Returning from a trip to Venice, I remain in a suspended state of mind. Despite the bitter cold that could have–but didn’t–spoiled the short visit, I am still under the emotional shock. That so much beauty could be created in the face of great odds, that the magnificent Serenissima Republic of Venice could rise from a marshy branch of the Adriatica Sea and remain to this day one of the most extraordinary sights of the world is a testament to humanity. Small minds will point to the dark times, the conspiracies, and the permanent struggle against both nature and barbarians (replaced by today’s relentless waves of tourists,) but Venice remains—sheer splendor, a dreamlike vision not easily set aside.
Splendor, however, can only take us so far in these sad and scary times. Our dreams cannot be filled only with archangels and saints and the magic brushes of Titian or Donatello. Right around the corner looms one of the ugliest menaces to today’s civilization, making us realize how tenuous the whole concept is for those countries that through the spasms and convulsions of history have come this far. And yes, I see the myriad fingers pointing at the poverty, the misery, the anguish, not only throughout the world but right here, in these Western countries where, at least on the surface, life is more welcoming than elsewhere.
So many choose to see the civilized world not as an example of what can be achieved, not as something to cherish and protect but as the oppressor, the imperialist powers, the former colonialists, etc. The world is miserable because the West has made it so. Never mind that decolonization happened eons ago. Never mind that corrupt homebred brutes made it their mission to accumulate power and bullions and muzzle any opposition. Look around. Ever since the departure of “blue-eyed white devil,” after some horizons of hope briefly opening up, every continent is struggling with mighty problems.
I happen not to share that view in the least. Venice will always be beautiful. Democracy, as flawed and unfairly shared as it is, remains the best political system humanity has come up with, after countless errors and terrors. And yes, it is not only a work in progress but one, unfortunately, fragile and easily toppled. Look at us now: after centuries of bumbling progress have, in fits and starts, created relatively functioning societies and minds more or less opening, here we are, stepping into the great unknown. (And no, I’m not forgetting the torn Middle East or any other part of the world where grave strategic errors, often born of sheer self-interest, have created untenable situations.)
The usual dictators bent on tormenting their people and making maximum profit before disappearing in the dustbins of history are either in power or being replaced by more of the same. The worse development is that strongmen/women are becoming the norm, much appreciated by popular movements veering right. The Putins of the world, the Netanyahus, the Marine Le Pens, Erdogans, etc. are winning supporters, and now we have our own #dangerousbuffoon.
Here in the States, we could be appalled at the injustice, the unfairness, the inequalities, the racism, the bigotry. We could fall back on political correctness, wanting to believe that the awful waves of sentimentality plastered over our Facebook pages, in the Disney World of our minds, the lies we feed our children (“you can be anything you want” yadda, yadda, yadda, creating adults both permanently dissatisfied and entitled) replace actual strong social and educational programs, that paying lip service to gun control and gay rights would actually make them a reality. In other words, that feeling good and righteous and eating organic would keep pulling the world toward progress. In the perfect world of our creation, every American would make a decent living, no cop would kill a black kid in total impunity, prisons would empty by miracle, no woman would die from a botched abortion, one and all would accept gay weddings, respect the LGBT community and create more opportunities for the disabled. In that country moving in sync toward progress and equality, we would be mindful of global warming, of our own environment, of medical care for all, we would have a stake in every important cause.
That is over. Something wicked this way comes. Thugs are on the march. If I believed in superior powers, I’d beg them not to let #dangerousbuffoon wreak too much havoc and destroy everything so painstakingly and so imperfectly created this far. Instead, I’m endlessly chagrined at the coup carried off by a brute enamored of his own ignorance, stupidity, and utter vulgarity in a system that has not yet woken up to the implications for democracy, for the future, for our world.
Three more days before the magnificent First Couple that has served eight years with dignity and good will toward all walks out of that mansion, to be replaced by… oh, it doesn’t bear thinking about.