So where does this leave us? What, as concerned and horrified citizens, should we do?
One natural response would be quietism, turning one’s back on politics. It’s definitely tempting to conclude that the world is going to hell, but that there’s nothing you can do about it, so why not just make your own garden grow? I myself spent a large part of the Day After avoiding the news, doing personal things, basically taking a vacation in my own head.
But that is, in the end, no way for citizens of a democracy — which we still are, one hopes — to live. I’m not saying that we should all volunteer to die on the barricades; I don’t think it’s going to come to that, although I wish I was sure. But I don’t see how you can hang on to your own self-respect unless you’re willing to stand up for the truth and fundamental American values.
Will that stand eventually succeed? No guarantees. Americans, no matter how secular, tend to think of themselves as citizens of a nation with a special divine providence, one that may take wrong turns but always finds its way back, one in which justice always prevails in the end.
Yet it doesn’t have to be true. Maybe the historic channels of reform — speech and writing that changes minds, political activism that eventually changes who has power — are no longer effective. Maybe America isn’t special, it’s just another republic that had its day, but is in the process of devolving into a corrupt nation ruled by strongmen.
But I’m not ready to accept that this is inevitable — because accepting it as inevitable would become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The road back to what America should be is going to be longer and harder than any of us expected, and we might not make it. But we have to try.