Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Zero Decade: Lesson to Be Learned? Elect Zeros, And They Will Deliver Zero

Leonard Pitts Jr., editorial columnist for the Miami Herald, posted a delightful commentary today, suggesting that the most fitting description of the aughts or the naughts--the first decade of the 21st century--is "the Uh Ohs. As in that interjection you mutter when the excreta hits the ventilation device, that word you whisper when the wheels come off the bicycle, that thing you say when things fall apart."

Pitts offers an extensive catalogue of the things that fell apart from 2000 to 2009. Uh Oh has indeed been on our lips a lot more than it used to be. Scanning his list, however, I thought a more apt description might be The Zero Decade--as in what happens when ill-informed and sometimes willfully ignorant voters, egged on by cheerleaders on talk radio and cable and the Internet, elect total incompetents to office year after year: absolute zeros produce absolutely zero and perch the world on the edge of chaos. Things didn't just "fall apart." Things were shattered, by several bulls in several china shops.

It's not that the best and the brightest can't do the same. After all, John Kennedy's brain trust gave us Vietnam. Bill Clinton's cleverness brought us prosperity, but with the pitfalls of failed health care reform, Don't Ask Don't Tell, too little regulation and way too much Monica Lewinsky. But 'electing' George W. Bush and his ilk to office virtually guaranteed how awful eight years of the decade would be. Everything on the list except 9/11 can be chalked up to the zeros who tried to run the zeros. And invading Iraq as a response to 9/11 was perhaps their most misplaced goose egg.

Alas, the supply of ill-informed and willfully ignorant voters still seems all too real--blithely denying that conservative ignorance brought on a world a grief and clamoring loudly for even more. Whether the United States has a future is largely a race between ignorance and fact. As we move into 2010, I fear the outcome is by no means clear.

Below is the very prescient cover The Nation ran on 11/11/2000. After it are excerpts from Pitts' litany of things that fell apart in The Zero Decade.

The Ohs were a whole decade in which things fell apart -- things you'd thought were built to last, things you depended on without having to think too much about them, things that were the very bones and core and soul and sinew of who we are. Or at least, of who we thought we were.

Then democracy fell apart in a blizzard of hanging chads, a presidential election whose winner no one really knows to this day, a decision by the Supreme Court that chose our 43rd chief executive.

Our sense of security fell apart, foreign terrorists bringing their grievances to our shores in a spectacular fashion never seen before, proud towers disintegrating, an iconic building pierced, smoke rising above a Pennsylvania field, 3,000 people gone.

American exceptionalism fell apart, our understanding of ourselves as history's white hats and good guys crumbling under revelations of torture and malfeasance starkly at odds with that benign and reassuring self-image.

Can-do fell apart, civilization fell apart, New Orleans drowning and its trapped people turning feral and mean while those whose job it was to rescue them bungled, bickered, pointed fingers, and otherwise acquitted themselves with all the smooth efficiency of the Keystone Kops.

The economy fell apart, wealth disappearing, jobs vanishing, surplus shrinking to deficit, the nation in hock to China to bail out banks too big to fail and brother, can you spare a dime?

Journalism fell apart, the very idea and ideal of authoritativeness and indisputability lost in a static of Tweets and blogs, of newspaper deaths, fair-and-balanced bias and competing truths.

The world fell apart, glaciers turning to icebergs, icebergs turning to ice water, dire predictions of irrevocable change due to planetary warming caused by human behavior, the snows receding on Mt. Kilimanjaro.

And yet, we're still here, still standing. There is something to be said for that; it is no small feat to still be standing in times so tumultuous, times when the very bedrock of your identity wobbles like Jell-O. That was the Uh Ohs and the best thing you can say about them is that they are almost over.

We are people of an astounding capacity for resilience, redemption, renewal, reinvention. Change is our birthright -- for proof, look no further than the new guy in the White House. So this era of hardship is finite by definition. This too shall pass away.

Something to remember in the last minute of Dec. 31st as the clock ticks relentlessly toward the new, the next. A toast to give when you raise your glass high.

Here's to better days.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with you it's the Zero Decade, allright. Funny I was commenting on that with a friend last night, how 2000 to 2009 seems to me the "empty years", the Zero Decade and even noted to exception the 9/11 event and how it affected our lives and had the biggest impact on our history. Well, hopefully next decade will turn out to be better and filled with prosperity for all of us. Here's to 2010!