The long road - Shawn Loughlin editorial
Last week I explored the notion that the pain and longing associated with the pandemic, for many, may be temporary, hopefully serving, one day, as nothing more than an unpleasant memory. However, a recent viewing experience made me think of the darker side of that coin, wondering if things will get worse before they get better.
I have a number of saved episodes of Parts Unknown on my cable box at home. The CNN program featuring the late Anthony Bourdain has always been a favourite of mine and now, with no new episodes being made and no way to stream old episodes, my cable box stash is all I have. Being recorded in real time on CNN they also tend to serve as a bit of a time capsule, reminding you of all that’s happened in the last four or five years.
Bourdain went to Hanoi, Vietnam and dined with then-President Barack Obama in an episode in late 2016; in fact, CNN was teasing the second presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on commercial breaks. It brought me back to a simpler time.
Obama was talking about being in Vietnam with Bourdain and the power of seeing the similarities of those around the world, rather than fearing their differences. This, even with a country the United States had warred with just a few decades earlier.
However, one exchange really hit me, nearly bringing me to tears now as the proud father of a baby girl. Bourdain cited then-Republican candidate Trump’s plan to build a wall around the United States and the shift to looking inwards, instead of embracing those around the world. He plainly asked Obama if it was going to be alright; if it was going to work out. Bourdain looked to the future with Obama, asking him if the world would be a good place for his daughter years down the road and Obama said he felt things would work out.
If this was a fictional show with one of those omnipotent narrators, at this point he would chime in with, “things would not work out”.
Not only would Trump win the election and sow division, incite violence and usher in an era of “post-truth” and a movement that is sure to outlive him, but he would oversee the deaths of over 400,000 Americans, lying about and downplaying a deadly pandemic. The wall would be the least of the country’s worries.
On a more personal note for Bourdain, his daughter would soon lose her father. Bourdain took his own life less than two years after that episode aired while filming in France.
So, as I watched those two men, both men of the world, demonstrate a bit of fear of the future just below the surface, I couldn’t help but think of how things ended up being far worse than either could have imagined. This is also something that has been debated by media pundits in the wake of the deadly Capitol Hill insurrection: is this the final act of an ugly chapter of American history or is it just the beginning of something much bigger?
Staying positive is crucial at a time like this, so forgive me for asking the question; I just couldn’t stop thinking about it after watching that conversation. Two men who didn’t fear those different than them and thought their biggest worry might be a wall – it all feels like ancient history to us living through 2020/2021.
As we remain in the grips of a worldwide pandemic and live through tremendous political strife and economic transition, you fear you might tempt fate by asking, “how much worse can it get?” but the gravity of all that’s changed in the last four years shouldn’t be lost on us. If we understand where it went wrong, perhaps we can work to improve it.