The Masks Have Come Off

I’m not talking about masks against COVID–although the utterly bizarre fight against mandates protecting public health are certainly part of the picture. (I’m a pretty hard-core defender of civil liberties, but I never thought I’d see people arguing that the Bill of Rights gives them the “liberty” to infect and perhaps kill their fellow Americans…)

The mask that has come off of far too many American faces is the mask of sanity.

When we have former military officers promoting coups, millions of Americans agreeing that the country is being run by Satan-worshipping pedophiles, members of the U.S. Senate calling legislation to protect voting rights “partisan” and ideologues of every stripe self-righteously pontificating to their chosen “choirs” rather than participating in efforts to right the ship of state–what can we call that, other than insane?

Actually, a comment to this blog by JoAnn recently contained an excellent descriptor: these are “Twilight Zone Americans.” 

We haven’t come very far from 1919, when in the wake of the First World War, Yeats wrote The Second Coming, with its often-quoted–and still painfully relevant– lines “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,” and “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” 

I would argue that today, the “best”–i.e., the sane (these days, the bar is low)–don’t necessarily lack conviction. They are  simply uncertain in the face of complexity and ambiguity.  On issues where they recognize shades of gray; they hesitate to act.

As an article on the subject of ambiguity explained, we need only look at history, recent and otherwise, for examples of catastrophic blunders made as a result of leaders’ inability to deal with contingency and ambiguity. And particularly when people are under stress,  faced with what they see as existential threats, their resistance to ambiguity grows strongest. 

We’ve all known people–some famous, some familial–who have gone from one political extreme to another with equally “passionate intensity.” A distant cousin of mine is a perfect example. In college, he was far Left; in later adulthood, equally far Right–and in both cases,  belligerently and rigidly so. These extreme shifts aren’t evidence that True Believers (at least, the leftwing variety) have been “mugged by reality” and come to their senses, as a popular saying a while back had it. Rather, they are people for whom certainty is critically important–the content of their dogma may change, but their need for purity, their need to be on the right side of a bright line, doesn’t. That need overwhelms recognition of inconsistencies (not to mention patently improbable aspects) of whatever worldview they are wholeheartedly embracing.

In 2016, before the election that gave us the assault on national sanity that was and is Donald Trump, The Atlantic had an article titled “How American Politics Went Insane.” The intervening years have underscored much of the article’s argument, especially this observation:

There no longer is any such thing as a party leader. There are only individual actors, pursuing their own political interests and ideological missions willy-nilly, like excited gas molecules in an overheated balloon.

The article described the then-contemporary political reality as chaos, and it’s hard to argue that much has changed. 

Chaos syndrome is a chronic decline in the political system’s capacity for self-organization. It begins with the weakening of the institutions and brokers—political parties, career politicians, and congressional leaders and committees—that have historically held politicians accountable to one another and prevented everyone in the system from pursuing naked self-interest all the time. As these intermediaries’ influence fades, politicians, activists, and voters all become more individualistic and unaccountable. The system atomizes. Chaos becomes the new normal—both in campaigns and in the government itself.

 Normalizing chaos ensures that the people’s business cannot be conducted. It’s insane.

Recent reports of state-level political wars–almost all, it must be noted, within the GOP, since the multiplicity of constituencies within the Democratic Party forces Democrats to recognize complexity–are consistent with the described decline, and with the Twilight Zone. Idaho is just one example.

Indiana isn’t all that far behind.

Increasingly, American politics isn’t an argument between partisans who disagree about policy; it isn’t even “warfare without guns” as one popular description has it. It’s a battle between people who still live in the ambiguous and messy real world and the growing number of “passionately intense” Americans who are willing to take up actual arms in defense of demonstrably insane “explanations” of the world.

We live in a scary time.


  1. Professor-early this week, you ended a conversation with the same phrase, “we live in a scary time.” I agree. We need to focus on an exit plan to this phrase. D

  2. To answer Dennis’s desire to know what action to take, the Libertarian Billionaires are flying to outer space and buying up New Zealand and Idaho. 😉

    When I think of politics, I think of the distribution of power. This whole political spectrum has been a joke from day one since that is not how power is distributed.

