Since the great, or actually miserable, lockdowns of March 2020, I’ve had a sense of foreboding. I recall thinking that there was no way something this contrary to all American values could happen – imposed by a tiny elite, a centralized pandemic plan we were forced to accept without evidence – without some gigantic blowback.
In April of that year, I filed a report of what I expected the blowback to look like.
I predicted a revolt against Zoom life, a resentment against the media and the political establishment, an increased loathing of intellectuals, a new frugality, and a huge pushback against forced human separation.
I look back at that now and see that I was way too moderate in my expectations.
Probably like you, I’ve been curious about attitudes in this country, and sought to extract information and listen in every way I can. What I’ve discovered you can consider alarming or encouraging depending on your attitudes. America is a vast tapestry of opinion, essentially uncontrolled despite mainstream media pretensions, and more polarized by the day. Getting a full handle on it is impossible because the media is more decentralized than ever, while polls, though interesting, are mere snapshots of what people say what they think they are supposed to say.
My intuition, informed by experience and many conversations with friends and strangers, is that the last 15 months have unleashed something unpredictable, possibly terrifying, and possibly wonderful. It feels like a full-scale revolt.
The lockdowns followed by the reopening have unleashed every manner of rebellion, in good but often alarming ways.
An example follows. I was in a Texas diner and the server was wearing a mask, which is quite unusual in this state these days. I asked why. She explained that as a twenty-something, she is refusing the vaccine because Covid is no threat to her. She was defying her corporate elite and not going to let anyone inject her solely to free herself of the mask obligation. She said that she would sooner wear this thing for a decade than let herself be drafted into a medical experiment.
It was then that it struck me: the Covid mask in some places is gradually transmogrifying from a sign of compliance into a sign of defiance. The CDC has said that the vaccinated are free to take them off. The noncompliant have to keep wearing them. Hence – and I should have anticipated this – there are those who continue to wear them as a sign of noncompliance with civic priorities.
Say what you want to about that attitude, it is quintessentially American: I have my rights and no one can take them from me. This is precisely why the urge to segregate the public based on vaccine status is unsustainable.
It wasn’t just this one person. Inauspiciously, I’ve been talking to employees at groceries and Walmarts. What do they think? Wow, do I get an earful. This Covid stuff, they are done. They are not even sure they believed the whole bit to begin with. And they are done with the vaccine mandates that followed in the wake of lockdowns. Also the restrictions, the political elites, the dogmas, the media, and so on: done. The blowback about which I dreamed more than a year ago has become far more intense.
I’m looking around for evidence that I’m right, that there is revolution in the air, and I’m particularly drawn to the data on gun sales, which are at a record. Twenty percent of the purchases are from new gun owners. Twenty percent of those are minority populations. Today, 39 percent of US households have at least one firearm in their homes, above the 32 percent registered in 2016.
Now, why would this be going on? What precisely is the idea here? Not being a gun person myself I’m left to speculate, but it must have something to do with a feeling of uncertainty and insecurity. If we cannot count on law enforcement – “defund the police” – while government is corrupt and we are descending out of civilized life into something entirely different, going out and snagging personal and household protection seems to make sense, especially given that the party that now controls a kind of unitary government in D.C. seems intent on restrictions.
That is just one sign but there are many others. Consider the gigantic demographic shift from lockdown areas to open areas. “More than seven million households moved counties last year,” writes the Wall Street Journal, “up almost half a million households from 2019.” And there’s more to come: 1 in 3 Americans are planning to get out of Dodge sooner rather than later, fleeing cities for the suburbs, Blue states for Red ones, high taxes for lower ones, crime-ridden areas for safe space.
Look at real estate prices in Florida, Georgia, Texas, South Carolina, Tennessee, and compare with once prestigious destinations in New York and California. Prices are truth tellers, better than polls, better than U-Haul and USPS data. Prices show precisely what is in demand and what is not.
What’s significant about this demographic and geographic upheaval is that these people are not merely answering pollsters with abstract opinions. They are leaving a settled life for uncertainty to head to new areas without clarity about what they will be facing. I’ve met several of these families in Texas, people with income who are fed up with the fight (in Portland, for example) and only seek peace and security somewhere outside of the places that caused so much vexation in this last year.
My other impressions concerning a brewing revolt are gained from passing conversations. All the usual presumptions about what is true and reliable in public life – businesses can operate, schools will stay open, you can go to church and travel – were blown up last year, with lasting consequences. There is an underlying ferocity now alive in America that I never thought I would have seen in my lifetime. I've casually interviewed so many people, and the truth is nothing like what you see in the media today. The writers and personalities there are merely playing catch-up.
I’m in no position to predict what is next but this much is true: when everything you ever believed about life in America is suddenly blown up and replaced by a dictatorship of medical/political elite and their wishes, there will be consequences.
For much of 2020, people seemed mostly obedient. But with the lockdowns ending, so too will end the quietude of the American public. Vaccine passports, for example, are a bridge way too far. Something big is brewing and I do not mean just electorally.
It’s about more than that. It’s about rethinking the balance of power between the rulers and ruled. Either the ruling class in this country faces the reality of the underlying shift in the firmament or else we could see a cultural, social, and political upheaval in this country like we’ve never experienced.
Maybe I’m wrong. My intuition says otherwise.