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The Reckoning

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Let us start our grand tour of an increasingly out-of-control world in Russia. Putin plays a two-bit Hitler in trying to gobble up his neighbors. The West responds with  a one-bit imitation of 1930s Britain and France. ISIS reminds us that beheading and human incineration are contemporary, not premodern, practices. The only difference is that we video them on iPhones now rather hear rumors about them by word of mouth a year later.

Jews are wise to leave Europe in the manner that some of the lucky got out in the 1930s. The danger is not that we are facing a sudden war on any one front, but that all these fronts -- the former Soviet republics, the Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria, the roaming Islamic terrorist gangsters inside the West, and the Iranian soon-to-be-nuclear co-prosperity sphere from Yemen to Lebanon -- are combining to create chaos as the new normal.

Whole swaths of the globe are becoming badlands that sane people avoid -- the former Soviet republics, Russia, the Middle East, North Africa, Persia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Cuba, and perhaps soon Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus -- as if they were the national no-go-zone versions of our own New Orleans or Detroit.

Ceding prior U.S. influence to regional hegemons -- China in Asia, Russia in the former Soviet Union, ISIS and Iran in the Middle East -- is turning the world into a pre-globalized Wild West. Think of travel plans. See the Parthenon? But will Greece be bankrupt and on strike from the airport to the Acropolis? See the Dead Sea? Will the rockets come in from Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon, or Iran? See South America? Tiptoe around the mess in Argentina, Nicaragua, Peru, or Venezuela. See Paris or Copenhagen? Just don’t walk near a synagogue or kosher market. See St. Petersburg? Make sure there is not the next war nearby in Tallinn. See Turkey? The Hagia Sophia will probably be a mosque again soon.

The American Economy?

Hardly confidence there either. Bill Clinton slashed defense, hiked taxes and at least won a year or two of balanced budgets. Obama slashed defense, hiked taxes, and now brags that a $600 billion annual deficit is success -- as if he still might not in his eight years double the amount of debt of all previous administrations combined.

What have zero interest rates accomplished? Another Wall Street bubble to implode, the end of passbook savings as we knew it for a century, and the encouragement of running up more national debt at a low annual service cost?

The Government?

What is terrifying about government now is not just that Obama has made it a tool of fundamental political transformation, by ignoring the enforcement of laws, overriding statutes through executive orders, and expanding entitlements to create new Democratic dependent constituencies. Scarier is the new 1984 state. The IRS is a rogue, but politicized organization that considers your politics in choosing audits. What exactly is NASA doing? The Justice Department sees the law as a hindrance to social justice. We can’t seem to find a secretary of Defense who can stand the White House effort to turn the Pentagon into something other than the military.

Government measurement of GDP and unemployment has been altered to suggest a robust economy. There is no such thing as an enforceable border, or perhaps a border at all. An illegal alien no longer exists. Amnesty is not so much a new law, as simply the relaxation of all immigration laws. The U.S. border is resembling the badlands between Syria and Iraq, where smugglers, cartels, and drug lords do as they please. What exactly is the status of ICE? Do agents arrest and release illegal entrants, or simply not arrest them at all? And if so, what then exactly are they doing?

Popular Culture?

Is Brian Williams our Eric Sevareid? Is Miley Cyrus an update of Shirley Temple? Is Kanye West the new Lou Rawls? Is Fifty Shades of Grey just an updated Lolita? Is global warming just a new phenology?  Is curvy Kim Kardashian just Rita Hayworth? Is Al Sharpton just Martin Luther King? The latest snuff video game just resembles an updated pinball machine? Maybe Tiger Woods is just a petulant young Jack Nicklaus?

Civic Harmony?

Racial relations have hit a new low in the age of “my people,” “punish our enemies,” and a “nation of cowards.” If an African-American entertainer does not win a Grammy, a celebrity rushes the stage to intimidate the winner. If an all African-American Little League team breaks the rules to win a crown, then the enforcement of the rules is deemed racist. If an Israel prime minister speaks to Congress without President Obama’s approval, then he is racist. What can be racism when almost everything is racist?

Is the new racism something akin to integration and assimilation, racially blind criteria for admissions and employment, a wish to make skin color incidental not essential to our characters, and a desire for legal, measured and ethnically blind immigration?

Where Does the Center Hold?

For bewildered and increasingly quietist Americans, the center holds mostly in family, religion, a few friends, the avoidance of the cinema and nightly news, the rote of navigating to work and coming home, trying to stay off the dole and taking responsibility for one’s own disasters -- as the world grows ever more chaotic in our midst.

All sorts of escapism from the madness is now epidemic. Home-schooling. Gun ownership. A second home in the mountains. A trunk of freeze-dried food. Kids living in the basement. A generator. Some gold coins. A move to Wyoming. An avoidance of the old big cities. A tough choice between death and going to the nearby emergency room (at least your relatives are safe as you pass away at home). A careful and narrow selection of channels on cable TV. A safe room or escape plan. And on and on.

There is a strange new and dangerous sentiment brooding below the spoken surface that whatever is going on in the world and in America today cannot go on much longer -- although as the sages say, there is a lot of rot in the West to enjoy for some time yet.

The postmodern world of our new aristocracy and the premodern world of those they both avoid and romanticize won’t hold. The old caricatured middle shrinks and turns inward. Even if the doomsday mood is a mere construct of the new instantaneous media, it is a dangerous mood nonetheless.

We all know what follows from this -- either the chaos grows and civilization wanes and tribalism follows, or the iron hand of the radical authoritarian Left or Right correction is just as scary, or a few good people in democratic fashion convince the mob to let them stop the madness and rebuild civilization.

I hope for option three. I fear option one is more likely at home. And I assume that option two will be, as it always is, the choice abroad.