    Also, I wouldn’t be quoting Yeats either since our history is revealing to be a white patriarchal lie to retain power. The structure of our constitution was a lie about us all being created as equals. The list goes on and on and where it stops, nobody knows.

    American Exceptionalism was a lie. Our “military defense” was a lie. Viet Nam was a lie. The Gulf War was a lie. I am sure that much of 9/11 was a lie.

    As I said, the entire facade is crumbling at a rapid pace. I think there are many more surprises in the days ahead. Religion? Academia? Redistribution? Oligarchy? Global imperialism? Covid19?

    Think about your own personal experience if you’ve ever taken a real honest self-evaluation. And I mean an honest one. At first, you barely scratch the surface because it’s all your ego can handle. But what happens as you continue to evaluate your life story? You see that much of your belief system wasn’t yours, to begin with. You start shedding all the bullshit to get to the core of who you are and what you believe. At this point, everything changes.

    Not only do we have a personal ego, but we also have a collective ego that can go through the same process. When we realize that the USA isn’t quite as exceptional as we believed it was. What happens when we wake up to these truths about ourselves and our country and our globe and our species. 😉

  3. I recently had a conversation with a couple of friends and we drifted into current politics. These are not rabid right wing people but I heard a FEAR expressed and it suddenly became clear to me what some of these fears are based upon. One of them expressed his concern that “pretty soon WE are going to be in the minority”. My response was that IF We treat everyone as equals in this country, what difference does that make? I was greeted with silence. Then I got it. My friends think that the “others” will treat them as badly as America has thus far treated those “others”. NOW I GET IT. Projection. Wow.

  4. Projection it is. But it—the conclusions within the projection that they will treat others (us) as badly as we treat them—are probably right, given the likelihood that those others have committed in their history atrocities as vile as white history.

  5. Note that there are more guns than people in the good old US of A. Then note that only 1/3 of US households own guns. Not only are they insane, but they are exceedingly well armed.

  6. Todd,

    I would add that the Warren Commission on the Kennedy assassination was a lie too. Sorry. Having studied the realities associated with that horrible day, it’s clear that your pals the oligarchs were most definitely fighting for white supremacy. Killing Kennedy gave them the liar Johnson and the billions of dollars they reaped from the Viet Nam war. Now we have Joe Manchin bought on the cheap (what else would we expect from him?) by Charles Koch. And here we are.

    Yes, eventually the accumulation of lies reaches a critical mass. I feel sorry for the children of today. They will inherit the dystopia that we here are prophesying.

  7. Patmcc and Larry Kaiser nailed it. Fear, that is the problem, fear of payback for actions committed by whites against minorities. Wow! How did this happen in what was supposed to be the greatest country and democracy?
    As more info is being released regarding the rule of 45 over the DOJ and the investigation of his supposed enemies (Democrats) and the pardons of his compliants (stone, flynn, banion) how can anyone not see how despotic 45 was. No true American patriot wants that kind of ruler. The president on down are elected by the citizenry, to do OUR bidding, not theirs. Pretty simple to me. We just need to put all the bigots and racists back in their place. THEY DO NOT REPRESENT ME AND I HOPE NOT YOU!

  8. As I warned over a year ago in this blog , they—the Trumpublicans—will fight back in ruthless counterattacks so effective as to negate anything positive the country gets from a Democratic win in the election… unless democrat leaders are willing to go to the wall against every republican tactic. And I predicted democratic leaders would not be up to the challenge. Think back on that, those of you who a year ago were expressing the pollyanna opinion that defeating Trump at the polls would solve our problems.

  9. Yes, we live in a scary time!

    And it’s way more than politics, the twilight zone? Probably more like the bizarro world.

    Something is at work that is creating more havoc than any world war could have.

    In the past two days, this usually quiet town that I live in, has had dozens of calls to the police dispatch of shots fired.

    One young man celebrating his graduation was shot to death in the park up the street, somebody stopped in front of an apartment complex and raked the buildings with AK-47 fire. The next day, in the same location, a young man blew his brains out. A couple days earlier a young 16-year-old girl hung herself.

