I’ma be honest with you: We’re probably fucked. All of us. I mean, maybe not you and I specifically, but as a society? The bread’s become toast and you know what they say when bread becomes toast. So a lot of what I’m about to say, really, is just a thought exercise that will vanish into the ether.
How much more evidence do you need? An armed coup attempt at the US Capitol, a pandemic leaving 360,000 dead, an economic depression that feels endless in its own carnage, a president who essentially abdicated his duties, and a massive network of 74 million Americans that’s sorta okay with the job he did.
It’s grim, people. I don’t really feel like I need to tell you that, but I want to tell you that to tell you that you are probably underestimating how grim it really is. I get a lot of comments on my pieces telling me “maybe it’s your attitude that’s the problem” or “sheesh, lighten up” or “relax, everything is working out as it needs to” or “Americans have overcome before, and we will again.”
Respectfully, if you’re one of those people, fuck you. I’m so, so, so over your optimism. Your exceptionalism. Your faith in that which refuses to materialize. I’m bleak because the data — both current and historical — suggests I have good reason to be. In fact, I’d be pleasantly surprised if things turn out well. Maybe it’s your attitude that’s the problem.
“Oh, John, don’t insult your readers,” nah man, I’m good. If you want to go on believing in little fairytales about how things always get better and good triumphs over evil then you can take your adorable, childlike ass over to MindBodyGreen and keep reading about 7 Ways to Make 2021 Your Best Year Yet. Let’s get one thing straight, little angel-face: 2021 will not be your best year yet. It’s going to suck every bit as bad as 2020, if not even more.
That said: there’s a narrow path outta here. So, let’s fire up the “what if?” machine, and let’s see how we go about fixing us, and the US.
Step №1: Scorched Earth Draconian Punishments
This is no mere satisfying of bloodlust. This is to send a message. This is to firmly and unequivocally say to the people who got us here, and the people who are planning on taking the baton and continuing onward from here, that there’s a price to pay for treason, sedition, violence, hatred, insurrection and conspiracy.
You must take away all their megaphones. You must put them behind bars. You must ensure that they never have the ability to make laws, earn a living, spread their division or usurp the consent of the governed ever again. Jail time. Public shaming. Boycotts. Strikes. Walkouts. Impeachments. Over and over. Those 140+ house Republicans who voted not to uphold the Arizona results? Demand their resignations. Ted Cruz? Try him for treason and deport his ass back to Canada.
You cannot punish enough people, severely enough, for the wounds they’ve inflicted upon American democracy. Any corporation that knowingly or implicitly fundraised or supported for, or provided services to, the Trump administration? Stop working for them. Sell your shares. Boycott their goods and services.
Big tech? Break it up. Don’t just kick the people who weaponized social media off social media, kick social media off social media. We don’t need a Facebook. We don’t need a Twitter. These things are clearly and easily compromised. They’ve aided and abetted the subversion of democracy and fanned the flames of conspiracy and fascism. Get rid of them.
Trump and his family should be put behind bars. For life. Put Ivanka and Jared’s kids up for adoption. All their inner machinations that helped place that family of kleptocratic monsters in a seat of power must be broken up, and all the people must be properly made examples of. They’re repeat offenders of good sense and human decency, who will continue to go to the well of hatred and crookery until we take all paths to that well away from them.
Step №2: Wealth Redistribution
Remember the New Deal? We need a new New Deal. But we need a bunch of them.
- The Covid New Deal: We need Universal Basic Income for as long as people are unable to go about their lives unimpeded by this pandemic. We’re facing a joblessness and homelessness crisis either already or looming. We need the median salary, delivered to Americans at scale, for those who do not make the median salary.
- The Black New Deal: We need reparations. Paid. I’ll let smarter Black thinkers tell you what that looks like and how it should be delivered, and how Black Americans spend it is none of my goddamned concern, but however much you think we should fork over, I guarantee you that the final figure is more. And however you think they’ll spend it, I guarantee you they could bootstrap a more regenerative and innovative socioeconomic ecosystem that White Americans have done with the seemingly limitless amount of dollars we’ve had.
- The Green New Deal: By the way, climate change is still real. We need a jobs plan and infrastructure plan and energy plan to allow us to pivot to renewable energy fast, and grow jobs and wages to make our society prosperous, equitable, sustainable and intelligent. Unlike #2 on our list, I know exactly how that would look. I helped message it.
