish — and not tearing down their yard signs.

Rest assured, we are not going to hate our way out of this. Just the opposite. Now is when we need all hands on deck, not a civil war. Now is when we need to trust the institutions, not shred them for the sake of partisan politicians. And finally, if the politicians refuse to lead, it’s up to the people to do so — and never fear the politicians will follow.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.