I woke up yesterday morning feeling more depressed than I have in a long time. It was a lingering kind of sadness, where tears well up in your eyes and remain there all day, like water pressing against a dam. This acute onset depression seemingly came out of nowhere and lasted longer than any of my recent (relatively mild) episodes. Through some nuanced self-analysis on my drive to work, though, its origin became obvious: there are a lot of legitimate reasons to be depressed in America right now.

For starters, we’re living through what will probably go down as the worst pandemic of the 21st century. More than 100,000 Americans have died, and that number will only grow within the coming months, with much of the country opening back up and the possibility of a deadlier second wave looming this winter. This carnage in itself is reason enough to be down in the tooth, but when you add in the immense apathy that many Americans have exhibited in dealing with the threat of this virus, the depression deepens. Take, for instance, the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of mask-less people who piled, shoulder-to-shoulder, into a pool in Missouri shortly after the state re-opened. Or the folks who brag about not wearing masks in public because COVID-19 is a virus that “only affects old people in nursing homes” — which, of course, isn’t true. Or the president himself downplaying the danger for months, and then claiming — on national television, nonetheless — that perhaps the virus could be killed by injecting disinfectant (actual quote: “And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute…And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?”)  That last example is particularly infuriating: ignorance within the masses, while not forgivable, has come to be expected. But to watch the leader of the free world — a man with a devout following of millions who seem to take him at his word — suggest that pushing disinfectant directly into one’s bloodstream could be beneficial is farcical in its irresponsibility. This pandemic is one of the most challenging struggles Americans have faced in recent history, and the man who’s supposed to be leading us through it has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about — despite his convincing claim that “I’m not a doctor, but I’m like a person who has a good…you know what.” 

Brain is what he meant. Brain.

This pandemic is one of the most challenging collective struggles in recent American history, and the man who’s supposed to be leading us through it has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.

But wait, there’s more: As COVID-19 was decimating American morale, a Minneapolis police officer murdered an unarmed black man named George Floyd by jamming a knee into Floyd’s neck for over eight straight minutes. The entire incident was captured on camera. More than 140 cities erupted in rightfully indignant protests. But many of these uprisings were high-jacked by opportunists and antagonizers who decided that destroying and looting random businesses would bring justice to Floyd’s murder, despite the fact that Floyd’s brother implored them to stop, saying that mass destruction isn’t what his brother would have wanted. 

A lot of good came out of the protests — the pointed attack of the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, for instance, led to Governor Ralph Northam ordering its much-overdue removal — yet it’s hard to deny that the violence that’s been initiated by law enforcement and rioters alike has buried the seeds of division deeper into already unstable soil. A couple of examples: in Buffalo, two officers shoved a 75-year old protestor, Martin Gugino, to the ground, causing him to slam his head into the concrete. Countless other officers walked past the supine Gugino — who had blood leaking from his ear — as if everything was fine. And then Trump made the situation worse with a Tweet (as he’s want to do) about how the protestor was possibly an “ANTIFA provocateur” who was “appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment,” despite having no evidence to support this claim. Trump’s Tweet continued: “I watched. He fell harder than he was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?” He typed these words even as Gugino was lying in ICU, recovering from a severe head injury.

And on the other side of the coin, a New York City officer was apparently beaten by rioters while an onlooker recorded the ordeal and egged on the brutality. These are just two instances out of hundreds, if not thousands, in which one side initiated violence against the other, further enhancing the chaos.

These, of course, are extreme examples — most of the protesters have been peaceful, it seems, just as the majority of cops aren’t murderers worthy of being burned at the stake. But during these divisive times, it’s hard to focus on anything but the far reaches of a given issue. If you’re for the police, you’re against Black Lives Matter and also a despicable racist. If you’re for Black Lives Matter, you’re against the police and also a libtard piece of trash. There’s no room for nuance, only generalized labels, knee-jerk reactions and insults. Decency is a relic from a bygone era. This is partially (mostly?) due to major news outlets like FOX News and CNN feeding the flames of partisanship by pandering to their viewers. There’s simply no motivation for media companies to pursue objectivity, because people have no interest in objectivity: they only want to confirm their own subjectivity, to make themselves feel more secure in how they think and feel about a given issue.

The comments and actions from both sides of the political spectrum have been extreme enough to make a man want to move to some remote location, perhaps Norway*, or at least put cotton in his ears and crawl into bed for several decades. Over the past few days, during the height of the protests, I’ve been around conservatives, and the comments have been about as expected. “Black Lives Matter? How about all lives matter?” was a common, anticipated refrain. As was the observation that George Floyd had a criminal past (true) and had methamphetamine in his system when he died (also true), as if these facts somehow made it OK for a cop to murder him in broad daylight. Floyd may have had a rap sheet, but he hadn’t been charged with a crime in more than a decade, and either way, police are not — should never be —  judge, jury and executioner. There’s nothing less American than police deciding who lives and who dies, especially when the person in question is handcuffed and subdued on the ground. 

