Fear and Loathing in a Divided America
Four days into the road trip and we can't make tracks
If the worst thing that happens to me on this long road trip moving my daughter to Brooklyn to live with her boyfriend, and thus, fly the nest for good, is that I stupidly spilled water on my 16-inch MacBook Pro it will have been a success. The computer is refurbished so at least there’s that. Had it been new this would be even more difficult to bear. What got the water into the guts of my computer which now will not power on is my enduring stupidity. Tempting fate. Na, that water bottle with a lid will be fine next to my bed. Nothing to worry about. You are superhuman. Nothing bad ever happens to you.
In the movie “The Edge” with Alec Baldwin he is given a hard lesson about survival from Anthony Hopkins who tells him that men die in the wilderness out of shame. Shame that they made tragic mistakes. Shame they could not think their way out of those mistakes. I thought my way out when I found one open Apple store in Phoenix which would sell me a tiny MacBook Air to use on this trip. My thinking is that once I get back to Los Angeles I can return it. The only thing left to know is whether I fried the computer, if it’s fixable or if I’ll many of the stooges who sell their “water damaged” computer on Ebay.
There is no better way to understand America than to unplug from social media (which is nothing but a self-fulfilling confirmation biased feedback loop dopamine addicting algorithm), to leave the big city, if you live in one, and hit the road. Every time I do that I see this country in real life, in real time, in real miles. It tells me things nothing else can, not polls, not staring at electoral maps, not looking at twitter, not watching news of any kind.
Even during COVID times, which no doubt have turned much of the country into a ghost town. You almost forget it’s here until you pull up to a store or a restaurant and must remember your mask and to social distance. I have not seen much mask rebellion since driving all over Phoenix in search of a Whole Foods, through to New Mexico and now in Texas. Most people simply wear them. Border patrol wears them. Hotel clerks wear them. Whatever illusion is being sold about the random red state rebels who cause fights in Walmart doesn’t exist large scale and considering Twitter and the news you’d expect it to.
Not that driving down long highways tells you that much about the little dramas in daily life some idiot captures on their cell phone to make it “go viral.” It might not tell you that, but it still tells you a lot.
The few times I’ve driven across America I’ve been struck by the massive size of it, not necessarily how much actual land it covers, but the manufacturing, the feed lots, the farms, the mini malls, the big trucks. This is a system that is in no way prepared to deal with rolling back climate change, not in any realistic way. My view of the left is that it has sacrificed actual reality for an illusion. If we all use metal straws on Youtube that means we’re doing something. If we Retweet something about the dying coral reef that means we care and we’re doing something. If we shame others for their consumption of energy, and we like someone on Instagram who is signaling with a necklace that says “vote” or two celebrities talking about going vegan because they care about the planet that means something.
The long and short of it is that the climate change problem is too big. It is too slow moving. To get rid of the feed lots there would have to be less people who eat less meat. Most Americans want things as affordable as possible - so even if the wealthy areas can afford sustainable grass fed beef, there are millions who can’t. Millions.
Add to that those who use the internet for their outrage and activism. That too warms the planet. All of it does. It is too big of a problem. The only difference between the right and the left on climate change is that the left believes they are “good” and therefore “care” and therefore “are doing something about it” - but really, they are simply another arm of the market. They are the “green” targets who buy stuff to alleviate their guilt, like hybrid SUVs. On the right they go along with the idea it’s a hoax or else they know it’s a problem but want to close the borders to prevent the coming wave of migrants, or buy water when it all goes haywire.
Twitter is madness right now. It is its own reality, its own election. What a genius idea to create a medium that gives people a false sense they are making change with their tweets. Otherwise, what else is there? Knocking on doors and trying to change minds? How to do that in such a sharply divided country?
I see mostly TrumpPence signs so far. In fact, nothing but. I have not seen a single BidenHarris sign or even bumper sticker. The Trump enthusiasm remains higher than ever. The left I see on Twitter is going to be mentally and emotionally incapable of a second term of Trump. It is an unimaginable horror. Me, I’m looking even beyond the election because I know taking out Trump isn’t going to stop what I see happening. Trump is in power for a reason and not all of that is because of what people on Twitter think. A lot of it is hatred of what the left has become. Most Americans just want to feel pride in their country, to wake up every day feeling like their lives aren’t worthless. How to get people in most of the states to care about what’s happening in the big cities? This is a widening gap and Trump being voted out won’t solve that.
We’re driving through Arkansas next, on the way towards Memphis. We have to stop in North Carolina to pick up some of my daughter’s stuff that was mailed to her when COVID hit and shut down NYU. She thought she was coming home for Spring break but was never able to return for her final semester, let alone graduate with a cap and gown at Yankee Stadium. She is looking forward to starting her new life as an adult anyway.
Before I left I was watching Trump rallies, partly out of fascination and partly because we’re living through something we’re likely never to live through again, at least not in my lifetime. Our government and its politicians have always followed a script. We’ve never had someone in charge who is blowing it all up the way Trump has. One of the songs that plays at his rallies has the refrain, “I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.”
That is the line that keeps playing in my head. That is the American ideology if there is no other. And I know that’s why a middle aged man would set up a pop-up Trump store at a gas station in the middle of the Amarillo, Texas.
There is a hurricane about to slam into Texas, which is the only reason we’re not hugging the coast towards New Orleans. Even though it isn’t anywhere near where we are, high up in Amarillo, we can still feel the winds warning of the coming storm. At least I think we can. Maybe that too is an illusion.