The Theory of American Everything Part 2: A Historical Lesson

My oldest son made a claim a few weeks ago, one I’ve heard before from elsewhere: if Trump wasn’t president, the Covid-19 pandemic wouldn’t be as bad. So I proposed a counter argument. How would things have transpired if Hillary Clinton had taken office instead? What would have happened if a highly contagious outbreak began during her first term in office? Most people agree the Coronavirus would have arrived regardless of who led the USA. Everyone knows Clinton’s response would be vastly different than Trump’s and probably more aggressive. While the medical community and experts in communicable diseases are nearly unanimous in the belief a more aggressive approach was needed, I asked my son if that would have made a difference. 

Let’s pretend for a moment we had a President Clinton instead of a President Trump. Hypothetically speaking, in late winter/early spring break when we first learned how bad the Coronavirus as going to be, President Clinton issued national shelter in place orders, mask mandates, and contact tracing. How well would it work? People violated and protested the stay at home orders that actually happened, they would have done the same if those orders came from a presidential decree - perhaps even more because they’d see it as federal overreach. Many of the people who refuse to wear masks now would still refuse to wear them under a President Clinton. Today, anti-maskers are against masks in support of Trump; had November 2016 happened differently, those same people would be against masks in opposition to Clinton. Americans would be resistant to contact tracing under President Clinton under the idea it violates privacy, a value sacred to many Americans. Half of this nation’s population would oppose anything she tried to do to contain this virus because she’s a Democrat. Science be damned, this is politics. 
It’s possible, even probable that Hillary Clinton’s approach to handling a pandemic would have been better than how Trump dealt with it. However, I don’t believe her efforts would have mattered. The people who aren’t currently taking this pandemic seriously are the same people who wouldn’t take it seriously if Clinton was president. Even with her improved response, America would still be struggling to get control of the situation, people would still be getting sick in large numbers, thousands would still die, and half our population would blame Clinton for every COVID related death. 

As Christian and I discussed this hypothetical scenario, he asked me, “Why are we this way?” 

While it is easy to blame Trump for everything that is wrong with America, I think such an accusation is a scapegoat. I don’t believe Trump is the disease, rather he’s a symptom of the disease. If we want to know why we are this way, we must look deeper than the president. I believe we are the way we are because we were designed this way. 

I asked Christian, “Who founded America.” His answer was “a bunch of old people” but that’s not exactly true. Our founding fathers are younger than we imagine them. Alexander Hamilton was 21 during the summer of 1776. A dozen singers of the Declaration of Independence were under the age of 35. So I repeated my question but he couldn’t think of an answer.

“They were rebels.” I answered for him. 

The Declaration of Independence is a treasonous document written by a people rebelling against their government. Consider a nation founded in protest and defiance. Wouldn’t that rebellious nature remain in our national spirit centuries later? ”Well, our founding fathers threw tea into a harbor, of course we’re gonna shut down freeway traffic. It’s the American way!” 

We Americans possess disdain for authority. We don’t like being told what we can or cannot do. However, even with defiance in our DNA, finding national identity with a figurative middle finger in the air isn’t enough to explain why we are the way we are. The act of rebellion that birthed the United States is important to my theory of American everything. However, to truly understand what makes us us, we must understand what was promised us by our rebellious founders. 

Our founding rebels wrote three revolutionary documents to shape this new nation they created. First was the Declaration of Independence, followed by the US Constitution, then the Bill of Rights to amend the Constitution. Through these documents, America told King George III to GTFO and set the example for all Americans to follow. The answers to why we are the way we are is also found in these documents. 

The Declaration of Independence proposes an idea of self evident truths. The first truth is we’re all created as equals. The second is we’re granted inalienable rights by our creator: rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The third truth asserts a government’s purpose is to secure our inalienable rights. This document isn’t canonized as law; it’s more a letter of intent or a formal request for separation from a tyrannical government. It demonstrated the state of mind of those who would form the laws to guide this new nation. 

Laws were created in the constitution and the amendments to follow. The first amendment, found in the Bill of Rights promised Americans freedoms of religion, speech, press, and assembly. United States law permits our citizens to believe whatever we want to believe, say whatever we want to say, print and broadcast our beliefs and thoughts in any available format, and go wherever we want to with anyone who will join us. 

Granted, there are limits. When we gather or travel, our freedoms are limited to public properties. When we speak, we can’t shout fire in a crowded room. When we express our beliefs, we can’t prevent criticism or contradictory ideas. Yet, as long as we work within reasonable boundaries, we legally possess a wide liberty unavailable in many countries. 

Consider the implication of these elements combined. We are a population with a rebellious streak hardwired into our cultural DNA and we’ve been given the freedoms to do, think, say, and believe anything we want for the sake of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That is our foundation. We built the wildest house upon those concrete footings. 

I can believe what I want in the interest of my life. I can say anything on my mind to protect my liberty. I can go anywhere I desire in pursuit of my happiness. You and every other American are also free to do the same. Of course, there are consequences and we don’t always enjoy consequences. While freedom is a core American value, accountability is not.


The Theory of American Everything Part 1: A Scientific Lesson

Life is guided by a set of rules, laws, processes, norms, and various theories. Entropy, general relativity, Newton’s laws of motion, gravity, magnetism, photosynthesis, apoptosis, string theory, uncertainty principle, quantum mechanics. These rules of science explain how our universe works: from the tiniest molecules inside our bodies to supernovas in the furthest reaches of space. Yet these laws and theories are far from complete. Even the greatest minds of history, from Plato to Galileo to Curie, they were imperfect people working with limited understanding. As we study and learn more about the workings of chemistry and physics, scientists have disproved, revised, and expanded old concepts. Even Einstein’s memorable equation of E = mc squared has its limits. It’s generally true but it’s not exactly correct either; modern science looks at Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence in a “yes, but” manner. 

Scientists examine and experiment with all of these laws to test their veracity. The majority accepts them as a basis for their understanding. They trust in the validity of these scientific norms yet believe it’s not enough. There’s gotta be something more. Something that explains everything. Some of these scientists collaborated on an idea: a hypothesis of one overarching law explaining all known laws of science into one unified formula. They call it the theory of everything. 

In the theory of everything, scientists are hopeful to connect the disconnected rules of everything from thermodynamics to quantum biology to astrophysics. They’re looking for answers to unsolved scientific problems, define the singularity at the beginning of time, explain the exceptions to known scientific standards, and fix the flaws in existing theories. If proven, the theory of everything could provide a framework that ties electromagnetism and nuclear forces to particle physics and the entirety of the space time continuum. Depending on how much credence you give to the theory of everything, it could be the next big scientific breakthrough proving the possibility of elements once confined to the imagination of science fiction: dark matter, time travel, teleportation, and interstellar exploration. 

Scientists look into both microscopes and telescopes to answer the same question: why we are the way we are. When I study history, theology, politics, and pop culture, I find myself asking the same question. Why are we the way we are? 

What makes America America? How can we be so functionally dysfunctional? How can anything be so awesome and awful at the same time? How do capitalists and anarchists coexist? Is it possible for our socialists and our libertarians to get along for the sake of our general welfare? Why do we possess the cognitive dissonance believing it’s patriotic to call Obama an illegitimate president but treason to say the same thing of Trump? Why is this nation of invention and innovation also a land of religious cults and serial killers? How do we have the greatest military force of any nation on earth and still think it’s too weak? Why is the quality of our health care going down while the cost is going up? Do we need to make America great again? Or just make America great? How did we get so divided and polarized? Where is the balance between American exceptionalism and American idiot? 

If scientists can strive to find a unified theory of everything in our universe, we should be able to find a singular theory to explain everything about America. We need something that explains both California vibes and southern charm, amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesty, Starbucks and Chick-Fil-A, bowling alleys and sandlots, comic books and gospel tracts, Fried Green Tomatoes and Boyz n the hood, Dueling Banjos and Smells Like Teen Spirit. What is the theory of American everything? 

I think I’ve figured it out – the reason America is the way it is and why we are the way we are. It's all about they way we began.


What It’s Like to Be Me: All Falls Apart Pt 2, Confronting the Inevitable

My oldest son started asking questions a couple months after Bekah asked for a legal separation. At the time, she had not yet filed for divorce and I was under the illusion she wanted to restore our relationship. Christian and I stood in a parking lot waiting to pick up his sister when he asked about our holiday plans. He wanted to know if we’d spend Thanksgiving together. And what about Christmas? I explained I would be present for as much as his mom allowed and we’d still celebrate even if it wasn’t as a whole family. Then he asked, “Do you still love Mom?” I provided an affirmative answer: yes, I did. His reply stunned me and broke my heart. “I don’t think Mom loves you anymore.” 

 When Bekah asked for legal separation, she told me she thought it was the only way to save our marriage. Looking back, it’s obvious she never had any intention of reunification. Those months between the filing of legal separation of divorce were painful as I did everything I could think of to prevent the inevitable. 

The Fray: “Break Your Plans”  
A pastor told me I needed to grieve divorce much like someone would grieve a death. However, with death you know the reason for your grief even if it seems to come too soon. But when a marriage ends, you don’t always know why. There was (to my knowledge) no infidelity. No domestic violence. No addiction or substance abuse. Bekah’s choice to leave was one I couldn’t comprehend. This is the bewilderment The Fray expresses as they beg an ex-lover to break their plans and stay. “I wish I had cheated. At least that's a reason I'd understand why you're leaving now.” Later they ask, “How do you move on so fast?” Just like this song, I was hoping for a happy ending when a happy ending as no longer an option.

The Script: “For the First Time”  
The first time I heard this song, it didn’t faze me. I’d hear lines like, “And we don't know how we got into this mad situation, only doing things out of frustration,” or, “But we both know how we're gonna make it work when it hurts when you pick yourself up you get kicked to the dirt,” but they were meaningless to me. Just catchy lines from a talented songwriter. Three years after the song was originally released, I was driving home from work for the first time after Bekah left me when this song came on the radio. By the time the chorus started, “Trying to make it work but man these times are hard,” the whole song suddenly made sense to me and I was in tears by the time I got home.

Tenth Avenue North: “Worn” 
Broken relationships are exhausting. With my melancholic disposition, happiness takes effort. I have to work hard to not appear bummed out all the time and the stresses of marital conflict seemed to add to the pressure of keeping up appearances. At some point, I just ran out of energy. When “Worn” got popular on Christian radio, every word of this song could have described my physical and emotional state. “I'm tired, I'm worn, my heart is heavy from the work it takes to keep on breathing. I've made mistakes, I've let my hope fail. My soul feels crushed by the weight of this world.” Emotional strain translates into physical decay. At the end of every day I was tired. Or as the song says, “I’m worn.”

Casting Crowns: “Broken Together” 
 When Bekah and I looked at our marriage, we saw two different things. It often seemed like she was looking at all she wished we had been while I was looking at all I wished we could be. Mark Hall of Casting Crowns captured this dichotomy, first looking to the disappointed spouse, “What do you think about when you look at me? I know we're not the fairy tale you dreamed we'd be.” Then looking at himself, “How I wish we could go back to simpler times before all our scars and all our secrets were in the light.” The reality was we were both broken people. All I wanted was to keep our family together, a goal that could only be accomplished if both parties were working together.

O.A.R.: “Shattered” 
 He sang “But I’m good without you.” I had to tell myself those words over and over even if I didn’t believe it. Because he also sang “It’s always back to you.” Was it codependency? Was it a side effect of gaslighting? Was it a self effacing and sacrificial desire to do anything to keep my family together? Was it giving into the constant criticism and harassment from Bekah’s friends or her attempts to micromanage my life post-separation? Was it the fallout from multiple threats, false accusations, and unfounded calls to the police? I don’t know. But whatever it was, I related to the question at the beginning of the chorus, “How many times can I break till I shatter?”