Editor’s Note: In a life almost devoid of bad times, tragedies or disasters, I’ve just completed the worst two months of my life. With three hospitalizations, two heart procedures and a couple of heart-stopping experiences, I feel like I’m making up for lost time on the misery front. However, if bad things happen to you, you might just as well use them as grist for your mill ... the whole lemon/lemonade thing.

Metaphor for a Country in Failing Health


Metaphors aren’t always useful, but, as an erstwhile English teacher, I tend to see many aspects of ordinary life as symbolic of something else.

Regardless of what his body has turned into, at heart, a man’s mind always remains adolescent, with a teenager’s irrational sense of immortality and youthful invulnerability. As I got older, my doctor tried to disabuse me of this delusion, but I didn’t listen. I clung to the fantasy that I was still in my prime, with plenty of time left for reformation.

So, rather than follow his advice, I continued to burn the candle at both ends, with overindulgences of all sorts and a casual attitude toward healthful practices. Even as I began to deteriorate, I stupidly resented my doctor for advising me to mend my ways, all the while knowing I was destroying myself.

It’s a metaphor for our times. Consider two threats, both of which are likely to ruin our future. Economists warn of the dangers of deficit spending and our enormous national debt, but we ignore them. Scientists try to alert us to the dangers of climate change, but are portrayed as purveyors of “fake news” or some Chinese hoax. Since the 2016 election, our government has addressed the deficit problem with ballooning budgets and tax cuts for the rich, and dealt with global warming by not even bothering to feign an interest in environmental protection.

Trump’s budget and tax “reforms” reward those who need them least — millionaires, billionaires and the DoD — while doing nothing for our ailing infrastructure. Just as I failed to sacrifice in middle age for a healthier old age, Americans are too selfish to support spending cuts or tax increases now that might reduce the deficit later. Our president blames immigrants and Muslims for our problems, while the rest of us argue over such nonsense as the Mexican border wall and athletes kneeling at football games.

Due to the petroleum industry’s ownership of the GOP, the EPA opposes any form of environmentalism. We can expect rising sea levels, ecological disasters and ever-more-violent storms, because we refuse to be inconvenienced by anything that might need to be done to reverse climate change. So we pay attention to politicians, right-wing pastors and CEOs who recommend doing nothing, instead of physicists and chemists. We’re like the morbidly obese who get a second opinion after their doctor tells them to lose weight.

At the start of 2017, I tipped the scales at 236 pounds, which is disgraceful for someone only 5'10", and I was still living an unhealthy lifestyle. In 2018, I’ve had an angioplasty, which removed an 80% blockage from my coronary artery, and a pacemaker/defibrillator had to be implanted in my chest, after my heart began to randomly stop beating, causing me to pass out unexpectedly.

I’m finally heeding the handwriting on the wall. I’ve given up alcohol and all forms of tobacco, and I eat a special diet for diabetics that’s helped me lose more than 40 pounds, but it remains to be seen whether it’s too little, too late. The opposite is happening vis-a-vis climate change. The Trump administration has quit the Paris Agreement, discourages alternative energy and encourages the burning of coal. Instead of trying to slow global warming, they’re rushing shortsightedly and gleefully toward the tipping point.

This adolescent behavior reflects our sense of manifest destiny, which has morphed into American exceptionalism. We’ve come to believe our “specialness” will protect us from dangers and enemies, as if America has been anointed by God. Like the Romans of the first century A.D., the 19th-century British Empire viewed its inevitable demise as unthinkable. It probably saw its survival as preordained, just as we do today.

It may already be too late for the U.S. In the unlikely event we change course in 2018, we’re still likely to go down anyway. (The GOP is venal, the Democrats are incompetent and neither party cares about deficit reduction.) The adolescent tantrum of the 2016 election has now infected nearly 90% of Republicans and almost half of all Americans. As we sink deeper into Trumpism and crippling tribalism, our national ethos has become a sickly and sickening partisan parody of what we’d once called “patriotism.”

The baser impulses that led us to elect Donald Trump are now metaphors for our national character, making it hard to care about the country’s future. Since he came on the scene, I’ve asked Trump supporters whether they did so despite his bigotry or, in part, because of it. After a year and a half, the answer seems painfully obvious, making it harder and harder to be proud of being an American. If I were to travel in Europe, I’d claim to be Canadian.

I expect this article to engender lots of hate mail; however, I’m not alone in wondering whether the great experiment that has been America may be coming to a sad end. And it isn’t just liberals who feel this way. There are people all along the political spectrum who won’t be surprised if, during the next decade, the American Century degenerates into the Era of China, or the world simply becomes leaderless.

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