News from the hinterlands of despair

I haven’t been sleeping at all well lately — that’s an understatement. I tend to go to bed at around 10 or 10:30 when I can’t even keep my eyes open, and then wake up around 2 or 3am and try by force of will to shut them, which usually doesn’t work at all. If I’m lucky I might fall back asleep around 4 to lie in restless semi-unconsciousness until the fornicating birds shrieking outside my window wake me back up as the sun rises.

Sometimes I just give up and pull up the iPad to read in bed for a while. That’s often a bad outcome — last night, I’m just browsing in the dark and come across “We Are Living in a Failed State”. It’s about time we noticed. I knew we were doomed when Ronald Reagan started spewing that “shining city on a hill” nonsense, which meant our leaders were lying to us and to themselves, and setting up a ridiculous fdcade to conceal real problems that needed real solutions, and worse, were actually all about building an intolerant theocratic state. But at least now in 2020, with disaster all around us, a few people are awake enough to tear down the false front.

Every paragraph in the article is a laser that burns away the propaganda our government has accreted around itself.

This was the American landscape that lay open to the virus: in prosperous cities, a class of globally connected desk workers dependent on a class of precarious and invisible service workers; in the countryside, decaying communities in revolt against the modern world; on social media, mutual hatred and endless vituperation among different camps; in the economy, even with full employment, a large and growing gap between triumphant capital and beleaguered labor; in Washington, an empty government led by a con man and his intellectually bankrupt party; around the country, a mood of cynical exhaustion, with no vision of a shared identity or future.

If the pandemic really is a kind of war, it’s the first to be fought on this soil in a century and a half. Invasion and occupation expose a society’s fault lines, exaggerating what goes unnoticed or accepted in peacetime, clarifying essential truths, raising the smell of buried rot.

The virus should have united Americans against a common threat. With different leadership, it might have. Instead, even as it spread from blue to red areas, attitudes broke down along familiar partisan lines. The virus also should have been a great leveler. You don’t have to be in the military or in debt to be a target—you just have to be human. But from the start, its effects have been skewed by the inequality that we’ve tolerated for so long. When tests for the virus were almost impossible to find, the wealthy and connected—the model and reality-TV host Heidi Klum, the entire roster of the Brooklyn Nets, the president’s conservative allies—were somehow able to get tested, despite many showing no symptoms. The smattering of individual results did nothing to protect public health. Meanwhile, ordinary people with fevers and chills had to wait in long and possibly infectious lines, only to be turned away because they weren’t actually suffocating. An internet joke proposed that the only way to find out whether you had the virus was to sneeze in a rich person’s face.

It’s not a perfect summary, though, because it omits one critical target. It fails to discuss the contribution our failed media is making to the problem. Rupert Murdoch is briefly mentioned in passing, but no analysis of American failure is complete without pinning media moguls to the dissecting tray and taking a scalpel to them. Our media is sensationalist and dishonest and backed up by the ruling class and their money; stories are only as good as the number of eyeballs and clicks they gather, which translates into advertiser money, which roots the media directly in filthy loam of capitalism.

For instance, right now the hot stories that dominate the media are tales of protesters descending on state capitols in their shiny $40,000 pickup trucks, waving guns and Confederate flags, and pretending to be true Workers, needing to have stay-at-home orders lifted so they can get back to work producing food and manufactured goods for the American People. Actually, they’re shady phonies who want to force service workers to get back into the hair salons and coffee shops to provide them with the luxuries they desire.

These events are sensationalized by the media by putting reporters into the midst of the mobs, where it looks like a mass movement. Step back a few feet, and you see them for what they are…small demonstrations by a scattering of 20 to 200 middle class nuts riled up by Fox News saying ignorant things. For context, think back to the Women’s Marches in 2017 — teeny-tiny Morris, Minnesota, population 5,000, had almost 300 people peacefully protesting in our streets, while the large cities had huge demonstrations of tens of thousands of people.

I don’t trust our media to recall events as far back as three years ago, let alone put current events in perspective.

But enough of the Atlantic, that middle of the road semi-liberal magazine for the comfortably middle-class, like me. You’d expect that kind of site to be full of horrified soft people. Let’s look at the Marine Corps Times, instead, where we can expect to find tough talk and gruff can-do assertiveness, right?

There we find “I’ve reported on war for years. I’m more afraid now than I’ve ever been.”.

For years I kept one eye on the hysteria and extremism that’s been brewing in America while I covered atrocities half a world away.

Now that I spend more time in the states covering the Rust Belt and Appalachia, I must admit: I’m more afraid now than I ever was in a war zone.

Let me be clear: I’m not afraid of being killed in a gun battle or bombing on American soil, although by the looks of some of those protesters with the semi-automatic, military-style weapons, they appear to be itching for armed insurrection. They may just be waiting for some supreme conspiracy theorist, like QAnon or the president, to give them the green light.

Warzone deaths, while horrible, can at least be instantaneous and painless.

Nowadays, I’m afraid that America’s demise, (not to mention my own), will be slow, agonizing and too much to bear.

