Nearly four years ago to the day, a just-inaugurated president called our attention to the
American carnage oozing throughout the various layers, hidden recesses, and dark
corners of the nation’s landscape. Under his careful tutelage, on January 6, the American
carnage reached its nadir in an assault upon the very foundations of our democracy.
A sitting president, abetted by complicit enablers in his own party, lighting the match of
insurrection against his own government … it defies comprehension. Like December 7,
1941, so now with January 6, 2021: companion Days of Infamy.
The roots bearing this seditious fruit stretch back for decades and will take a generation at
best to excise from the body politic, but where to begin, what to do, and how to do it …
the challenges just feel so overwhelming. Everything, it seems, is just falling apart.
Except that maybe it isn’t … and maybe therein lies a clue of sorts. Careening between
hope and despair, common fare these days, I recalled the W. B. Yeats poem from a
century ago, “The Second Coming” (1920). Then and now, to the poet and perhaps with
us, things just seemed to be falling apart. We take our measure of the world and conclude
as did he that “the center cannot hold.” The first stanza might well have been written in
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely, not all of us lack conviction, our passionate intensity properly directed serving the
greater good. It certainly feels like things are falling apart, but however fragile, the center
does continue to hold. The assault was quelled and a few hours later Congress picked up
the work interrupted by mayhem and concluded its appointed task of certifying the
people’s choice for President and Vice President. Assaulted and interrupted … not
assaulted and abolished.
In a perverse sort of way, a sign of lasting continuity through momentary disruption
comes from Wall Street where we learned the very next day that the stock market
continued to rise, investors apparently encouraged by the additional Senate seats from
Georgia and the prospects for increased federal spending by the incoming administration.
“As disturbing as these events were, markets were largely unfazed, which, we hope,
points to this being an aberration,” this from equity analysts at J.P. Morgan (NYT, Jan 7).
Even oil was up.
There is a larger point here, however. At its best, the center will hold—the
corporatocracy will see to that. That’s good news for those of us whose fortunes rise and
fall with the market and it does one thing more: it buys us time to address the torn fabric
of our beleaguered society. A rising tide is not raising all boats, and for far too long,
decades even, our neglect of and indifference to the marks of a community’s health and
well-being in deference to the (so-called) free market have exacerbated a growing
economic disparity and its related insecurities (food, employment, housing, and medical
care to name the basics) with which increasing numbers of our people live. Throw in
failing education systems, degradations to the environment, and, oh yes, a pandemic and
our assignment is clear.
This month we honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. More than fifty
years ago, he told of having been to the mountain top and gazing upon the Promised Land
lying just on the other side of the river. He may not make it across the river, he said, and
tragically he did not. Tragically, neither will we, but that scarcely matters. What matters
is that having seen it, we continue to work for that day when all will taste the promise
The work goes on. What more is there to say?