By Buddy Early, July 2020 Issue.
Not even the most inventive Hollywood minds could script a three-and-a-half year run like we’ve had. Sure, individually the phenomena of 2017-present would seem very plausible; but all of them together? It’s all too much. Nobody would actually believe it. Even I — someone who has at times been accused of having a wild imagination — could not have conjured up the current state of our nation.
Someone asked me recently what I might have thought the world would be like in 2020. I couldn’t say. They asked me what I had envisioned the world would be like in 2010. I couldn’t speak on that, either. 2000? No dice. The truth is I have never looked to the future and thought about whether society’s ills would be cured; when I have thought about the future, it was always a fantasy of what my life would be like.
As a teenager in the 1980s, I invented a storyline of my perfect life 20-30 years in the future. Basically, I fantasized about a life where I was a journalism professor living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (I’ve never been there, but it seemed like as good a place as any.) My family and I lived a few blocks from campus, to which I’d bike in my faded jeans and coat with patches on the sleeves. Our house was large and tastefully decorated, and seemingly had a “fourth wall” like on all the sitcoms of my youth. And, also like those sitcoms, all the rooms were larger than any room in any house had a right to be, and there was a back staircase to the second level right in the corner of the kitchen.
I was father to four children (three daughters and a son.) All of them had brown hair and blue eyes, like me, except the oldest daughter, who was either mixed race or Pacific Islander. I can’t explain this, only to say that in this scenario I am married to a woman and had sex with her at least four times … so it doesn’t have to make sense. And since I’ve broached the topic, I didn’t imagine what my wife would look like, or what profession she worked, or where she was from or whether we loved each other. I suppose that part was telling.
In this imagination of my idyllic future I did not create a world in which racism was a thing of the past, diseases had been eradicated, everyone was afforded equal rights and opportunities, and people basically cared about each other. Call it naiveté or blissful ignorance, but in my make-believe future the world was obviously a perfect place, so I didn’t waste my energy focusing on those particulars.
Cut to 2020. As I write this during a worldwide pandemic and shortly after another incident of a cop killing a black American, with riots happening in cities across the country, not to mention Donald Trump continuing his attack on decency, it is clear just how much my view of a perfect — or even better — world could not have been more inaccurate.
Essentially, we’re a fucking mess. As this critical presidential election approaches I find myself unable to conclude which reprehensible aspect of our country is the most reprehensible. Is it our willingness to accept mass shootings at schools, churches, mall and nightclubs, all because we believe the right to own an assault rifle is sacred? Is it our treatment of women, including letting their rapists walk free and supporting unlawful legislation to keep them from having control over their own bodies? Is it our tolerance of racism by accepting and allowing cops to murder people of color for sport? Or is it our endorsement of an economic system that rewards greed and cheating, and has created the largest income disparity in more than a century?
I can’t choose. Each of these reprehensible realities is an example of how the U.S. needs a reset. We’ve lost our way and need a complete overhaul of our values.
In trying to make sense of this mess of a country, I can’t help but wonder if that naiveté and/or blissful ignorance is partially responsible. Did I do enough in the last three decades to improve and secure the rights and safety of other people besides myself and my community? Did I speak out every time there was injustice? Did I look beyond myself to try to see things from the perspective of someone in crisis? Did I care enough about my fellow Americans?
The correct response isn’t to tell me, sure, you did all those things the best you could. The correct response is to ask yourself: did you?