Subcontinental Divide - 2021


Bang or Whimper: How Does the Philosophical Reset Start?

By Ahsen Jillani

I want to cry about this, but I promised the editor that I would be a positive person in 2021, and here I am, smiling so broadly that my jaw is sore. In my column a month ago, I joked that two presidents and two first ladies may be in the same bed in the White House on January 20, and one isn't going to leave. Well, it may have gotten worse. Militia goons are now an organized army ready to receive orders on twitter to even attack Republicans who dare cross the line (or cross the president) by hinting that there are different realities on Earth-1 – a place where people got sick of a globally abusive, toxic leader with a blonde wig, and booted him.

But I have to be positive, so here goes. We are all gonna die!!!! Seriously, however, with infection and fatality numbers setting records daily, and a slow vaccine rollout happening despite the constant bungling and interference from an outgoing administration that thinks math is a Chinese ploy, we are still in a fierce battle. And the collision of democracy and autocracy in the vast blackness of mushy liberty is a debate we will have for centuries now, given that half the nurses in a major Texas hospital are refusing the vaccine.

The medical angle is one angle. Going into the holidays, I have attended a few events with no masks, in packed restaurants that require no masks if the manager is a like-minded macho “Don't Tread on Me with Your Mask" kind of guy who winks at you and flips a secret bird to the governor. It is okay. The accelerating death rate and increasing non-compliance by a solid right-wing base may easily exceed deaths that the 1918 Spanish Flu caused in the US. That national mandate to shut us down for a designated period will come from Joe Biden – and set half this nation on fire.

I, nonetheless, keep scratching my head about that other angle – America's incredible global economic power. I have a sneaking feeling that many of our trading partners, who themselves use brutal quarantine rules, don't really want Americans with fat wallets to be beaten back into their homes. I mean, what's a few million senior citizens, obese people, and diabetics when the French wine, the Dutch cheese, the Swedish furniture (and meatballs), and the Chinese everything else under the sun – well, it's time to buy.

I'm puzzled, but not really, about how the wealth of billionaires has gone up by 30 percent in one year of a pandemic. But I am less confused about mom-and-pop businesses going bust. The movements I'm tracking at local and state levels are less about orders on Amazon; they are about coffee shops, butchers, take-out Chinese restaurants. You know, people who were always there, your friends, your neighbors in strip shopping centers, smiling – people who knew your name. By some estimates, 25 percent of them went belly up this year.

So, in this confusing 3-dimentional chess game with pharma stockholders, governments, trading partners, smiling billionaires, and then the liberty warriors trying to squash the deep state, we really do have an existential crisis – what are your rights.

Here in these them thar parts of the world, we like the them thar Liberty and Freedom in a world where the flag colors don't run, and guns are only pried off our cold, dead hands. And I am conflicted about that. Working with lots of conservative clients, most pre-Trump, I have a good sense of where they stand about government interference in their affairs. This pandemic is a unique once in a lifetime enemy for which we have no philosophical weapon. We are intellectually crippled by implications and consequences.

And here comes the dilemma (and here comes the Positivity … wait for it) – we just jumped out of an airplane, and the parachute didn't open. We have that emergency cord to pull, but, alas, we are a free people. Leave that decision to us. And I wonder, deep into those cold nights with the cat sleeping on my chest, “Am I angry? Or just stupid?" I mean, America has united as a community behind much – a post-Civil War rebuilding, two World Wars, voting rights (somewhat in stealth), polio vaccinations, helping neighbors in disasters. Deeply seated Christian values bring neighbors to my door during holidays with snacks and cards with “Peace and Joy" gold foiled on them. Why do some also bring out their claws if women who have travelled 2000 miles on foot with babies ask for asylum? I don't know.

In the two Americas Joe Biden swears to serve, we will have to deal and heal. Are we responsible for the neighbor's health? If a small business wants to open without masks and people without masks want to shop there, can the government intervene? Should my taxes support the poor who I think don't really want to work and deserve nothing? Where is my French wine and Dutch cheese?

Now, I'm being positive here, and I am smiling. Without some shady real estate guy on twitter at 4am, this country can finally engage in this unique debate, and perhaps we will intellectually redefine the intent of the Founding Fathers. If we are crossing into socialism from individualism, maybe it's time to discuss this in a civil manner. If our responsibilities as a community are colliding with our conscience, perhaps it is time to discuss that without an AR-15 assault rifle on our shoulders.

I am seeing 2021 as a positive. Maybe we'll talk. Maybe it's the same old same old...

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Ahsen Jillani a former editor and publisher, is originally from Islamabad, Pakistan, and now lives in Mint Hill. He owns Must Media, a PR company focusing on both political and corporate clients.