    The police, which I know many, and one of the dispatchers was a friend of the family, said, that the whole world has gone completely insane.

    The police officers refuse to stop people for traffic violations now, one of the officers I know said that in 2019 at this point of the year, they made over 300,000 stops including traffic violations and domestic disturbance calls, and gunfire responses. This year only 20,000 responses, even with the amount of calls quadrupling from 2019 to now.

    The police are afraid! The firemen are afraid of being assaulted which has happened here for the first time that I can ever recall. Politics reflects the personality of those involved, and those involved are losing their sanity at a rapid pace!

    This is society is broken, and, I fear that there probably is not going to be any type of solution come to by politicians to ever fix it. We can talk about oligarchs and everything else, it’s way past that!

    Billionaires buying up land in New Zealand? Sure, they’re looking to flee what they see coming, which is complete global anarchy! If they can hide out somewhere, they think they can ride it out! But, New Zealand is not on another planet, and what’s affecting this world is not going to stop at New Zealand’s borders.

    The sad thing is, people listen to their news of choice, which ends up to be an echo chamber of what they want to believe anyway. And, the insanity and delusions become more entrenched as they look at their fellow citizens as enemies worthy of death!

    One of the statistics that was put on me by one of the officers I was talking to yesterday, they use to get one call of gunfire a week maybe. Now, they get dozens of calls every day! Why? The proliferation of guns? Around here a lot of people have guns and they’ve always had guns. But, it’s a change in the attitude of society!

    One of the young ladies at McDonald’s, the drive-through, told me that since they can see down in the cars when people rollup pay and pick up their food, 60% of those people have guns setting on the seats of their cars!

    This is not caused from politics, this is what’s shaping politics! The insanity that has permeated society!

    The number of calls for help concerning the mentally ill has exploded to a point where some can even be answered. There is no help for the mentally ill, so they are left wandering around freely, untreated, and becoming more and more unhinged every day. And because of the defund the police movements and black lives matter, the police have a hands-off approach to the mentally ill for the most part. In other words, something really really bad has to happen before they even respond.

    One of the problems is as pointed out by the police, that a large portion of the population is actually mentally ill, and, those mentally ill can easily get there hands on weapons because they haven’t been diagnosed as mentally ill!

    “Do not put your faith in a companion. Do not put your trust in a confidential friend. From her who is lying in your bosom guard the openings of your mouth ( watch what you say). For a son is despising a father; a daughter is rising up against her mother; a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his household.” Micah 7:5, 6.

    Historian Arnold J. Toynbee (born April 14, 1889, London—died Oct. 22, 1975, York, North Yorkshire, Eng.)said of history repeating itself: “A survey of the historical landscape in the light of our existing knowledge shows that, up to date, history has repeated itself about twenty times in producing human societies of the species to which our Western society belongs, and it also shows that, with the possible exception of our own, all these representatives of the species of society called civilizations are already dead or moribund. Moreover, when we study the histories of these dead and moribund civilizations in detail, and compare them with one another, we find indications of what looks like a recurring pattern in the process of their breakdowns, declines, and falls. We are naturally asking ourselves to-day whether this particular chapter of history is bound to repeat itself in our case. Is that pattern of decline and fall in store for us in our turn, as a doom from which no civilization can hope to escape?” His book set, ‘A Study Of History” volume 1-6 are definitely worth a read!

    This is one reason why I have been saying that history is cyclical, but Mr. Toynbee I’m sure would be horrified to see present day, because he called it, he nailed it square on the head, dead on target!

  10. Talk, talk, talk…use that energy for positive change, anyway you can…doing nothing but talking is allowing IT to happen…

  11. To quote the Twilight Zone movie, “Wanna see something really scary?”
    Check out “Doomsday Preppers.” On Quest 13.5 on antenna TV last night, a guy was building a 30,000 lb bullet-proof turret on his roof so that he could pick off government troops when they come to get his guns. The real drama is whether the weight will cave in his roof, but hell, who needs science or building codes?