The last four-plus years of U.S. happenings have been fraught with the kind of anti-intellectualism and hatred of “outsiders” I’ve seen peddled by inept, tinpot dictators the world over and those with cruel acumen to sustain their tyrannical rules.

I’ve seen some of what’s playing out in America in countries riddled with bullet holes and craters where suicide bombers drove into a crowded market. Before they were destroyed, some of them were pretty nice, stable places.

I’m afraid this hatred of reason and logic that pervades Trump’s daily televised rallies from the White House is just the beginning of our slow painful decay into one of those nations that “once was” much more than it is now.

I should have known. What I’ve seen of the American military, as filtered through my son’s perspective, is less macho swagger and more pragmatic planning for the worst. More cautious realism, at least as long as we don’t look at the higher echelons and the defense contractors (there’s another place where capitalism has poisoned the purpose of the military).

So far, this was great bedtime reading, just what I needed to make sure I wouldn’t get any sleep at all last night.

So I tried turning to the lighter side. David Futrelle is writing about…Andrew Anglin, Rape Gangs, Sex Slavery and Breeding Farms. Yeah, the Nazis are all excited about the prospect of a post-apocalyptic future in which true Aryans get to roam freely over the wasteland, killing the mud people and rounding up the women to work in breeding farms, all for the purposes of fun and to build an army of white men to kill Mexicans. He really hates Mexicans, for some reason which I don’t understand — all the Mexicans I’ve met have been lovely people. Meanwhile, white Americans are fantasizing about Aryan Rape Gangs — that’s what Anglin openly calls them — and enslaving white women.

It makes one almost wish that we had roaming gangs of warriors who would cut down anyone who calls themselves an “Aryan”, flaunts a swastika tattoo, or waves a Confederate flag. Or at least a Republic that openly condemn people who practice such antisocial, antihuman activities.

Oh, well. It was something after learning what horrible corruption and failure that our country has collapsed into to read something that says how much worse it could be. See! A ray of sunshine! We haven’t quite hit bottom yet!


  1. mastmaker says

    Read through the whole article. As you say, it is indeed a ‘laser that burns’ through the mist that’s covered our eyes for so long. I hope the coming transition is not too painful for the common man. But I know that it is a vain hope. This will indeed be very painful for us and (more importantly) our children and grandchildren. Those who can escape it (to other countries) will be the fortunate ones.

  2. komarov says

    “[…] rounding up the women to work in breeding farms, all for the purposes of fun and to build an army of white men to kill Mexicans. ”

    Army of slaves. Anglin was apparently very specific about that. It’s slaves all the way down, except, of course, the Great Leaders. Implicitly he and his readership must all and exclusively be leadership material, each and every one charismatic enough to elevate themselve to cult leaders, with the remainder of humanity reduced to targets, incubators or cannonfodder. In other words, no matter how badly the future actually turns out, these dreadful people would still end up disappointed by it.

  3. chrislawson says

    Funny how these Confederate protestors didn’t feel the slightest urge to turn out when South Dakota tried to introduce anti-protest laws to help the XL Pipeline, or when North Carolina introduced criminal laws against heckling politicians, or when Oregon debated a law requiring universities to expel any student convicted of riot even if the riot had nothing to do with the university. Nope. They don’t give a damn about constitutional rights, any more than the original Confederacy did.

  4. brianl says

    Apropos the sleeping thing, right there with you, but it may be a return to the “split sleep” cycle. Preindustrialization, the standard was apparently to fall asleep for a few hours, wake up and do something not too demanding for an hour or two, and then recline for “second sleep,” which tends to be deeper. Someone published an article a few years ago that particularly in medieval medical texts, this was considered the normal sleep cycle (with advice for appropriate and inappropriate activities for the period between sleeps).
    Ah good, I didn’t imagine it:
    At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past by A. Roger Ekirch

  5. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    Chomsky wrote Failed States in 2006. Where he argued that America meets all the criteria for a failed state. (Admittedly with a bit of a rhetorical thumb on the scale, but…)

    So, yeah, been coming a while.

  6. says

    I’ve been thinking about the media problem recently, and came to the following realisation.
    We’re told that an independent press is a counterbalance against the power of the state, but clearly that is simply not true. The idea comes from a time when the state was run by aristocrats and the papers were printed by industrialists, two classes whose interests were often misaligned. In that situation, the two forces opposed one another, but in the modern world both state and press are run by capital and their interests align.

    The entire American project was intended to produce this effect, not specifically in the press, but in every case. The overthrow of the aristocracy allowed the industrial, capitalist class to take sole possession of everything.

    The same thing I think is true of the two party democracies enjoyed by both the UK and US. Once, they represented the ruling class and working class respectively, now both are suborned to capital and meaningfully indistinguishable.

  7. Mark says

    The do-nothing Aryans crying about their “racial superiority” is absurdly ironic. To them Western culture is the elite club and they get to belong simply because they’re white, too. How convenient. Look at me, “I’m white and so was George Washington. Therefore I’m like Washington.” But being born into club membership requires zero effort and zero achievement. That’s why they’re obsessed over their whiteness. It’s their participation award.