And then, as the icing on the cake, President Trump staged what may be remembered as the defining moment from these protests. In true dictatorial fashion, his administration ordered the dispersal of a group of apparently peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park near the White House. Why? So he could stage a photo op with a bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church. That’s inexplicable in itself (never mind that Trump claiming to be a Christian is like Charlie Sheen claiming to be celibate), but what’s truly shocking is that police fired pepper balls at the protesters to clear a path for the president at almost the exact moment he was giving a speech in the Rose Garden about how, in his own words, “we cannot allow the righteous cries of peaceful protesters to be drown out by an angry mob…as their president, I will fight to keep them safe…I am an ally of all peaceful protesters.” The hypocrisy boggles the mind. 

What’s truly shocking is that police fired pepper balls at the protesters to clear a path for the president at almost the exact moment he was giving a speech in the Rose Garden about how, in his own words, “we cannot allow the righteous cries of peaceful protesters to be drown out by an angry mob…as their president, I will fight to keep them safe…I am an ally of all peaceful protesters.”

Photo: Washington Post

Trump is no stranger to authoritarian urges. But to allow police to violently deny such a fundamental American right — the right to peacefully assemble — for a shallow, politically-motivated stunt is perhaps a new low, even for a man who once claimed he’s allowed to grab vaginas because he’s a “star.” As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put it, “after the president’s reality show ended last night, he probably laid in bed, pleased with himself for descending another rung on the dictatorial ladder.” Mariann Budde, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (to whom St. John’s Episcopal Church belongs) denounced Trump’s actions: “I want the world to know…we distance ourselves from the incendiary language of this president…he used the church and he used the bible as symbols to demonstrate or symbolize American military power.”  Even some Republicans spoke out against what happened at Lafayette Park, including Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who said “I’m against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the word of God as a political prop.” Trump should be ashamed of himself, but of course he’s not, because as he’s shown time and time again, he’s incapable of exhibiting normal human emotions, let alone basic decency. The White House has refused to express regret for the use of force against the protesters, because as Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany put it, it was Attorney General William Barr who made the final decision to clear out the crowd. Never mind that these actions were taken to directly benefit Trump: in the eyes of those in his administration, the president is incapable of making a mistake, and should never be made to apologize for anything. 

If this ubiquitous discord doesn’t have you wishing for a crowbar to the forehead, don’t forget we’re only five months away from another insufferable presidential election, which is only going to further divide an already severed country. The 2016 election was an ugly circus of nihilistic despair, and there’s no reason to expect a more civil or coherent undertaking this time around — especially considering the Democrats have selected senile old Joe Biden to go toe-to-toe with the biggest narcissist in American political history. Biden, like Trump, has gotten into hot water for his treatment of women, most notably Tara Reade, who he apparently forcefully groped during his time as a senator. Not only is Biden potentially a sexual predator, but also like Trump, he often has a hard time stringing together intelligible sentences in front of a camera, and is prone to downright bizarre tangents, like his disturbing and incomprehensible spiel about cockroaches and how kids used to rub his leg hair at the pool. He’s constantly saying stupid things, including the following winner, which he uttered during an interview with radio host Charlamagne Tha God: “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” Great job, Joe. You really knocked that one out of the park.

America is full of bright, kind and inspiring individuals. So the fact that We the People will be forced to decide between two geriatric men who have exhibited obvious symptoms of mental erosion proves that our presidential selection system is in dire need of repair. Both men are well over the hill: Trump is 73, Biden 77. The former is reprehensible, the latter is off-putting at best. There’s nothing inspiring about either of them at this point, and while I’d vote for a wet shoe before I’d endorse Trump, my ballot for Biden will not be an enthusiastic one. I’d have been more excited about just about anyone else in the Democratic field — except maybe Bernie Sanders, who I believe would have gotten waxed by Trump on election day. That’s not to say Biden will win. In fact, I don’t think he will, given that many Democratic voters are as lukewarm about him as I am, and that most Republicans seem as horny for Trump as they’ve ever been. I’m thoroughly preparing for another four years of Trumpian Rule, which now that I think about it, is only deepening this depression I’m feeling, and giving me yet another reason to relocate to Norway and gorge myself on mutton stew. 

America is full of incredibly bright, kind and inspiring individuals. So the fact that We the People will be forced to decide between two geriatric men who have exhibited obvious symptoms of mental erosion proves that our presidential selection system is in dire need of repair.

Mutton stew — did you know that it’s Norway’s national dish, and that they call it farikal? Also, did you know Norway is a great place to watch the Northern Lights, and that it’s home to more than 25,000 reindeer during the winter months? Also, the paper clip was invented there. The paper clip, people. I’ve never been to Norway, so I can’t say for sure if life is any better there than it is in the states, but given the fact that its government knighted a penguin back in 2008 (his name is Nils Olav), things certainly can’t be any worse. Maybe a noble penguin is just what I need to cure this uniquely American malaise — that, and some well-prepared mutton on a cold Norwegian morning, preferably after a night of gazing at the Northern Lights, a brilliant natural phenomenon that has the ability to remind us of the immense beauty in our world — if only we could stop fighting long enough to appreciate it. 

* – Why Norway? I don’t know. It’s isolated, gorgeous and far from here. 

Fiction Pick: ‘The Old Caver’

Arturo was nearly an old caver and dreaded becoming like the men who would drink rum and share their own legends throughout the night.

Just Keep Living, Kid

There’s no telling how these things will play out, what his life will hold for him, because right now he’s just an idea, a bump in Caitlin’s stomach.

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