Everything right is wrong again*
The hazards of living 60 years of history
Debunked legend says when Lord Cornwallis surrendered to General Washington at Yorktown, ending the Revolutionary War, the Red Coat army band played an old English ballad, “The world turned upside down.”
That’s exactly how I feel while following events today. Maybe every generation eventually is bewildered when accepted truths are not just demolished, but flipped and flipped so much that true is false and false is true and true is false, ad nauseam.
For me, the true-false cycle has reached Warp 10 speed, which Trekkies say puts you everywhere and nowhere at once.
I can’t tell what’s real from unreal anymore thanks to the disturbing fever dream of existentialism, surrealism, Dadaism, nihilism and Soviet-style propaganda that comes at me daily in a dung-storm of memes, tweets, Facebook post from friends, family, bots, and sellout cable bloviators that parrot political talking points righteously with a twinkle signifying they get the joke and they’re just bloviating for money. We all get it, right?
Lies? Who says? The other liars? They’re all liars! So the cynics win by appealing to our worst angels and sowing suspicion and calling simpleton believers in our better angels, like me, stupid.
The ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes had it easy. He wandered Athens with a lantern looking for that one honest man. Now we’re all dizzily stumbling through a virtual reality hall of mirrors within a hall of distorting fun house mirrors with a GPS that sells data on our whereabouts for wrangling with AI and machine learning to sell us stuff near where we are.
The disorientation and distrust about what’s true or false leaves us little choice, like lost sailors, but to follow our personal North Stars.
This impulse is reinforced by generations of obsession with self — me, my identity, my personal agency, my unique story that’s worth noting among all all the other unique stories worth noting.
No wonder, when pushed on opinions that have more strength than substance, folks fall back on, “I believe what I believe,” and “that’s what I was taught growing up” and “you have your facts and I have mine.”
Moynihan’s Dictum — we’re entitled to our own opinions but not our own facts — is quainter than grandma’s antimacassars as the distinction is lost or doesn’t matter.
Dilbert, as usual, has it right. We’ve reached the “Parody Inversion Point,” where reality is so absurd it’s indistinguishable from parody. It’s even hard to tell the difference between a joke and a “joke” and a joke about a joke about a joke, like a New Yorker cartoon.
Maybe that’s why, in my lifetime, weed went from bad and jail-worthy to a major agricultural, industrial and commercial commodity. I avoid indulging but understand why people like it: To make sense of things, or rise above and see the humor, or not give a rat’s.
We all have personal examples of how everything right is wrong again, the world turned upside down.
My seven favorites:
1. When I was young, fat was bad.
Eat cereal. Then carbs were bad. Eat fat. But not trans or saturated fats. I can’t believe that “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” will kill you faster than butter. Lesson: Stick with butter. Butter is always better.
2. Kraft mac and cheese was good then bad.
Until folks recently saw Brad Pitt make a pot in “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.”
If it’s good for Brad — just look at him! — it must be good for everyone.
Also, since when was pasta, let alone cheese sauce mix (including whey, milkfat, milk protein concentrate, sodium tripolyphosphate, etc.), a naughty pleasure?
3. Wine was naughty.
Only winos had wine every day. Only drunks drank alone.
Now your heart health needs two glasses a day (glass size may vary and normally includes 0.75 litres, e.g., a bottle). And as “solo dining becomes the new normal,” The Wall Street Journal reports, drinking alone is de rigueur.
But the “mommy wine culture” — popping a Chardonnay box at the 7 a.m. kids’ water polo practice to accept how you hate your missed executive opportunities and perfect husband you met at Harvard law, your child is terrible at water polo, and you might be jailed for cheating your kid into Harvard against more qualified, harder-working Asians thanks to your Adobe-enhanced water polo scholarship application for your kid because you love him — is bad. Then you relax and toast he’s a Harvard legacy.
4. Healthy living was easy
Smoking in the office, three-martini lunches, canoodling with the laptop stenographer and three afternoon hours on the golf course with bourbon and cigars and riding in golf carts kept men hale and hearty well into their early ’50s.
Jack LaLanne, daytime TV’s “Godfather of Fitness,” helped amazing women have the last laugh by outliving their terrible husbands.
Today we need 10,000 Fitbit steps per day or die before 90. Peloton just went public at $27 a share for $7.7 billion in market value because America is mad about fitness. But the fitness bubble will collapse soon as people realize — as they did with NordicTrack, Nautilus, etc. — exercise is hard and it’s cheaper to hang your clothes on old chairs.
5. Bad architecture is now good.
Crappy, dingy, depressing 1960s homes we hated growing up are now “Midcentury” cool.
Low ceilings, tiny windows, nothing to please the eye or sensibilities and uncomfortable, fever-dream furniture are now hip.
Yet even the HGTV “A Very Brady Renovation” can’t help that split level look livable except in a Parody Inversion way. But here we are. Fondue also made a brief comeback.
6. Old bad cities are now hot new urban experiences.
I remember how white flight from the cities to the suburbs destroyed urban cores and abandoned poor families.
Now aging Boomer, Millennial and Gen Z white flight to the cities is pricing and pushing poor families out of the cities to the suburbs.
“Can you believe this amazing place I so can’t afford except for my parents was once home to a black family who lived here for like 100 years?” a Millennial who cares about gentrification’s cultural displacement posted with pictures on Instagram.
7. Most of my life, the Russians were bad.
They wanted to destroy America. “We will bury you,” Khrushchev said and banged his shoe. Russia’s quest for global domination killed 100,000 American troops and ruined more in the Korean and Vietnam wars. The Russians aimed nuclear missiles at our cities to turn America into a Mad Max post-apocalyptic glowing smoldering rubble.
Republicans especially hated Russia and accused, smeared, ruined and jailed Democrats for being nefarious or useful tools and fools of Russia.
Today, Republicans support, don’t mind, or look down at their shoes when their Republican president proudly promises quo if the Russians, former Soviet Ukraine, and communist China deliver the quid, aka, infiltrating our country and fooling Americans to get him reelected.
Republicans defend or flail to flip the script on the Democrats when their Manchurian President shakes down American adversaries to launch full-scale information warfare — the 21st century espionage — to rig our elections, divide our country and destroy our democracy from within for his personal gain and glory.
Don’t get me started on Republicans attacking the FBI and CIA, which Democrats once were accused of doing. Or attacking the media for being too liberal when Democrats used to attack the media for being shills of the corporate state. Or the “traditional American family values” thing that Republicans long accused the Democrats of destroying with their loose morals, but now shrug at their president’s porn-star hush money, p-grabbing and other squalid depredations.
Republicans even cheer when their president destroys the dignity and decorum of the White House, puts himself above the Constitution and law, and sets a sneering, nasty, bullying tone of public discourse, dividing Americans against Americans and hinting at civil war, which means killing each other for his power and pleasure. And destroying America.
Republicans also let their president tarnish Reagan’s “Shining City on a Hill,” America’s example to the world, ignoring the traditional Republican view that our example and engagement with the world makes us safer.
(Never mind Reagan’s view that “if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”)
Why do today’s Republicans accept, even embrace, presidential misbehavior they would have called treasonous high crimes and misdemeanors in the past?
Especially if any Democrat — definitely Hillary — did them?
Is it because the Dow’s at 26,000?
Or “the liberals” are worse, so it’s a race to the bottom?
Are Republicans protecting America from the scourge of Medicare, like more than half of Republicans enjoy?
Do they worry “the liberals” will advance their radical socialist agenda they ran and won the House on in 2018? Such as rebuilding America’s infrastructure; creating 21st century jobs and retraining our workforce for them; fixing our healthcare system; protecting our kids from cancer-causing pollutants and nut-job bullets; or beating the global competition for modern energy and climate protection?
Are are they afraid of first-term, virtually powerless minority Congresswomen who speak their minds? Or other Democrat Congress members who represent Americans in their districts?
Or are they fearful of the right-wing loonies they unleashed after a decade of gerrymandering to create “safe” GOP districts?
Or afraid of the ridiculous right-wing media that make big bucks, like mesothelioma lawyer bottom-feeders that fund Fox, by suckering people with slick cynicism that fuels the distrust they foment?
Or afraid of the despicably hateful, anti-American comments on right-wing and dark-web sites from so-called patriots too cowardly to sign their names to their ugly, stupid, racist, misogynist and dark web paranoiac views?
Or is Republican supplication of their awful president simply about political winning, which justifies anything including discarding basic American values?
Michael Gerson, conservative evangelical Christian and former GWBush White House staffer wrote this week,
“To be loyal foot soldiers, [Republican supporters] must affirm that morality means what Trump says it means — even when it violates their clearest instincts.
“They know, deep down, that if a Democratic president had asked France or China for help in destroying a prominent Republican rival, they would be in a fever pitch of outrage.
“But, in the Trump era, this isn’t supposed to matter anymore. Consistency means nothing. Principle means nothing. Character means nothing. It only matters who wins.”
In other words Republicans are saying, as put well by Groucho Marx: “These are my principles, and if you don’t like them … well, I have others.”
Groucho was only joking. Whatever is right is wrong again, I still believe that principles can still serve as our North Star.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer
*They Might Be Giants, 1986