(Click on image to enlarge.)
I came across this lifeless bird in the street a week ago. It had obviously been there for several days, flattened by the traffic driving over it. Feeling quite sad for it, I moved it to the base of a tree on the sidewalk. In the days afterwards, as I followed reports from the Republican National Convention, I kept thinking about it again. This precious creature, long drained of its life force and almost indistinguishable from the pavement around it, became in my mind a metaphor for all that is now going wrong in this country.
To date, more than 181,000 (and counting) United States citizens have lost their lives due to a deadly pandemic and total failure of presidential leadership. The economy is in tatters, and millions of Americans, having lost their jobs, face hunger and eviction. Rioting, looting, and burning have undermined the case against systemic racism and unjustified police killings. Wild conspiracy theories on the fringes of society have now entered the mainstream, amplified by social media, local talk-show radio, and rightwing cable networks. White supremacists, Second Amendment gun nuts, and anti-government militias parade around while brandishing assault weapons.
In the White House sits a polarizing, corrupt, incompetent, and indolent fraud of a president intent on destroying whatever democratic institutions and laws stand in the way of his re-election. In that effort he is enabled by a major political party that long ago lost any claim to principle or integrity. Its convention should be more properly understood as a four-day festival of shameless, self-serving lies and baseless attacks against the opposition, and an insult to the intelligence of an open-minded public.
These falsehoods, repeated ad nauseam despite being thoroughly debunked on each occasion, function no differently than a deadly virus that insidiously destroys its host from within.
And that is what brings me back to the decidedly unpleasant image above. What life is left in a democracy when there is no agreement on what is truthful and factual and what is not, when a large minority lives in an alternate reality marked by Orwellian doublethink that is impervious to reason and incontrovertible evidence? What hope is there for a democratic polis whose health and viability depend on an informed, well-educated citizenry?
We don’t need a crystal ball or any pundit to tell us where this story ends if things continue as they have for the last three years. This once-thriving bird shows us what the future holds.