  8. daverytier says


    blockquote>Implicitly he and his readership must all and exclusively be leadership material, each and every one charismatic enough to elevate themselve to cult leaders, with the remainder of humanity reduced to targets, incubators or cannonfodder. In other words, no matter how badly the future actually turns out, these dreadful people would still end up disappointed by it.


    Oh, don’t worry about that. this sort of pod people have very low ambitions – deep in their hollow hearts they know they are trash and will thus content themselves with being slaves as long as there are more slaves below them in the pecking order.

  9. ck, the Irate Lump says

    Robert Evans created a good audiobook on this kind of thing. Like that Military Times writer, Evans has covered conflict zones for a long time, and what he sees growing in American culture is more than a little frightening. His The War on Everyone is a very worthwhile listen.

  10. jrkrideau says

    I was “interested” in the two videos here.’

    Pirro is probably just a trained poodle but the nutcase on Tucker Calson seems to be accusing public officials at the Federal, state and possbibly municipal levels of being traitors.

    The US media seems totally mad and it seems to be doing a fine job of inflaming the MAGA idiots.

    Another commentator seems impressed The Sheer Awe Inspiring American Clusterfuck

  11. brutus says

    Failed state? Hell, try failed civilization! Across the planet and over time, any sober appreciation of how humans inhabit the planet has to acknowledge the rule of force guiding our actions. Examples cited are relevant to today, no doubt, but our extensive track record has always been terrible. Not down to each individual person, many of whom have been fortunate to be insulated from and ignorant of the full scope of the awfulness, but certainly in aggregate and especially among the ruling classes. Even if one grants liberal democracy a better record than other styles of social and political organization, the notable failure to reach anything even remotely close to the ideals we profess (or pretend to) ought to be pretty clear. Losing sleep over it? Sure, me, too.

  12. gijoel says

    I think if they had given out a bigger stimulus packaged to middle and lower class worker there wouldn’t have been any protestors. But money has to be funneled up, not down, and that’s why we’re in the mess we’re in.

    If ScoMo hadn’t of copped the public ire over his handling of the Black Summer fires I think we’d be in the same position as Americans.

  13. says

    The article in The Atlantic really, really wants the current collapse to be a narrative of corrupt, nasty right-wingers in the Republican Party ruining everything. Mention is made of how Obama bailed out the banks but not the public, but even that is presented as a bipartisan effort — no mention is made of the fact that over 90% of everybody, including both parties, wanted the bankers and Wall Street punished, and how the Obama administration refused to do anything at all in that direction, and how they even went so far as to sabotage the few things Congress did to address structural problems (such as Elizabeth Warren’s consumer advocacy agency, which Obama and Debbie Schultz teamed up with Republicans to make impotent).

    Electoral politics isn’t just delivering failure because of Republican evil, the Democrats keep refusing to permit any significant variation from Republican evil. Last time they chose a war criminal (and I’m not just referring to Iraq — Hillary Clinton was, according to Obama himself, the one who insisted on our disastrous Libyan invasion, and then there’s the whole incited civil war in Syria) with a history of screwing over the public for the benefit of the 1%, and there was outrage that the public didn’t rally to support her, without any real explanation of why the public should bother. Now we’re getting another war criminal with a history of screwing the public for the benefit of the 1%, except he’s also a rapist with a history of very open sexism and racism and a fairly open technically-legal-but-ethically-indefensible scandal heavily publicized within the last year. Shock and horror, the public isn’t enthusiastic about throwing Trump out in order to replace him with what appears to be his closest possible Democratic equivalent! No doubt the Atlantic will, in the event of his fairly probable loss, strain every nerve to present Biden as a saint who was unfairly snubbed, rather than the evil old traitorous asshole he is — and, it’s important to remember, always was.

    The article notes that the American public is cynical and tired. Yes? You’re only noticing now? We didn’t become cynical and tired out of nowhere — it took decades of betrayals by both parties, a project which is still ongoing. When Bill Clinton twisted arms in the party to get the Senate to sign off on NAFTA, that was kind of a signal that there was no hope left, our supposedly populist party was in the pockets of the rich, and it has only gotten worse from there. As with the Republican Party, you could shoot every member of the DNC and be doing nothing but good for the country — and that has been true for decades now. But the article very carefully avoids looking in that direction.

  14. davidc1 says

    @7 As you may know adolf was keen on aryans ,he thought they were the bestest at everything .
    And because he admired the Ancient Greeks ,they must have been aryans too .

  15. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    The Vicar,
    The fact that you continue to rail even more against Democrats than you do against Republicans at a time when literally hundreds of thousands of people are dying due to Republican enabling of incompetence really says something about you–and what it says is not flattering.

  16. says

    @#15, a_ray_in_dilbert_space:

    Over 9 million Americans are projected to lose their health insurance from the loss of their jobs in the midst of this pandemic, but Joe Biden has come out a second time to say that yes, he will still veto single-payer if Congress manages to pass it, and the Democrats are backing him for President. There is literally nothing you could say about me as a result of my comments which is as bad as the Democratic Party establishment and its backers in public have not already effectively said about themselves.