…And a stark reminder of where we need to go from here.
What can I do to thwart the perilousness of now?
That’s probably the question we should be asking ourselves every morning. Not “What did he say on Twitter?” or “How much longer can this last?” Granted, those are valid questions too and ones that should be explored, often. But probably not by the likes of you and me.
To the extent that we currently occupy a nation, call it what you will, a shrinking superpower, ad fallen empire, the greatest country in the world that never was truly great—think of the resources we squandered, the obsession with the ultra rich teenagers of the ultra rich, the wild lengths we go to just to pretend we belong, abandoning wit and desire and true youth in order to score a new car with interior made of tortured and shined up cow. But don’t dwell on that much either.
Instead, think of the challenges we face, the real challenges. Besides corporations, there is one faction that supports the guileless, filthy, always lying and constantly aspiring demagogue leader that stares us down now—the ultimate threat from within.
That is, rather—they are—white supremacists. People whose skin tone and presumed birthright entitlement has them so vexed they simply can’t function knowing their neighborhoods, nay, the world’s playing field is becoming increasingly level. Their advantage decreased and instead of playing out the game they choose to flip over the board and watch the pieces cascade to the floor.
A dearth of opportunity for white folks out there? It’s very real even though it isn’t. For generations, the white guy, in spite of his atrocities and lack of obvious physical gifts has given himself a hall pass. If you happen to be of a certain hue and a certain age and raised in a certain way, do a quick audit of your Facebook some enchanted late night after a couple drinks. The vestiges of privilege are still there: paddling around on giant inflatables in walled off resorts, eating generous meals with the other hyenas and their handbags in some low-lit suburban pasta emporium, outdoor concerts, beers pointed toward the lens with forced grins, ripped jeans and trucker hats.
Golf courses still play host to software and medical device salesmen, like it did to their fathers and their father’s fathers. The last discernible career path for the white male whose skill sets are winnowed down to the ability to talk about trivial misdeeds from the confines of the passenger seat of his E-Z-Go. Those jobs still exist, barely—and will be mercifully gone before the next generation comes up, thankfully.
So, it’s all being taken away and the cretin they have elected to represent them, to act as a restorative salve, is actually acting as a hastening agent. Think he’s going to build a time machine? He couldn’t even work an answering machine. Instead, you’ll be left with the wreckage and the scapegoating, blaming everyone else for the laziness you showed as you turned your favorite music from high school on real loud and walked out of the burning house as it all came crashing down.
So what’s the answer?
I often refer to a quote from Teddy Roosevelt as one of the few flickering lights at the end of this seemingly endless and inescapable tunnel of America Gone Wrong. It goes something like this: “If an American is to amount to anything he must rely upon himself, and not upon the State; he must take pride in his own work, instead of sitting idle to envy the luck of others. He must face life with resolute courage, win victory if he can, and accept defeat if he must, without seeking to place on his fellow man a responsibility which is not theirs.”
It is a very conservative quote, at least old-line conservatism anyway (restrictive with economy, liberal when it came to humanity …and self-reliance over all.) In a sense, we’ve waded into this marsh full of landmines so very, very far away from that. We’re now obsession-, oppression- and greed-based. If you’re not in the constant pursuit of riches, at all costs, you’re nothing. Think about why people go to work on Wall Street or try to start up tech companies, it’s not to build anything sustainable or productive, it’s to connive, coalesce and light a fucking match. Creative people, true innovators, have no place in today’s America. They’d be better off sitting this generation out, shutting up and swinging their five iron.
Then, once in awhile, someone breaks through at a critical moment and shows the way.
His name is Alex Honnold. The Sacramento-born suburban white kid grew up smart but insular. He graduated high school with a 4.7 GPA and for the most part got along to get along, He went to Cal for a bit to study engineering but dropped out at 19 to focus on climbing full-time.
Known then in the Sierra climbing community as a standout in a new generation of gym kids, Honnold had to find his way outside and learn technique from those who came before even as his physical and mental capacity grew in leaps and bounds beyond them. Twenty years almost to the day that he first stared up at a rock wall in a gym as a preteen, he did the impossible—scaling the 30-pitch, 3,000-foot sheer El Capitan wall without celestial anchors but for his own fingers and toes.
It was an accomplishment that we can’t quite yet fathom in our quick-cut, look-at-me, success-needs-to-be-instant-or-not-at-all society.
A man in full who pursued in solitude a singular goal, one he was loathe to advertise or take much credit for in the immediate wake of achieving it. The feat is the equivalent of a 5,000-page debut novel or construction of a fully sustainable homestead using only recycled materials or the launching of an app with a mission to provide sustenance, shelter and assistance to the destitute. Honnold’s feat was a solo act that is at once all-inclusive and a metaphor for how we do things here when we’re at our best.
Yes, it boils down to man vs. rock, but Honnold’s climbing partners throughout the years, mentors, teachers and support crew, documentarians, photographers and general encouragers along the way (look no further than his mom) are all equally responsible for his triumph over the impossible.
Let us also not take for granted America’s Great Idea made it all possible. Back to Teddy Roosevelt, who started the National Parks system to preserve El Capitan for generations to come and grandeur he could not fathom. The conservative alpha knew, deeply, strip-mining our nation’s finest resources was the one-way road to peril.
Can you imagine if it was Trump instead of Teddy then? El Capitan would have been blasted out and turned into 10,000 countertops by now. There would be no sense of wonder in our great sanctuaries—nor sanctuaries to begin with—and Alex Honnold would be behind the counter of the Yuba City Togo’s microwaving your Pepper Jack Pastrami asking if you’d like extra peperoncinos. Nothing to look forward to but doing chin ups for no reason on break in the supply room.
…I won’t mention the spate of young, white nationalist hate groups that have sprouted up in the age of Trump, they are too numerous and their doctrine is too perverse to give space to here. Their only mission, to destroy. To spread the vitriol and pain they feel instead of figuring out a way to mitigate it, channel it and turn it into something positive, perhaps something beautiful.
This is, after all, a story of folks who find in themselves the desire to create something permanent, to discover good among the wreckage. People who look beyond the possible, who turn their gaze toward mountains and oceans and figure out how to swallow some of that whole along with their flax seed, steel-cut oat and fresh blueberry breakfasts.
A parable of those who care and are cared for and spread that like a disease.
…It’s about them, because right now—they’re all we’ve got.