At the start of March 2020, I began journaling daily about events that felt catastrophic. It felt like something big was happening, something scary- the fall of Rome perhaps- and my only defense was to write about it to ensure that it would never be forgotten.
Never before had I witnessed my government institutions take such authoritative measures in the name public health. Everything I thought I knew about freedom in America became twisted. Suddenly, the government could lock us in our homes, prevent us from going to work, church and school, and force us to cover our faces- without any formal legislative process.
Within a few months of online classes, my university banned any gatherings with people outside of a single household, mandated masks and developed software to track our locations via our cellphones. The “smart restart” website encouraged students to report classmates who refused to follow social distance and mask guidelines. On the sidewalks, students I passed stepped away from me like I had a disease, and police officers broke up large groups. And with nothing else to do but sit on my phone, mediocrity, echo chambers and division on social media made me feel more and more alone.
All of these changes scared me. In the summer, large protests took place late at night. Outside my window, I heard fiery chants from hundreds of students marching like an army down the street, buildings were smashed and looted, and police cars were set on fire. I worried rioters would break into my apartment.
The world had gone mad. Lockdowns and unemployment lead to emotional instability. People were hostile and on edge. Health officials gave inconsistent advice, heightening skepticism. The fear of a virus spurred rash decisions, decisions with consequences that couldn’t be reversed. I worried about the regrets we would have when, in one big tantrum, we threw away the country we love dearly.
Watching Americans take freedom for granted deeply saddened me- and that motivated me to write. I tried to learn as much as I could. I debated with myself constantly, trying to find some sort of sensibility, grounding and truth in a world where division painted everything as morally and constitutionally unclear. Could a pandemic justify an infringement on fundamentally every basic right?
The presidential election didn’t make things any less unstable. Like most Americans, I went to bed believing Trump had won, only to wake up and see that Biden was in the lead. Mail in ballots made it days before we had the election results, and lawsuits made it a month before we had certainty.
On January 6th, thousands of protestors (frustrated with ballot harvesting and election fraud claims) surrounded and entered the capital, forcing representatives to evacuate. After the incident, Trump was banned from all social media. And thus, albeit indirectly, the President of the United States was forbidden from communicating with the American people.
On January 20th, Biden took office, a president so antithetical to the populist movements of the past 4 years. As a known corrupt establishment racist, I can’t help but see a man intentionally placed as a blockade to the BLM protests, an FU to the Trump rallies, and a mockery of the presidency’s popularist ties.
After inauguration, I began to write less and less. A year had gone by. I was burnt out. I lost passion and I stopped caring. And it appears as though I’m not the only one. The passions of the populace during 2020 have turned to a state of indifference. Americans are exhausted.
Both sides should be outraged at Dr. Fauci’s poor guidance, the likelihood of a Wuhan lab leak cover up, and the millions of dollars in profits made off of the pandemic. But instead, it’s like we’d rather forget the miserable year. Talk radio Republicans have returned to bashing transgenders and clowning Biden’s stammers because they know it, too, deep down…
All of those journals I filled- what for? Authoritarian government won. It won a long time ago.
We’re a country of 330 million people; again and again I find myself wondering if maybe an authoritative government with the illusion of freedom isn’t so bad…or maybe it’s worse. I ‘ve gotten used to the idea. It grows on you. It becomes normal. Maybe it’s not so bad…
It’s not like I have a better solution. I enter my workplace each day with a fake face, the one that laughs along to my coworker’s anti-Trump jokes and nods along sympathetically to their worries about the delta variant. I suspect others are smiling along, too, idiosyncratically, as HR pushes a liberal agenda.
I feel alone and distant, more alone than when we were forbidden from seeing our peers during lockdown. I get up mechanically and play the role. I’m a shell of myself.
But maybe this confession is enough. With each word the dream becomes more tangible, these principles become more real, my shell becomes more full, and the passion follows — there’s hope.
Maybe there is a point in writing this all down.
“I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson