Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It End?
I constructed this cartoon from the title and the last panel, which I found languishing near the back of my tattered folder of works in progress.
Looking ahead here past the meaningless semantic scandals of the primaries to the long-awaited day when Bush is finally evicted from the White House. So desperate is the anticipation of never having to see that mean, simpering face or hear that sniggering voice again that it’s easy to forget that many of the problems Bush has ignored, exacerbated, or created in the last eight years are likely to be long-lasting and all but insoluble.
Don’t get me wrong—it’ll be a relief just to have someone visibly in power who at least acknowledges that these things are problems, after eight years of Neronian denial. But it would be succumbing to the same fallacy Freud did early on in his development of psychoanalysis to believe that understanding a problem is the same as solving it.
A European reader of mine recently asked me over beers, “So, Iraq: how long?” I shrugged. Not anytime soon, I know that much. I figure, either we’ll maintain heavily fortified bases there until the oil runs out, around which the actual country can go to hell or not, or else it’ll become such an inconvenient and humiliating clusterfuck that we’ll finally be forced to declare total victory and pull out in ignominious retreat, and then pretend that the ensuing bloodbath was a completely unanticipated failure of whatever flimsy Iraqi government we’ve left propped up behind us. I’ll just go ahead and uselessly reiterate my last good advice concerning Iraq: maybe we shouldn’t invade it! Seems like a bad idea. I don’t know, don’t pay any attention to me, I’m just a cowardly America-hating liberal. I know freedom isn't free and all that.
I understand far less about the economy than I do about dark matter, or even my car. My intuitive sense is that things are not good, nor are they getting better anytime soon. I notice that a lot of Europeans are currently visiting New York, which is as hilariously cheap to them as Buenos Aires is to us. A friend of mine who has retreated to an energy-independent community in Ohio where he is busily buying hand tools and cultivating a food-bearing forest, warns me that events are proceeding according to the darkest predictions about the coming economic crisis. He’s strongly urging me to invest in gold.
Then there’s the wreck that’s been made of the Constitution. It’s not like any new administration will be able (or necessarily inclined) to just put all that right again. Long, dense, heavily footnoted articles have appeared in places like Harper’s detailing how power formerly distributed among the three branches of government has been consolidated in the executive or outsourced to private enterprise. These articles are too relentlessly, sadistically depressing for me to read, but the cumulative gist of them seems to be: we're fucked. The next President, like the first democratic reformer taking over a banana republic after years of rule by a rapacious and nepotistic military junta, may find that the government's coffers and infrastructure have been effectively gutted.
This is not to mention the irrevocable ruin of America's name around the world. As the French foreign minister recently put it, "The magic is over."
I’m sorry to say it seems likely that America has gone over the hump is and on the way down. And when we go down, we’re going to take a lot of other folks with us. As it happens, this week I am undertaking Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I expect to find little in the way of cheering news in this, but hopefully it will inspire some good cartoons.
Of course, beyond the merely political nightmares lie the big, apocalyptic, 3 A.M. fears. The same reader who asked me about Iraq admitted that he could barely bring himself to contemplate the “Malthusian catastrophe” he fears is inevitable and imminent. The collapse of our civilization because of the depletion of fossil fuels would be what the experts call a majorly bad scene. Our descendants might have to endure another thousand years of ignorance and squalor, kneeling before black velvet altars to Darth Jesus, before some 30th-century Leonardo re-invents the futon and the toaster oven. But none of those worst-case scenarios come close to the unthinkable possibility of major climate change that would render the earth uninhabitable for human life. If that happens, well--good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.
That’s supposed to be Al Gore as Santa, by the way. It’s only the second time I’ve tried to draw him.