Years and years ago, sometime between 1985 and 1990, high in the skies over Wisconsin, I climbed out on the wing of a twin-engine airplane and, when the skydiver to whom I was tightly strapped gave the command, pushed myself away from the wing. The two of us dropped in free-fall for what seemed like a full minute, though I suspect it was far less than that. The air rushing past my ears made hearing him difficult, but I managed to hear him warn me that he was going to pull the rip cord. Suddenly, I felt like we had stopped and changed direction, as if we were catapulting upward at the same speed we had reached while falling. But the sound of the rushing air was missing. The sensation was just a reaction to our sudden deceleration, I think.

The experience of free-fall was exhilarating. I remember thinking, without any fear whatsoever, that the tandem parachute might not open.  I remember thinking, if it didn’t, I would feel no pain when I smashed into the ground. I would be dead, instantly. Why that did not frighten me I do not know. But within the next several days, more than one news report told of parachutists who died when their chutes did not open. Those reports changed my thinking. I decided not to jump out of airplanes anymore. Despite that decision, I felt like the $100 I paid to do that one jump was money well spent.

I wonder whether the free-fall the world economy is experiencing will be anything like the tandem parachute jump. Will the incredible speed of descent slow with such ferocity that we will feel like it is going in the other direction, even though it will still be dropping? Or will its plunge continue without slowing until, suddenly, the economy as we know it will die in an instant? I rather doubt the economy will actually reverse direction, at least any time soon. For that to happen in the USA, intelligent leadership and guidance would be necessary. That is lacking. Neither major political party seems capable of focusing on the issues at hand. And the fervent supporters of both parties seem intent on murder, followed by self-destruction. Demanding freedom from face masks and insisting on re-opening all businesses, including restaurants and malls, offers evidence of both homicidal and suicidal tendencies. And suggestions that votes will be withheld from one man accused of sexual assault, thereby tacitly supporting another man accused of multiple sexual assaults (and publicly guilty of bald-faced lies of unprecedented scope) offer evidence of stupidity and arrogance unmatched in the modern era.

Free-fall. It’s not just the economy. It’s the fabric of American society, being shredded by the rush of hot air emanating from the mouths of politicians and their acolytes during their rapid descent toward our collective oblivion.

It doesn’t need to happen. The free-fall could be stopped if the public at large would simply accept that everyone…EVERYONE…will be required to make significant, long-term, and painful sacrifices so that everyone…EVERYONE…can weather the pain of pandemic and financial meltdown. But, again, leadership would be required. I do not see anyone on the national stage with sufficient charisma, intellectual wherewithal, an unshakable moral compass, and political power to lead us toward a unified effort to confront the problems facing us.

The public at large could do it, even without leadership, if we would just unify behind the concept that WE have to do the heavy lifting. But I doubt that will happen. It would take a spark from a charismatic public figure to light the flame. And who can command the attention and the affection and the respect of people across the political spectrum? Who could turn public attention toward solutions, political affiliation be damned? I don’t know.

I hope my sense of hopelessness this morning is just an after-effect of eating too much scallops provençal last night. Maybe more coffee and a piece of toast will recover my bright, cheerful, hopeful mood.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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One Response to Free-Fall

  1. Pat Newcomb says:

    Very fine choice of metaphor, John!

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