  12. Scary times? We always live in scary times. Consider Pearl Harbor, Reconstruction Days, Valley Forge, Russian missiles in Cuba, polio, and lately, 1/6 and the pandemic. We seem to have fear ingrained in our very being. Even winners fear of losing, losers fear never winning, and when things are going well we fear the day when they will not be going well. Let’s hear it for fear!

    Perhaps we could learn something from Denmark, whose polices of cradle to the grave social democracy rate them at the top or near top of the international index of happiness year after year, though unfortunately, such policies are antithetical to the virtues of American exceptionalism, where pioneer and other libertarian values hold forth and all others are socialist or communist or whatever other views our current enemies may hold (or pretend to hold – see China, which has graduated from communism to state capitalism though still spouting the communist line whenever necessary to maintain its central authoritarian status).

    Personally, and speaking of fear, I fear talk these days of our world’s first trillionaire as much or more than I do with state capitalism. The only difference is who controls the capital, and there may be some public control over state-sponsored capitalism whereas we plebes with many of our bought and paid for “representatives” as of now are likely to continue to fail to tax either the income or the wealth of the ultra-rich, thus setting the stage for more trillionaires to emerge.

    What to do? I second the motion of Lester Levine in re redirection of our energy (and its targets).

  13. When I worked at Central State, my mother was afraid I would be assaulted. I told her I knew these people were insane but that it was the so called normal people out on the street I had to watch out for.

    America has a chaotic history full of conflict and yes, violence. We started a conflict with Native Americans and liberated ourselves from Britain with a war. There is also a long history of bizarre conspiracy theories.

    When I look at world history, and the histories of different nations, I see a lot of dystopia. As in the ‘Hunger Games” those with wealth and power retain their privileges by depriving others of their civil rights and basic needs. We are far from Gene Roddenberry’s secular humanist vision of a world united. We need prophets now like Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King. We need a leader with a unifying vision that does not depend upon an external enemy i.e. the terrorists of 9/11.

    Thanks to 16 years of attendance with Al-Anon, I learned how to maintain my serenity, to avoid catastrophizing. It’s taught me when to roll up my sleeves and when to detach. Breathe my fellow citizens. It is my hope and prayer that by 2050(whites will be in the minority), the generations following us will be less threatened by diversity.

  14. Thanks Robin – it IS all about servant leadership – in short supply at the top and in all of us. Too much ME, too little WE…

  15. The sitting Republicans at all levels of government; but primarily at the federal level, who do not support the Trump Party but are too cowardly to come forward must be unmasked. We must know who our enemies are; they are like the millions of “good Germans” who didn’t agree with the Nazis but didn’t speak out or try to stop Hitler for those Republicans are not trying to stop Trump.

  16. JoAnn,

    Watch what you ask for…”unmask” them and nothing happens except their smilin’ cries “caw, caw”…

  17. Larry Kaiser,

    So correct! I’ve said the same thing.

    My issue would be Joe Biden doesn’t make it through his first term, Kamala Harris steps in and declares martial law! Now, we were all upset when we thought Trump would do it, would it be okay if Harris did it? By that time, the carnage that is taking place on the streets of cities small and large, might have people calling for anything to stop it.

    And yes, I believe white folks where the start of a lot of this nefarious activity, but, you can’t throw it in the lap of one race of people or ethnic group! In the past week here where I live, a city of about 150,000, there have been murders, shootings, and suicides, carjackings, and armed robberies, on a scale that might even make Chicago blush per 1000 citizens. These are not white folks committing these crimes, these are people of color! So, it’s a much larger and nuanced problem than just hoping one ethnic or social group loses its majority!

    And, like I mentioned in my previous comment above here, history absolutely shows that there is no solving this problem until the collapse of society as we know it! That might be a call for martial law and forcefully removing weapons from every lunatic and punishing those who have tried to overthrow fair elections, but then, martial law would do that very thing! What’s the lesser of two evils?

  18. John Sorg – give me one….VP Harris has accomplished nada with the big tickets she’s been handed and is being laughed at from coast to coast.

    Dream some other sci-fi fantasy/conspiracy or, even better, spend your brainpower on making positive change NOW.

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