“That’s great it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, and airplanes. Lenny Bruce is not afraid.” Or so R.E.M. said when describing “The End of The World As We Know It.”
But it didn’t start with an earthquake, there aren’t birds and snakes, some airplanes are flying but most are operating at a limited capacity, and Lenny Bruce died of a morphine overdose in 1966.
Between the coronavirus pandemic, forest fires engulfing the west coast, and the looming decay of the institutions that hold this country together, things right now are not good. With global climate change looming in the wings, it’s easy to get lost in the existential nightmare that is living in the year 2020.
At the same time, it’s easy to write off these fears as cynicism. It’s easy to say “well, people die of the flu every year” despite the fact that the over 200,000 Americans who have died of the coronavirus were easily preventable. It’s easy to say “well, Trump has a right to fill that seat,” despite the fact that a 6-3 supreme court would fundamentally alter the course of American history. It’s easy to say, “well, global warming is a problem to worry about in the future” despite the fact that we are already feeling the effects now.
It’s easy to pretend that the coronavirus is over. To say “well, that ship has sailed.” But the plain and simple undeniable fact is that President Trump let 200,000 people die by downplaying the pandemic and denying aid to people who desperately needed it. Not only did he let those people die, but he wasted away his self-described “greatest economy in the history of this country” by failing to provide people with a stable stimulus program. It’s easy to pretend that because Olive Garden is open to 50% capacity that we are on top of things, but the truth is that we will be feeling the effects of COVID-19 for the next several years.
The Supreme Court already ruled to change the results of a presidential election at the start of this century, so what’s stopping them from doing it again? President Trump has already said that he has lawyers prepared to challenge the results, and a 6-3 supreme court, three of which are loyalists hand picked by Trump, could end with this election being viewed by the general public as illegitimate. And if the mass protests of this year have shown anything, it means that people will not take that ruling sitting down.
The flames of the west coast are some of the most apparent signs that the end of times really may be here. The sky, illuminated by a blood red, symbolizes the inevitability of climate change, and while people on the east coast can see pictures of it and think “wow, that’s crazy, sucks for them” it will be affecting all of us soon. If we continue to function as a society the way that we are now, we will all suffer.
When R.E.M. wrote “It’s The End of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” they did not actually mean that the world was ending. Despite the song’s frequent association with doomsday movies, R.E.M. was singing about how the world was changing, and the world you knew before is never coming back. Likewise, the world we knew in March is never coming back.
Things seem terrible right now. A large part of the country is literally on fire. The institutions that we grew up believing worked flawlessly are now proving themselves to be fundamentally broken. Donald Trump is the president. And all while a pandemic continues to kill thousands daily.
It is easy to despair, but as Soviet pianist Dmitri Shostakovich once said: “when a man is in despair it means that he still believes in something.”