The Corner

Twilight Creeps Too Slowly

Mark, I’m one of those hundreds of thousands unfortunate enough to live in Montgomery County, Md., and thus have been blessed with a Return to Lonesome Dove experience last week, as the mercury regularly broke triple digits. Your jeremiad on America’s twilight is spot-on, as anyone knows who drives through miles of crumbling inner city and watches growing paralytic incompetence on the part of local, state, and federal government. The only problem with our descent into civilizational breakdown is that it isn’t quite efficient enough. It’s happening too slowly and it’s spread over too wide a canvas for much of the population that cares to make a last stand at Fort Freedom (sorry, been watching non-stop Westerns since my power came back on). Rather, we’re like hapless buggy drivers on the plains, getting picked off one by one (really have to switch metaphors).

Our collapse is real, but in a vast country of 300 million people, the long, agonizing shuffle up to Lover’s Leap is hard to grasp. It happens in drips and drabs, and while all of us instinctively know that we’ll soon walk hand-in-hand to the Tipping Point of No Return, daily life offers us myraid opportunities to just adapt and acquiesce ever so slightly. So what if Pepco, after not having been able to turn my power back on for five days, wants to jack up my monthly electricity bill by $5.50? It’s only another $66 per year. I can handle that; can’t I? And, my Maryland taxes went up from 4.75 percent to 5.25 percent (while my lights were out, of course) — well, I don’t even really know how much extra that costs, but, say another $300 per year. Just tighten the belt a bit. Can’t drive the straight shot home because the neighborhood is too sketchy? There are other streets. My son isn’t learning American history in school, but knows all about composting? I can teach him at home; can’t I?

Each retreat seems so small, and so much the better if I can take care of it by changing my own behavior. But we get numb from the cumulative effect. And wind up making larger and larger compromises. Guess we won’t redo the kitchen this year (or decade), or take that nice vacation — didn’t really need them.

Now we’re headed there as a country. Can’t intervene to stop Iran from getting a nuke? Well, containment certainly should work on Tehran. After all, we kept those Russkies in their box for 45 years. Not enough planes to ensure we can protect American ground troops somewhere? Then maybe that “overseas contingency operation” (sounds like getting your tonsils out unexpectedly in Aruba) isn’t all that important. Have to start raising interest rates to attract more buyers for U.S. bonds? We’ll just avoid thinking about the effect on business.

By the time enough of us see how diminished our life is becoming to demand some real hope and change, it will be way too late. As you point out, it already is. It just doesn’t seem too onerous yet. I’ve got a plan though: Buy shares in sackcloth makers. Penance will be a big hit when the lights go out for good.


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