Discover more from Free Thinking Through the Fourth Turning with Sasha Stone
Fear and Loathing on I-80
The search for real life
Interstate 80 is the northern route across America. You can take the middle of the country, I-40. Or you can take the Southern Route, which is mostly Interstate 10, give or take. I’ve taken them all by now and love each of them for different reasons. You don’t see much off I-40. It really is the biggest, I’d say, but the life was Route-66 which I-40 replaced. So if you want to see the good stuff you should amble down Route-66. Someday I will trek even more northward to see the top half of this country, as there are still a few states I have not seen.
I travel for about five or six hours of driving, listening to audiobooks or podcasts, then find some hotel or motel to crash overnight before beginning again. I haven’t quite figured out how to do this in a van or an RV. They aren’t cheap, and since I mostly bring and cook all of my own food they are my only expense, along with gas, on the road.
What I love about driving, and always have since I was a kid, that you are either going some place or leaving some place. You are never in one place for very long. As a kid with a chaotic home life driving in cars meant time standing still. The longer the drive, the longer time could stand still.
I still feel that way, even if it is slightly uncomfortable to sit for that long - the only drawback. But right now there is no place I’d rather be than leaving some place or going some place. When I get to my hotel I usually get online to read news or check Twitter (always a mistake). The news remains starkly divided, with the left telling one version of the reality they want vs. the right doing the same thing. It’s a strange reality to have really no actual news anymore, one that isn’t fed by clickbait.
All through 2016 the “get Hillary Clinton” was the fuel for the coal fire to keep newspapers and cable news stations in stead. Now it is, without a doubt, “get Donald Trump.” I have been watching the internet “get” people for four years - in the arts, in politics, in business - for one reason or another. They don’t stop until the person is toppled. But where Trump is concerned, and to a degree where Hillary was concerned, it wouldn’t be enough to just defeat them. They had to destroy them. Why, because these are two people who stand up to it, who don’t buckle, who mostly can’t be destroyed. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard to watch. If you are a human being with all of your emotions intact it should be.
But the way internet cruelty works, even among those I most valued and trusted in 2016, is to find a reason to unleash cruelty. If there is a justification for it there are no limits. With Amy Coney Barrett there weren’t many ways to go after her so they settled on “white supremacy” and “illegal adoptions of black children from Haiti.” If they could make that stick, it would be a dehumanization free-for-all. With Hillary there was a long list - the Iraq war, Monica Lewinsky, Wall Street, Crooked Hillary. And I watched her not only take it and take it and take it but never dish it out. That is why I admired her then. But since, she and most Democrats have joined in the pile-on to crush Trump - and not just politically, but in every other way.
For Trump it’s “children in cages” - the other things about him - that he’s a racist, a pathological liar, a sociopath, a bully, etc. these don’t so much justify the cruelty against him about his hair, his weight, his hands, his children. But “children in cages” does. Holding that thought is enough to unleash monstrous cruelty and you know what that does? It brings the likes and thus, the dopamine. There is a thrill to saying things that will provoke - the more extreme the better.
I guess for me I’m still stuck on the part where we all used to be better than this. I’m stuck on the part where I used to admire people who didn’t feel the need to purge their inner hatred on Twitter in ways I can’t unsee.
My daughter wandered into the living room where I was watching something - I can’t remember what - and she said to me that she was starting to feel sorry for Trump because of the constant attacks against him. I understood where she was coming from and I don’t know many people who would ever say so out loud if they believed that. I know she would not. Not in this stifling, judgmental panopticon where thoughts are policed. If she says she feels sorry for Trump that means she doesn’t care about children in cages. But to me it means her humanity is intact.
To get to the point where the outcome of the election doesn’t really matter anymore because both sides have revealed the worst parts of themselves in order to win elections is a strange place for me to be. I’m still trying to find a path back to caring. But every time I do I am hit with the ugliness on my side of things and it makes me want to drive. To drive down the long winding highway of I-80, alongside delivery trucks and commuters going from one place to the next. Into red states and blue states and purple states where Americans are just trying to get through the day and don’t exactly have the luxury of spending all of their time on Twitter.
I have seen systemic racism in the Deep South (chasing down potential racists at Princeton and Cornell isn’t going to fix that) and Biden and Harris are trying to speak to that. Stacy Abrams is trying to start a revolution that addresses the continual voter suppression in those states. I’ve also seen the mythic white working class in Pennsylvania with their rusted out tricycles in the front yard and their wind-ripped Trump lawn sign. I have seen an America forgotten by the Democrats, which is why Trump resonates deeply here. He’s the only one of the two talking about bringing back manufacturing, the Great American Comeback. What do the Democrats have to offer them? Nothing.
On Twitter the idea is that Trump is Hitler and we’re living through World War II. That could be true if a certain set of circumstances were brought forth. For one thing, if Trump was more Hitler-like, which he isn’t. He pulled the troops from Portland almost immediately. Hitler would never have done that. There would be Federal troops in every city. Portland’s nightly riots have not exactly stopped.
Given the state of the poor whites in America and Trump’s inclination towards blaming immigrants there could be a WWII-like situation forming. And if he won a second term it might go that way. But the Democrats still must address the lack of jobs here in the US and selling “green jobs” ain’t gonna cut it. Maybe Andrew Yang’s Universal Basic Income is a good plan. Every citizen could get at least $1,000 a month. For some families, that could mean the difference between life and death.
Right now, though, the Democrats are focused on race relations mostly and Donald Trump. I do not know how these messages will resonate in the places I’ve seen driving down I-80.
I have just two more days - Salt Lake City and then Las Vegas and then home - I will be sad when it’s over. By then, Joe Biden and Donald Trump will have debated. I wish Trump would just abdicate to give Biden the job so we could get on with things, so I would not have to watch just how bad and ugly things are going to get. Just give them what they want and be done with it. But that isn’t going to happen.
And now, the coffee is hot. Cheyenne Wyoming is freezing cold but vast and beautiful. It is light brown and pale blue. It is the memory of the old West, the absence of any workable economy, and a resting place for people like me who roll in for the night, covered wagon style, in search of a soft bed and a place to rest for the night.
While getting breakfast I met a man who had come here from Germany. He is a nomad who travels from place to place every few years. He can’t stand staying in one place for too long so he and his wife move their RV to a new city where finds employment. I am reminded once again how different it is encountering a real live human and making conversation. There is no need to win or to virtue signal because these things would be embarrassingly apparent. I envied him and wondered whether or not I could do that - go from place to place finding jobs and then packing up and moving on. Maybe.
Either way, the coffee is hot and the air is cold and it’s about time to hit the road.
I’ll see you on the other side.