HomeRights, Justice, and Culture NewsCommentary: American Life Has Become a Cartoon—and Not in a Good Way

Commentary: American Life Has Become a Cartoon—and Not in a Good Way

By Lars Walker

Like Wile E. Coyote in a cartoon, Americans keep electing people who stomp on their freedom and unleash destruction.

There’s an image that comes to me more and more these days when I think about the present condition of the United States. It’s at once hilarious and terrifying.

The image is Wile E. Coyote in the old Warner Brothers’ Road Runner cartoon series (sure to be remembered as a monument of twentieth century American art). Wile E. is standing in mid-air, just off the edge of a cliff. He has run off the cliff, distracted, or maybe he jumped after being startled. He’s utterly unaware of having no visible means of support. In a moment he’ll look down, realize his true situation, react for the audience, and plunge like a rock.

The brilliance of this running joke is that it mirrors our psychological reality. We don’t hover in mid-air in  the physical world, but we do in our minds. There are moments—often quite long ones—when we proceed as usual, entirely unaware that our underpinnings are unpinned. When we finally grasp our situation, that sick plunging sensation in the stomach as we fall is accompanied by the further indignity of looking foolish.

Aged and venerable as I am, I can remember when people understood this fact: you can’t make up your own reality. Philip K. Dick famously wrote that “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

When Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, in the infamous Casey decision, that “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life,” he wasn’t breaking new ground, just verbalizing the essential relativism that’s been eating at Western Civilization since around the turn of the twentieth century.

Allan Bloom warned us in The Closing of the American Mind that relativists are incipient authoritarians. If right and wrong aren’t universal but are merely personal or social constructs, there’s no criterion for judging one person’s case against another’s. The decision can only go to the party with the most power. Not on any kind of principle, but because nature abhors a vacuum, just as gravity abhors unsupported coyotes.

The great advantage Wile E. Coyote enjoyed, an advantage we seem to lack, is the elasticity—the snap-back quality—of cartoon characters. If he plunges 500 feet to the desert floor, and even if a rock falls on him immediately afterwards, he’ll crawl away and will soon be pursuing his futile obsession again.

We Americans don’t seem to be snapping back anymore. We’re caught in a ratcheting process. Every time conservatives lose a fight, we seem to lose that ground forever. Another freedom lost. Another regulation set in concrete.

In my state of Minnesota, the Left, as a reward for its stellar governance, now controls all the levers of power. Our governor, in spite of sitting on a $17.6 billion budget surplus, recently got the state budget increased. He wants to make us more dependent on “renewable” energy. Our legislature has passed one of the most liberal abortion laws in the world—without restrictions of any kind, even to protect babies who survive the procedure. (It seems to me our old state motto, “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” is outmoded. Our new motto ought to be “The Infanticide State.” Think what it would do for tourism.)

One unassailable fact keeps occurring to me. Wile E. always falls. Delusion can’t persist forever. It must yield—either to reason or to brute catastrophe. I have an idea it’s a bad development when a persistent fear goes from being a nagging worry to something you try not to think about at all. That’s how I feel these days as I ponder the future. I look down, and I see thin air under my feet.

I live in a suburb of Minneapolis, a city that used to be kind of cool. Like a pretty girl who’s maybe a little awkward: no debutante, but still out of my league. It was never as cool as it looked on the old Mary Tyler Moore Show, but locating it there wasn’t wholly incongruous either. It’s always been where I wanted to live.

Now we’re the city of George Floyd and Derek Chauvin. A city of BLM riots, carbonized city blocks, homeless encampments, and carjackings. Generations of single-party government have begotten corruption and decay, yet the ruling oligarchy is stronger than ever. The voters keep rewarding them. I lucked out, and the last riots missed my home. What about the next? Mary Tyler Moore has morphed into something like Carrie, but she still thinks she can turn the world on with her smile.

“Deconstruction” has been a watchword for intellectuals throughout my lifetime. Who knew deconstruction could spread beyond the world of ideas, metastasizing into the physical world? The burned-out neighborhoods of Minneapolis, the crumbling office buildings, the potholed roads—they’re deconstruction made flesh and dwelling among us.

All my life I’ve been yelling, “If you do this, the consequences will be horrific!” And I’ve been right. And it makes no difference to my neighbors.

I look out the window and glimpse a lean shadow crossing my lawn in the twilight. What’s that? Oh, a coyote. Didn’t used to have those in these parts.

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Lars Walker
Lars Walker
Lars Walker is the author of "The Year of the Warrior" and other novels and editor of the journal of the Georg Sverdrup Society.


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