At last they rode over the downs and took the East Road, and then Merry and Pippin rode on to Buckland; and already they were singing again as they went. But Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill as day was ending once more. And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap.
He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.”
I’m not exactly sure why the Biden inauguration has me in a Tolkien state of mind. I suppose it’s something about that ending where Sam takes a deep breath and takes comfort in the danger having passed. However, that comfort and relief is in the context of a world that is diminished and scarred from the evil that has been forced to depart.
I’m not one given to alarm or hyperbole, but I truly do shudder at the thought of what might have come to pass if the election had gone the other way; or if it had been closer; or if the leadership of the House or Senate had been different. Democracy lives to fight another day, but it felt a little closer than I anticipated. The durability of our country’s institutions feel a little less inevitable than they did a few years ago. Which, upon reflection, is a valuable education for me. Ultimately, we can be absolutely confident that, one day, our democratic institutions and our country will fall. Entropy always wins. I’m currently reading a book about Bronze Age civilizations — civilizations which lasted centuries and about which I — a bit of a history nerd — have barely any conception. Given enough time, civilizations always fall.
But that’s no reason for nihilism or despair. We can’t worry too much about what’s going to happen 100 years from now, let alone 1,000 years from now. One day entropy will win, but that’s all the more reason to fight it — to delay that day & preserve our little bubble of comfort and order in the broad expanse of time and space that’s largely chaotic and uncaring. Perhaps knowing that, if we’re not careful, a lot of the institutions we take for granted could disappear will cause us to take more care to appreciate what we have. Our resentments can make smashing the existing order seem appealing. But I think the universe of scenarios in which the smashed machinery is re-assembled into something more desirable is far smaller than the universe of scenarios in which the smashed machinery is broken beyond repair or is assembled into something far worse than what we have now. Joe Biden seems like a reasonable choice for trying to fix what we have and making it more sustainable. I mean, who knows — his approach might not work for long; but it seems like a better choice than someone who wants to stoke our resentments, smash the existing machinery, and rebuild from scratch (or just loot the wreckage.)
Or hell, things might even get better. Maybe we’re not a Fallen people doomed to looking back on past greatness or condemned to wearing hair shirts to repent for our sins. Maybe we’re a capable people who can test everything, hold fast to what is good, and make better what is not. Guess we’ll find out.