- The Wealth Tax: Billionaires are all leveraged, for what it’s worth. Their valuations are artificial and the reason why they don’t cash out on their holdings — real estate, investments, corporations — is because they play around with appraisal so that they can say they’re worth the most, but get taxed the least. They can’t hide from that anymore. Soak ’em. Either they’re not worth what they say they are, they’re in more debt than they claim to be, or they’re evading taxes, or some combination of all three. No more. It’s unethical to be a billionaire in a world where so many live on crumbs.
You do all these things, by the way, to make it so people have the ability to build a decent life for themselves. Money is required for working people to have a life that’s not indentured servitude, which is what a lot of US jobs are right now. We’re in massive debt, working long hours, for not enough to cover our asses or our assets. Many of us rent our dwellings. Many of us die drowning in debt: medical, student, back taxes, real estate, credit card, loans. That means we don’t own our selves. That’s feudalism, kids. A serf life is not a life of dignity. That means we’re in the Middle Ages, except with smartphones and indoor plumbing.
Step №3: The Universals
- Universal Healthcare.
- Universal Education.
- Universal Transport.
- Universal Energy.
- Universal Housing Subsidies.
- Universal Basic Income.
Yeah, I said it. Egalitarian pipe-dream? Fuck off. We can literally just print money. We do it in times of crisis all the time. Sometimes we do it to bail out banks, sometimes to provide cash stimulus payments, sometimes to bail out automakers, sometimes just to build lots of drones we can bomb Middle Eastern countries with. Whatever the case may be … we have the capacity to do all this.
The thing is … self-interest is what drives fear, hatred, violence, suffering. The people who stormed the capitol believe that something’s being taken from them. They’re wrong in that belief, but on some level they believe it. If they had their needs met? They wouldn’t believe that. They’d still be racist, sure, but at least they wouldn’t care so much about what various Black and Brown populations were getting because they’d be given a pacifier in the realm of being able to take care of themselves physically, financially.
Every society that fails, it fails for the same reason: stratification. Wealth concentrates into the hands of a few, the distance between them and the underclass grows too wide, and the tribalism based on an existing social hierarchy leads to violent ingroup assaults on the outgroups. That’s what’s happening here in the US. If you take care of alleviating stratification by meeting everyone’s needs, by giving them decent work, cash, education, a free press, healthcare and shelter, then everyone’s a little bit kinder overall.
That’s just to get us back to an acceptable baseline. In parallel, we need to recontextualize American history. Make people see it for the apartheid state that it really was. Reteach our history as a racist evangelical playground that only occasionally makes concessions to the aggrieved. Yes, we’re a democracy, but we’ve been a flawed democracy from the jump. We’ve never acknowledged that in any meaningful way. It’s time we did.
We need new history books, full race and class integration of the press instead of favoring affluent white voices from privileged families (most everyone you know with a meaningful press job comes from some kind of legacy background), and a thorough scrubbing of our entertainment industrial complex. The United States is constantly being fed a warped perception of itself, through media, education and entertainment. That must be reexamined and redrawn.
The entirety of resurrecting the American Experiment means admitting we’ve gone about it all wrong this entire time. Maybe not all wrong. I think we could keep about one-third (as a rough estimate) of what’s already here. But if anything, the Trump Administration should’ve illuminated to the last remaining optimists that this was never going to end well. That a society founded upon division and stratification was going to end in division and stratification without a radical reorganization of that society itself.
Until we’re brutally honest about who we are, how we got here, how we treat each other, what we’ve done, and how the legacy of history weighs down upon the present, we are going to keep walking down a dark road without ever realizing it was daytime.
A society which allows for it to get “this bad” is a society that was always “this bad.” It requires reassessing our values, our norms, our guiding principles and the ways in which we’ve warped and mangled all of the above.
Like I said at the beginning, we’re probably fucked. But we don’t have to be. We can build something better. We can do something wiser. We can treat each other kinder. We can take this idea that we have of ourselves and really embody the virtues which we’ve claimed to have this entire time. The legacy of the US is a history of violence, division, kleptocracy and supremacy. It’s time we turn that narrative around. It’s not too late to actually be who we think we are. And if that happens, that’ll make a far more exceptional story than the ones we keep telling ourselves to avoid taking accountability for who we’ve always been.