I was talking with a guy who owns a large property several miles outside town. This was when Minneapolis and other cities were burning. After a while, we swapped depressing jokes about going home to "watch the riot show." I asked if he had any guns. He said he did. I said that if society came unglued I'd come to visit.
It was a joke, but not really. Like a lot of people over the past three months, I have wondered if the country's time is up. And if it broke apart, would that resemble the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993 or the drawn-out horror show of the western Roman Empire in the early 400s?
He laughed and said that I could guard such-and-such spot on his property's defensive perimeter. It was a joke, but not really. He had run the scenario in his mind.
A few weeks before, a weapons dealer in Springdale had confirmed to me that gun and ammunition sales had skyrocketed since mid-March, when the country fell into collective insanity over what by historical standards is a minor pandemic. I asked why people were buying guns, including the man at the counter purchasing a small pistol for his wife. He spoke of a kind of war being waged by an alliance of big media, big government and big corporations against the people "who make the country work." Against people like him and his store's patrons.
The people "who make the country work." I thought about that while driving home. I grew up in a violent, miserable neighborhood and got out thanks to the U.S. Navy. Then a Fulbright scholarship, a Ph.D. from a Canadian university, and now working on a sixth language. Eight books and hundreds of articles. Supposedly lofty credentials. But I couldn't think of any reason why the guy at the gun store or the truckers I passed driving to Siloam Springs on Highway 412 should be impressed. The country's in trouble because of people with credentials like mine.
People with credentials like mine talk about how much we love the young, and then we pile (as of now) $26 trillion in national debt on their shoulders. People with credentials like mine present themselves as experts, but pupils in more than two dozen countries do better in math, writing and reading than American students. One person with credentials like mine recently alleged in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that police kill men of color "with seeming impunity"--in other words, at will and without consequence. There's no evidence to support that monstrous claim, but there he is, injecting poison into the country's veins and receiving approving nods from credentialed peers.
The people who make the country work turn on ESPN to watch sports, but get political lectures from the credentialed. They just want to run their small businesses, but find that these have been damaged or destroyed by the excessive lockdown orders of the credentialed. They would identify with characters in Shakespeare's plays, or with wise observations in the works of Aristotle or Epictetus, but the credentialed seem almost to delight in making great books irrelevant to daily life--and then the credentialed are shocked when perceptive people advocate eliminating humanities classes.
After the gym, I usually stop at the Lupita Bakery on Tulsa Street. Going in this morning, I was thinking about this essay. Driving off, I caught the end of a song on the radio I'd never heard before, the chorus of which darkly captures how some of the people who make this country work feel about the exploits of the credentialed, in this case a taxman and the powers behind him. The song is "S.O.S." by the Glorious Sons.
Yeah, they sent the taxman
I lost my job, and
You got hooked on oxycodone
They shut the lights off
They took the car, and
I bought a sawed-off shotgun.
We can ignore a goofy pop culture tune, but the song was a hit for a reason. It's a "sign of the times," says the band's singer.
Yes, it's a sign of the times. The man who thinks about how he might defend his property if the country unravels. The man buying a pistol for his wife. The man with combat experience I spoke with on Friday who said that a lot of his fellow veterans are "getting ready." The people who make this country work, more of whom feel each day that they are being pushed to the wall.
Credentialed class: pay attention.
-- Preston Jones is a Siloam Springs resident and history professor. The opinions expressed are those of the author.