For as far back as I can remember, people have warned me about the certain implosion of America. They made comparisons to fall of the Roman Empire and Sodom and Gomorrah. The unmistakable signs were everywhere, they said.
As a teenager coming of age in the midwest during the 1960s, it was the length of my hair and the music I listened to that apparently signaled the End of the World, or at least the fall of America. Trivial matters, but the top of a slippery slope, they said.
Sometime in 1965, I went to a music store in Willemar, Minnesota, with my rock and roll bandmates to find a 45 rpm copy of the Rolling Stones new hit song “Satisfaction.” When we enquired, the owner of the store physically chased us out while lecturing us on how filth, smut and evil music would damn our souls, and tear down the clean white fabric of American society.
That man was right, of course, because the America that existed in his mind was about to come crashing down.
Long hair, hippies, marijuana and rock music picked up the message of the Beat Generation and wallowed in its individual freedoms. Audacious people marched for civil rights and women’s rights. College campuses roiled in protests over an unjust war. Comedians publicly flouted four-letter words.
The collapse of America continued. Gay people started coming out. Same-sex couples demanded marriage equality. Environmentalists warned of climate change. The era of white European privilege started to fade into more diverse faces.
And, then, I’m sure the music store man would say, the final blow was delivered in 2008 when voters elected an African-American as the President of the United States. That was too much. It pushed the music store man, and millions of other people like him, over the edge, and into the waiting arms of Donald Trump.
And so, at the climax of his inauguration speech yesterday, the 45th president promised that the “American carnage stops now!”
Those “rusted-out factories” littering the landscape like “tombstones” over a post-Armageddon wasteland will be shined up and made new again. Factories will hum with workers loving their jobs. Climate change won’t exist. Men can freely assault women. Pesky journalists seeking truth will be discredited. We’ll bomb more of the people we don’t like.
We’ll chase all the bad Muslims and Mexicans out. No more racial unrest because, well, what did African-Americans have to lose, anyway?
And so, I have to admit, my music store man had a point back in 1965. My generation did take America on a slippery ride. But the tragic fall he envisioned wasn’t the expansion of human rights or a realization that the destruction of this planet might means the end of human existence. But it did, somehow, give us Trump.
The decline of America will not occur because of how America has changed over the last 50 years, and probably not at the hands of terrorists or a crazy dictator.
America is more likely to fall because a false Messiah does not understand his place, and his nation’s place, in this world. Because he sees permanence in the riches and comforts he enjoys today, and which he promises for tomorrow, not realizing they are only temporary and that he cannot turn back time.